3D Printing Process Optimization
The 3D printing process is a great one to implement in many Engineering environments. If you want to execute such an implementation, you should initiate an engineering project. Your dedicated engineer will be able to procure a printer and start printing within that time. Such a project is beneficial for companies as they can start to see machine return on investment after the first print is completed. A challenge though lies in the success rate of prints from both a design and printing standpoint. These types of challenges may take years to resolve depending on the amount of engineering hours available. In this article we will discuss some considerations to equip your team in the training phase that can enhance their learning curve.
Develop a Library of STL CAD Files
A great starting point is to take count of the 3D printable CAD files in your configuration management systems. The bigger your library of CAD files, the more printing that your team can execute on and learn from. Having access to a mechanical designer can assist in achieving a diverse library if you don’t already have one. The designer will provide you with a constant flow of compatible CAD files and assist in making file updates. You can either groom this skill internally to your team or outsource the effort depending on your team's budget and structure.
Material availability can be another great initial consideration. Since 3D printing is empowered by material availability, consider procuring a selection of 10 or more materials. This will help your engineers tackle a wider set of design challenges. For instance, consider starting with a variety of PETG, Nylon, TPU, PEEK, ABS, and SLA resins. It helps if the materials you choose range in mechanical strength, temperature resistance, flexibility, color/transparency, and water resistance/solubility. As an example, PEEK can be usable in oven temperature applications around 200 degrees Celsius while SLA resins can be used in water submersible applications.
Dedicate an Applications Engineer
Whether you foresee high volume printing or own multiple printers, examine having access to an Applications Engineer. Operating your 3D printer can easily become a full-time job. An Applications Engineer will work on multiple fronts simultaneously. They will:
Import CAD file into 3D printing environments such as IdeaMaker or Cura
Optimize and slice the print file based on 3D features
Generate a G-code compatible file for printer
Select and load material into printer for project
Send the print and monitor the printer
Post process the 3D print after obtaining it from the printer
Ensure the print works in deployed environment as intended
Fine tune by reprinting with different settings
Perform maintenance on the printer
Interface with the part’s end customer
Manage Printer Queues
Printing durations can range from minutes to days for many reasons including print size, feature accuracy, and surface finish. This creates an added challenge of maintaining 3D printer runtime efficiency. To optimize the runtime, try dedicating a printer application engineer that will maintain the table below. The table below assumes 9 AM to 5 PM working hours.
Print Duration (Hours)
0 to 5
9 AM to 3 PM
Allows for emergency short prints during the workday
5 to 18
3 PM to 6 PM
Takes advantage of machine downtime outside of office hours
18 to 48+
Over the weekend
Takes advantage of machine downtime over the weekend
This operational schedule allows for maximum efficiency of your company’s 3D printer. Your team is likely to deem the printer a great and quick solution to a problem they may be facing. Having windows of machine availability during business hours creates a creativity outlet. On the other hand, using your company’s machine overnight and over weekends will allow your team to shrink the return on investment (ROI) duration.
Create a Searchable and Usable Directory
Consider creating a fully functional 3D printing directory with revision-controlled CAD and G-code files. Maintaining such a library enables multiple team members to collaborate over the use of the printer. Engineers will be able to pick up the latest CAD file revisions and make changes to them per the part’s end use requirements. End users such as team leads, production technicians, engineers, or even administrative staff can also use the printer. They can upload the G-code files directly to the printer with basic training.
3D Print Quality
It is important to keep in mind the finished 3D print quality. It isn’t fun finding out a 40-hour print needs to be reprinted right after completion. Especially if the print has a direct impact on a project’s schedule. Consider training your team on 3D printing defects and ways to minimize or eliminate them. The table below shows a short list of possible defects that can be encountered during the printing process.
Print Z layers lift off the print bed
Print Bed (temperature, adhesive application, material type, leveling)
Adhesion assistant selection (brim, skirt, raft)
Bumps or holes on the top surface
Outer layer thickness
Print cooling (nozzle fan speed or position)
Strings coming off the print
Filament retraction through the nozzle
Minimum travel setting
Print feature size
Surface finish appears to have ring deformations
Print head speed
When using a print to present to customers, post processing the print can improve the aesthetics of surface finish. We recommend sanding the finished surface then applying primer and paint. At convergence we have followed this surface finishing technique on multiple prints. The picture below shows an example print just before we sanded and painted it.
Meet our Printer
At Convergence we have chosen the RAISE3D Pro2 Plus printing platform in conjunction with the IdeaMaker software platform. One of the great features of this printer is a print size of 12x12x23.8 inch. This printer can be a great starting point for your engineering team.
Use of 3D printing technology is on the rise in many industries, and it can be exciting for your engineers to explore the technology. We hope this article helps you explore different ways to integrate the technology into your workflows and increase your printer’s efficiency.