Getting to Know PADT: Stratasys 3D Printer Sales and Support

 This post is the eleventh installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

When it comes to delivering accurate, robust, and feature-rich additive manufacturing, commonly called 3D Printing, to professional users, one brand of systems stands above all the rest: Stratasys. For over a decade PADT has been a reseller of these outstanding machines in the four-corners states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. In fact, our leadership position in the Additive Manufacturing space is built on the foundation of our sales and support history with Stratasys.

Stratasys, The World Leader in Additive Manufacturing

There is one simple reason why Stratasys is the world leader in Additive Manufacturing systems and why so many of our customers keep buying Stratasys systems: They Work.  The whole point of 3D Printing is that you can go from a computer model to a real part as quickly and easily as possible. Stratasys has created a complete set of hardware, material, and software to make that happen.  For hardware, they offer two additive manufacturing technologies: FDM and PolyJet.

FDM, or Fused Deposition Modeling, is the most common technology because it is reliable, accurate and builds strong parts.  FDM was invented by Stratasys over 25 years ago and still forms the foundation of their product line.  It is a layered deposition process that melts a variety of plastics that are then extruded through a nozzle to draw the shape of each layer. From the desktop MakerBot machines to the industry favorite FORTUS 900, there is a machine that works for every need.  Recently, we have been selling a large number of F370’s to new an existing customers.  FMD systems come in a variety of sizes, speeds, costs, and most importantly, material options.  And best of all, the majority of FDM systems come with Stratasys’ patented soluble support material that makes support removal as easy as dropping your part into a cleaning system (many of which are made by PADT).

If you need greater refinement, the ability to change material, or color, then PolyJet technology is your ideal solution.  The power of PolyJet is that it uses inkjet print heads to deposit tiny dots of liquid material on a build layr. That material is then hardened with an ultraviolet lamp. What is cool is that you can have multiple inkjet print heads and therefore deposit a mix of material within a given layer. This allows you to make parts with very hard, or very soft material in the same build. Or, to mix clear and colors in the same build.  Our customers use Polyjet printers to make everything from accurate medical models of organs to molds for plastic injection molding.  No other 3D Printing technology is as versatile as the PolyJet machines from Stratasys.

The PADT Sales Experience

Lots of people sell 3D Printers. We know because we have been doing it for over fifteen years. And as the technology has become more popular, more and more people are getting into the industry.  Our experience and technically driven sales approach is why customers keep coming to PADT when they have so many choices.  Our sales team is not about this months sales goal. They are about building, and more often than not, growing our relationship with customers new and old.  We are all about understanding what you really want to get done, and then finding the right combination of Additive Manufacturing system, accessories, and software that will make it happen.

That expertise comes from the fact that we have been running a 3D Printing service since 1994.  We know the real world of Additive Manufacturing.  No other reseller can bring our expertise and experience to your aid.

Support that Goes Above and Beyond

Once you purchase a system, your journey with PADT hits full swing. Our engineers will help you install, train your users, and then be there when you need us for maintenance and repair. Or simply to answer your questions.  We recently won a series of competitive situations where customers had a choice of who to hire to support their Stratasys systems. They chose PADT over other solutions for one simple reason: we know what we are doing and we really do care.  Our team has driven through snow storms, stayed with machines late into the night, and personally shipped replacement parts just so they could get customer’s machines back online and running as quickly as possible.

Talk to PADT about your Additive Manufacturing Needs

ULA’s Kyle Whitlow demonstrates the ECS duct that was printed using FDM

Regardless of what systems you currently have, or if you don’t have any 3D Printing capability in-house, now is the time to talk to PADT.  We have never had a better offering of solutions in terms of price, performance, and variety of capability.  We are helping universities establish labs, Aerospace companies 3D Print hardware for launch vehicles, and consumer products companies shorten their design cycle.  It may be time for you to upgrade or add a new material or technology. Or maybe you just need some accessories to get more out of the equipment you have.  Regardless of where you are in your Additive Manufacturing journey, PADT is here to help you get more out of your investment.

Getting to Know PADT: 3D Printing Services

This post is the sixth installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

If there is one service that most people connect PADT with it is our 3D Printing Services.  We have been making prototypes for companies using this ever-advancing technology since we started the company in 1994. As 3D Printing has become more popular and entered the mainstream even beyond engineering, what 3D Printing means to people has changed as well. Along with that, people’s understanding of exactly what it is we do in this area has drifted a little from what goes on. In this month’s installment of our “Getting to Know PADT” series, we will work to provide insight into what 3D Printing Services are and how they can benefit your company.

What is “3D Printing” and “3D Printing Services?”

To start, it should be called “Additive and Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Services, ” but people search for “3D Printing” so that is what we call it.  3D Printing is the common name for what is technically referred to as Additive Manufacturing, or AM.  Most physical parts are made (manufactured) by casting or shaping material into a shape you want, removing material from stock to get the shapes you want, and/or combining physical parts you get by the other two methods. Instead of these well-proven methods, AM creates a part by building up material one layer at a time.  That is why it is called additive – it adds layers of material to get a shape. Here is an older blog article showing the most common technologies used in AM.

The advantage of this approach is that you just need one machine to make a part, you can go straight from a computer model to that part, and you are not held back by the physical constraints of traditional processes. These features allow anyone to make a part and to make shapes we just could not create before.  At first, we only used it for prototypes before parts were made. Then we started to make tools to make final products, and now 3D Printing is employed to manufacturing end-use parts.

In the world of mechanical engineering, where 3D Printing is heavily used, we call companies that use additive manufacturing to make parts for others 3D Printing Service Bureaus or 3D Printing Service Providers. Therefore, the full process of doing manufacturing using the technology is called: 3D Printing Services.

The critical word in that last sentence is “full.”  Sending a computer model to a 3D Printer is just one of many steps involved in Additive Manufacturing.  When the service is employed correctly, it includes identifying the right type of additive manufacturing to use, preparing the geometry, setting parameters on the machine, printing the parts, removing supports, cleaning the parts, sanding, applying a surface finish treatment, and then inspection and shipping.  Anyone can send a part to a printer; the other steps are what make the difference between simply printing a part, and producing a great part.

What Services does PADT Offer?

Additive Manufacturing covers a wide range of technologies that create parts one layer at a time, using a variety of approaches. Some extrude, some harden, some use an inkjet print head, and still others melt material.  What they have in common is creating solid geometry one layer at a time. Each technology has its own unique set of advantages, and that is why PADT offers so many different 3D Printing technologies for our customers.  Each of these approaches has unique part preparations, machine parameters, and post-printing processes. Each with a unique set of advantages.  The key to success is knowing which technology is best for each part and then executing it correctly.

Currently, PADT’s 3D Printing Services Group makes parts for customers using the following technologies.  Each one listed has a brief description of its advantages.  See our website for more details.

Technology

Abbrv.

Advantages

Fused
Deposition Modeling

FDM

Strong parts

Easy operation

Reliability of systems

Broad material choice

Water soluble supports

Fast

Cost

Polyjet

PolyJet

Multiple materials in a single build

Broad material choices

Custom material choices

Multiple colors in single build

Water soluble supports

Accuracy

Stereolithography

SLA

Part quality

Material options

Speed

Speed

Material properties

Self supporting

Selective
Laser Sintering

SLS

Digital
Light Synthesis

DLS

Speed

Production capable

Surface Finish

Material Choices

Material properties

Orthotropic properties

Direct
Laser Melting (Metal)

DLM

Fully dense metal parts

Accuracy

Speed

Part strength

As a proud reseller for Stratasys systems, we feel strongly that the two primary technologies from Stratasys, FDM and Polyjet, are the best for customers who want to do Additive Manufacturing in-house or as a service provider. When customers need something different, they can come to PADT to take advantage of the unique capabilities found in each technology.

How is 3D Printing with PADT Better?

The difference is in what we know and how to execute the complete process.  As a provider of 3D Printing services for over 23 years, very few people in the industry even come close to the amount of experience that we bring to the table.  We also know product development and traditional manufacturing, so when a customer comes to us with a need, we understand what they are asking to do and why. That helps us make the right recommendation on process, material, and post-processing.

A few differentiators are:

  • We know our machines
  • We know our materials
  • We offer a wide range of plastic and metal materials
  • We understand post-processing
  • We understand support removal (we manufacture the leading support removal system)
  • We understand design and manufacturing
  • In-house machining, painting, and part finishing
  • In-house inspection and quality
  • Employees who are enthusiastic and dedicated to providing the right solution.

In addition to all of these things, PADT also offers On-Demand Manufacturing as a Carbon Production Partner. We combine Carbon’s DLS technology with our existing and proven manufacturing processes to provide low volume manufacturing solutions for plastic components.

We are also always looking at the latest technologies and adding what our customers need.  You can see this with the recent addition of systems from ConceptLaser, Carbon and Desktop Metal systems.

 

Next Steps and Where to Learn More

The very best way to learn more about PADT’s 3D Printing services is to have us print a part. The full experience and the final product will explain why, with so many choices, so many companies large and small count on us for their Additive Manufacturing. If you need to learn more, you can also contact us at 480.813.4884 or rp@padtinc.com.

Here are some links that you may find useful:

 

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Getting to Know PADT: Support Cleaning Apparatus (SCA) Manufacturing and Support

This is the third installment in our review of all the different products and services PADT offers our customers. As we add more, they will be available here.  As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to info@padtinc.com or give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT.

PADT is in the business of helping people who make products.  So most people think of us as a provider of tools and services.  What they do not know is that PADT actually has a few of its own products.  The most successful of these is our line of Support Cleaning Apparatus systems, abbreviated as SCA.  These devices are used to remove soluble support material from parts 3D printed in Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling Systems. They are robust machines manufactured and serviced by PADT, but sold through the Stratasys worldwide sales channel. As of July of 2017, over 10,800 units have been delivered to Stratasys.

Optimized Performance for Hands-Off Part Cleaning

The Stratasys 3D Printing systems that use Fused Deposition Modeling extrude plastic through a heated nozzle to build parts one layer at a time.  There are actually two nozzles. One puts down the building material and the other a support material that is dissolved in warm water that is slightly base.  The best way to remove that support material is to put it into a warm bath where the part is gently tumbled so that the water can works its way evenly into the part.  Stratasys tried several solutions for a companion washing system and eventually came to PADT and asked if we would try our hand at building a robust and efficient system.

The result was the SCA-1200.  Launched at the end of 2008 it met the design requirements for reliability, part cleaning time, and noise.  Over 7,000 of these systems were shipped and saw heavy usage. In fact, if you have a Stratasys FDM system there is a good chance you have an SCA-1200.  It contained a unique shower head design that was optimized with simulation, and a modular assembly that could be repaired easily in the field.

Based upon the success and lessons learned from the SCA-1200, we released the SCA-1200HT in 2014.  With the same basic form factor, this design replaced the off-the-shelf magnetically coupled pump with a simpler and more reliable custom design from PADT. The new unit also had a more pleasing visual design, several usability enhancements, and a greater temperature range. It has sold over 3,000 units and continues to be a popular system.  The latest release includes a no-temperature setting that allows it to be used to clean Stratasys Polyjet parts.

The success of both system lead to a request to look at building a larger machine that could clean more parts at one time as well as larger parts.  The SCA 3600 has three times the volume but shares many internal parts with the SCA-1200HT.  Both of the new systems are doing well in the field with even better reliability and faster part cleaning times. They are also simpler to debug and repair.

The SCA systems are sold as stand alone devices or are bundled with key Stratasys FDM machines.  You can learn more about them on our SCA page:  www.padtinc.com/sca or you can contact whoever you buy your Stratasys equipment from.

Here is a video for the SCA-1200HT that talks all about what it does:

Practicing what We Preach

One of the most rewarding aspects of designing and manufacturing the SCA family of products was that it forced us to practice what we preach. We talk to companies every day about using simulation, 3D Printing, design for manufacturing, proper product development processes, and many more things needed to get a product right.  With the SCA we were the customer. We had to Walk the Walk or stop talking the talk.

 

It has been a phenomenal experience that has made us even better at helping our customers produce their new products. We used CFD to optimize the gentle agitation design and shower head and worked closely with our vendors to minimize the cost of manufacturing.  The worst part was that when the schedule slipped, we couldn’t blame the customer (only slightly joking).  One of the best set of lessons came from doing the repair and refurbishment of systems that failed. Even though the failure rate was low, we learned a lot and were able to make improvements to future designs. Now when we sit across from a customer and talk about the design, test, and manufacture of their product, we can really say that we understand where they are coming from.

 

 

 

 

 

Learn About the New Stratasys 3D Printers and New Orleans

It was my first time visiting New Orleans. I have heard many stories of how good the food is and how everyone is really nice there so I was excited to visit this city for a business trip. Stratasys Launch 2017! There was some buzz going on about some new FDM printers that Stratasys has been working on and I was really excited to see them and hear what sets them apart from the competition. Rey Chu (Co-Owner of PADT), Mario Vargas (Manager of 3D Printer Sales), Norman Stucker (Account Executive in Colorado), and I (James Barker, Application Engineer) represented PADT at this year’s Launch.

The city did not disappoint! I ate the best gumbo I’ve ever tried. Below is a picture of it with some Alligator Bourbon Balls. The gumbo is Alligator Sausage and Seafood. Sooooo Good!!


My last night in New Orleans, Stratasys rented out Mardi Gras World. That is where they build all the floats for Mardi Gras. They had a few dancers and people dressed up festive. I was able to get a picture of Rey in a Mardi Gras costume.

After dinner at Mardi Gras World, I took Rey and Mario down Bourbon Street one last time and then we went to Café Du Monde for their world famous Beignets. Everyone told me that if I come home without trying the Beignets, then the trip was a waste. They were great! I recommend them as well. Below is picture of Mario and me at the restaurant.

As you can see we had a fun business trip. The best part of it was the unveiling of the new FDM printers! Mario and I sat on the closest table to the stage and shared the table with Scott Crump (President of Stratasys and inventor of FDM technology back in 1988). These new printers are replacing some of Stratasys entry level and mid-level printers. What impressed me most is that they all can print PLA, ABS, and ASA materials with the F370 being able to print PC-ABS. You also can build parts in four different layer heights (.005, .007, .010, and .013”), all while utilizing new software called GrabCad Print.

GrabCad Print is exciting because you can now monitor all of you Stratasys FDM printers from this software and setup queues. What made me and many others clap during the unveiling is that with GrabCad Print you no longer have to export STL files! You can import your native CAD assemblies and either print them as an assembly or explode the assembly and print the parts separately.

      

Everyone wants a 3D Printer that can print parts faster, more accurately and is dependable. You get that with the family of systems! Speed has increased big time, they are twice as fast as the Dimension line of FDM printers. Stratasys has published the accuracy of these new printers to be ±.008” up to a 4 inch tall part and then every inch past 4 inches, you add another .002”. These machines are very dependable. They are replacing the Uprint (Uprint SE Plus is still current), Dimension, and Fortus 250 machines that have been workhorses. Many of our customers still have a Dimension from 2002 when they were first launched. In addition to the 43 existing patents that Stratasys has rolled into this phenomenal product, they have an additional 15 new patents that speaks volumes as to the innovation in these 3D printers.

Stratasys Launch was a blast for me. Seeing these new printers, parts that were printed from them, and understanding why these are the best FDM printers on the market was well worth my time! I look forward to helping you with learning more about them. Please contact me at james.barker@padtinc.com for more information. If you would like to hear my recorded webinar that has even more information about the new F170, F270, and F370, here is the link.  Or you can download the brochure here.

Press Release: New 3D Printing Support Cleaning Apparatus Features Large Capacity for Stratasys FDM Systems

PADT-Press-Release-IconBuilding on the worldwide success of previous products in the family, PADT has just released the new SCA 3600, a large capacity cleaning system for removing the support material from Stratasys FDM parts.  This new system adds capacity and capability over the existing benchtop SCA-1200HT System.

A copy of the press release is below.
At the same time, we are also launching a new website for support removal: www.padtinc.com/supportremoval.

The SCA 3600 can dissolve support from all the SST-compatible materials you use – ABS, PC, and nylon. A “no heat” option provides agitation at room temperature for the removal of Polyjet SUP706 material as well. The SCA 3600’s versatility and efficient cleaning performance are built on the success of earlier models with all the features you have come to expect, in a larger and more capable model.sca_3600-3pics

Since the launch of the original SCA-1200 in 2008, PADT has successfully manufactured and supported the SCA family of products for users worldwide. Common requests from desktop SCA users were for a larger system for bigger parts, the ability to clean many parts at the same time, and the option to remove supports from PolyJet parts. The SCA 3600 is the answer: Faster, larger, and more capable.

sca-logo3-web7SCA 3600 Key Features are:

  • Removes soluble support from ABS, PC, and nylon 3D printed FDM parts
  • Removes soluble support from PolyJet 3D Printed parts
  • User-selectable temperature presets at 50, 60, 70, and 85°C and “No Heat” for PolyJet
  • User-controlled timer
  • Uses cleaning solutions from Stratasys
  • Unique spray nozzle optimizes flow coverage
  • 230 VAC +/- 10%, 15A
  • Whisper-quiet operation
  • Includes rolling cart for easy movement, filling, and draining.
  • Capacity: 27 gal / 102 L
  • Size: 42.8″ x 22.8″ x 36.5″/ 1,086 x 578 x 927 mm
  • 16” x 16” x 14” / 406 x 406 x 356 mm removable large parts basket
  • Integral hinged lid and small part basket
  • Stainless steel tub and basket
  • Over temperature and water level alarms
  • Automatic halt of operation with alarms
  • Field replaceable sub-assemblies
  • Regulatory Compliance: CE/cTUVus/RoHS/WEEE

You can download our new brochure for both systems:

SCA 3600 Spec Sheet

SCA-1200HT Spec Sheet

If you are interested in learning more or adding an SCA 3600 to your additive manufacturing lab, contact your Stratasys reseller.

Official copies of the press release can be found in HTML and PDF.

Press Release:

New 3D Printing Support Cleaning Apparatus Features Large Capacity for Stratasys FDM Systems

Offered Worldwide, the SCA 3600 is Big Enough to Handle Large 3D Printed Parts, Effortlessly Dissolving Support Material

TEMPE, Ariz., November 17, 2016 – Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, Inc. (PADT), the Southwest’s largest provider of simulation, product development, and rapid prototyping services and products, today introduced its new SCA3600 3D Printing Support  Cleaning Apparatus (SCA). The systems are sold exclusively by Stratasys, Ltd. (SSYS) for use with its FORTUS line of 3D Printers. The hands-free support removal technology is a huge advantage to people who use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) systems for their 3D Printing.

“With more than 10,000 of our benchtop SCA units in the field, we gathered a wealth of knowledge on performance and reliability,” said Rey Chu, Co-owner and Principal of PADT. “We used that information to design and manufacture a system that cleans larger parts, or multiple small parts, while keeping the speed, easy maintenance and great user experience of the benchtop system.”

A powerful upgrade over PADT’s successful SCA-1200HT and SCA-1200 support removal products that have been in use around the world since 2008, the SCA 3600 features a simpler, more user-friendly design. The new versatile SCA offers temperature choices of 50, 60, 70 and 80 degrees Celsius, as well as no-heat, that readily cleans supports from all SST compatible materials – ABS, PC and Nylon. The SCA 3600 also features a large 16” x 16” x 14” parts basket, 3400 watts of heating for faster warm-up and a wheeled cart design for mobility.

The advantages of the system were highlighted by Sanja Wallace, Sr. Director of Product Marketing and Management at Stratasys, Ltd. when she commented, “the addition of the SCA 3600 as an accessory to our very successful FORTUS systems simplifies the support removal process with increased speed and capacity for multiple large parts.”

Once parts are printed, users simply remove them from their Stratasys FDM system, place them in the SCA 3600, set a cleaning cycle time and temperature, and then walk away.  The device gently agitates the 3D printed parts in the heated cleaning solution, effortlessly dissolving away all of the support material. This process is more efficient and user friendly than those of other additive manufacturing systems using messy powders or support material that must be manually removed.

More information on the systems available at www.padtinc.com/supportremoval. Those interested in acquiring an SCA 3600 should contact their local Stratasys reseller.

About Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies

Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, Inc. (PADT) is an engineering product and services company that focuses on helping customers who develop physical products by providing Numerical Simulation, Product Development, and Rapid Prototyping solutions. PADT’s worldwide reputation for technical excellence and experienced staff is based on its proven record of building long term win-win partnerships with vendors and customers. Since its establishment in 1994, companies have relied on PADT because “We Make Innovation Work.” With over 80 employees, PADT services customers from its headquarters at the Arizona State University Research Park in Tempe, Arizona, and from offices in Torrance, California, Littleton, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Murray, Utah, as well as through staff members located around the country. More information on PADT can be found at http://www.PADTINC.com.

###

Media Contact
Alec Robertson
TechTHiNQ on behalf of PADT
585-281-6399
alec.robertson@techthinq.com
PADT Contact
Eric Miller
PADT, Inc.
Principal & Co-Owner
480.813.4884
eric.miller@padtinc.com

 

Technology Trends in Fused Deposition Modeling

A few months ago, I did a post on the Technology Trends in Laser-based Metal Additive Manufacturing where I identified 5 key directions that technology was moving in. In this post, I want to do the same, but for a different technology that we also use on a regular basis at PADT: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).

1. New Materials with Improved Properties

Many companies have released and are continuously developing composite materials for FDM. Most involve carbon fibers and are discussed in this review. Arevo Labs and Mark Forged are two of many companies that offer composite materials for higher performance, the table below lists their current offerings (CF = Carbon Fiber, CNT = Carbon Nano Tubes). Virtual Foundry are also working on developing a metal rich filament (with about 89% metal, 11% binder polymer), which they claim can be used to make mostly-metal parts for non-functional purposes using existing FDM printers and a heat treatment to vaporize the binder. In short, while ABS and PLA dominate the market, there is a wide range of materials commercially available and this list is growing each year.

Company Composition
Arevo Labs CF, CNT in PAEK
CF in PEEK
Fiberglass in PARA
Mark Forged Micro-CF in Nylon
CF
Fiberglass
Fiberglass (High Strength High Temperature)
Kevlar

2. Improved Properties through Process Enhancements

Even with newer materials, a fundamental problem in FDM is the anisotropy of the parts and the fact that the build direction introduces weak interfaces. However, there are several efforts underway to improve the mechanical properties of FDM parts and this is an exciting space to follow with many approaches to this being taken. Some of these involve explicitly improving the interfacial strength: one of the ways this can be achieved is by pre-heating the base layer (as being investigated by Prof. Keng Hsu at the Arizona State University using lasers and presented at the RAPID 2016 conference). Another approach is being developed by a company called Essentium who combine microwave heating and CNT coated filaments as shown in the video below.

Taking a very different approach, Arevo labs has developed a 6-axis robotic FDM process that allows for conformal deposition of carbon fiber composites and uses an FEA solver to generate optimized toolpaths for improved properties.

3. Faster & Bigger

A lot of press has centered around FDM printers that make bigger parts and at higher deposition rates: one article discusses 4 of these companies that showcased their technologies at an Amsterdam trade show. Among the companies that showcased their technologies at RAPID was 3D Platform, that showed a $27,000 3D printer for FDM with a 1m x 1m x 0.5m printing platform. Some of the key questions for large form factor printers is if and how they deal with geometries needing supports and enabling higher temperature materials. Also, while FDM is well suited among the additive technologies for high throughput, large size prints, it does have competition in this space: Massivit is one company that in the video below shows the printing of a structure 5.6 feet tall in a mere 5 hours using what they call “Gel Dispensed Printing” that reduces the need for supports.

 4. Bioprinting Applications

Micro-extrusion through syringes or specialized nozzles is one of the key ways bioprinting systems operate – but this is technically not “fused” deposition in that it may not involve thermal modification of the material during deposition. However, FDM technology is being used for making scaffolds for bio-printing with synthetic, biodegradable or bio-compatible polymers such as PCL and PLGA. The idea is these scaffolds then form the structure for seeding cells (or in some cases the cells are bioprinted as well onto the scaffold). This technology is growing fast and something we are also investigating at PADT – watch this space for more updates.

5. Material Modeling Improvements

Modeling FDM is an important part of being able to use simulation/analysis to design better processes and parts for functional use. This may not get a lot of press compared to the items above, but is a particular interest of mine and I believe is a critical piece of the puzzle going to true part production with FDM. I have written a few blog posts on the challenges, approaches and a micromechanics view of FDM printed structures and materials. The idea behind all of these is to represent FDM structures mathematically with valid and accurate models so that their behavior can be predicted and designs truly optimized. This space is also growing fast, the most recent paper I have come across in this space is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that was published May 12, 2016.

Conclusion

Judging by media hype, metal 3D printing and 3D bioprinting are currently dominating the media spotlight – and for good reasons. But FDM has many things going for it: low cost of entry and manufacturing, user-friendliness and high market penetration. And the technology growth has no sign of abating: the most recent, 2016 Wohlers report assesses that there are over 300 manufacturers of FDM printers, though rumor on the street has it that there are over a thousand manufacturers coming up – in China alone. And as the 5 trends above show, FDM has a lot more to offer the world beyond being just the most rapidly scaling technology – and there are people working worldwide on these opportunities. When a process is as simple and elegant as extruding material from a hot nozzle, usable innovations will naturally follow.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Properties: A Micromechanics Perspective

Have you ever looked at the mechanical properties in an FDM material datasheet (one example shown below for Stratasys ULTEM-9085) and wondered why properties were prescribed in the non-traditional manner of XZ and ZX orientation? You may also have wondered, as I did, whatever happened to the XY orientation and why its values were not reported? The short (and unfortunate) answer is you may as well ignore the numbers in the datasheet. The longer answer follows in this blog post.

FDM_01

Mesostructure has a First Order Effect on FDM Properties

In the context of FDM, mesostructure is the term used to describe structural detail at the level of individual filaments. And as we show below, it is the most dominant effect in properties.

Consider this simple experiment we did a few months ago: we re-created the geometry used in the tensile test specimens reported in the datasheets and printed them on our Fortus 400mc 3D printer with ULTEM-9085. While we kept layer thickness identical throughout the experiment (0.010″), we modified the number of contours: from the default 1-contour to 10-contours, in 4 steps shown in the curves below. We used a 0.020″ value for both contour and raster widths. Each of these samples was tested mechanically on an INSTRON 8801 under tension at a displacement rate of 5mm/min.

As the figure below shows, the identical geometry had significantly different load-displacement response – as the number of contours grew, the sample grew stiffer. The calculated modulii were in the range of 180-240 kpsi. These values are lower than those reported in datasheets, but closer to published values in work done by Bagsik et al (211-303 kpsi); datasheets do not specify the meso-structure used to construct the part (number of contours, contour and raster widths etc.). Further, it is possible to modify process parameters to optimize for a certain outcome: for example, as suggested by the graph below, an all-contour design is likely to have the highest stiffness when loaded in tension.

FDM-02

Can we Borrow Ideas from Micromechanics Theory?

The above result is not surprising – the more interesting question is, could we have predicted it? While this is not a composite material, I wondered if I could, in my model, separate the contours that run along the boundary from the raster, and identify each as it’s own “material” with unique properties (Er and Ec). Doing this allows us to apply the Rule of Mixtures and derive an effective property. For the figure below, the effective modulus Eeff becomes:

Eeff = f.Ec + (1-f).Er

where  represents the cross-sectional area fraction of the contours.

FDM-3

With four data points in the curve above, I was able to use two of those data points to solve the above equation simultaneously and derive Er and Ec as follows:

Er = 182596 psi
Ec = 305776 psi

Now the question became: how predictive are these values of experimentally observed stiffness for other combinations of raster and contours? In a preliminary evaluation for two other cases, the results look promising.

FDM-4

So What About the Orientation in Datasheets?

Below is a typical image showing the different orientations data are typically attributed to. From our micromechanics argument above, the orientation is not the correct way to look at this data. The more pertinent question is: what is the mesostructure of the load-bearing cross-section? And the answer to the question I posed at the start, as to why the XY values are not typically reported, is apparent if you look at the image below closely and imagine the XZ and XY samples being tested under tension. You will see that from the perspective of the load-bearing cross-section, XY and XZ effectively have the similar (not the same) mesostructure at the load-bearing cross-sectional area, but with a different distribution of contours and rasters – these are NOT different orientations in the conventional X-Y-Z sense that we as users of 3D printers are familiar with.

fdm-5

Conclusion

The point of this preliminary work is not to propose a new way to model FDM structures using the Rule of Mixtures, but to emphasize the significance of the role of the mesostructure on mechanical properties. FDM mesostructure determines properties, and is not just an annoying second order effect. While property numbers from datasheets may serve as useful insights for qualitative, comparative purposes, the numbers are not extendable beyond the specific process conditions and geometry used in the testing. As such, any attempts to model FDM structure that do not account for the mesostructure are not valid, and unlikely to be accurate. To be fair to the creators of FDM datasheets, it is worth noting that the disclaimers at the bottom of these datasheets typically do inform the user that these numbers “should not be used for design specifications or quality control purposes.”

If you would like to learn more and discuss this, and other ideas in the modeling of FDM, tune in to my webinar on June 28, 2016 at 11am Eastern using the link here, or read more of my posts on this subject below. If you are reading this post after that date, drop us a line at info@padtinc.com and cite this post, or connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading!

~

Two related posts:

Constitutive Modeling of 3D Printed FDM Parts: Part 2 (Approaches)

In part 1 of this two-part post, I reviewed the challenges in the constitutive modeling of 3D printed parts using the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. In this second part, I discuss some of the approaches that may be used to enable analyses of FDM parts even in presence of these challenges. I present them below in increasing order of the detail captured by the model.

  • Conservative Value: The simplest method is to represent the material with an isotropic material model using the most conservative value of the 3 directions specified in the material datasheet, such as the one from Stratasys shown below for ULTEM-9085 showing the lower of the two modulii selected. The conservative value can be selected based on the desired risk assessment (e.g. lower modulus if maximum deflection is the key concern). This simplification brings with it a few problems:
    • The material property reported is only good for the specific build parameters, stacking and layer thickness used in the creation of the samples used to collect the data
    • This gives no insight into build orientation or processing conditions that can be improved and as such has limited value to an anlayst seeking to use simulation to improve part design and performance
    • Finally, in terms of failure prediction, the conservative value approach disregards inter-layer effects and defects described in the previous blog post and is not recommended to be used for this reason
ULTEM-9085 datasheet from Stratasys - selecting the conservative value is the easiest way to enable preliminary analysis
ULTEM-9085 datasheet from Stratasys – selecting the conservative value is the easiest way to enable preliminary analysis
  • Orthotropic Properties: A significant improvement from an isotropic assumption is to develop a constitutive model with orthotropic properties, which has properties defined in all three directions. Solid mechanicians will recognize the equation below as the compliance matrix representation of the Hooke’s Law for an orthortropic material, with the strain matrix on the left equal to the compliance matrix by the stress matrix on the right. The large compliance matrix in the middle is composed of three elastic modulii (E), Poisson’s ratios (v) and shear modulii (G) that need to be determined experimentally.
Hooke's Law for Orthotropic Materials (Compliance Form)
Hooke’s Law for Orthotropic Materials (Compliance Form)

Good agreement between numerical and experimental results can be achieved using orthotropic properties when the structures being modeled are simple rectangular structures with uniaxial loading states. In addition to require extensive testing to collect this data set (as shown in this 2007 Master’s thesis), this approach does have a few limitations. Like the isotropic assumption, it is only valid for the specific set of build parameters that were used to manufacture the test samples from which the data was initially obtained. Additionally, since the model has no explicit sense of layers and inter-layer effects, it is unlikely to perform well at stresses leading up to failure, especially for complex loading conditions.  This was shown in a 2010 paper that demonstrated these limitations  in the analysis of a bracket that itself was built in three different orientations. The authors concluded however that there was good agreement at low loads and deflections for all build directions, and that the margin of error as load increased varied across the three build orientations.

An FDM bracket modeled with Orthotropic properties compared to experimentally observed results
An FDM bracket modeled with Orthotropic properties compared to experimentally observed results
  • Laminar Composite Theory: The FDM process results in structures that are very similar to laminar composites, with a stack of plies consisting of individual fibers/filaments laid down next to each other. The only difference is the absence of a matrix binder – in the FDM process, the filaments fuse with neighboring filaments to form a meso-structure. As shown in this 2014 project report, a laminar approach allows one to model different ply raster angles that are not possible with the orthotropic approach. This is exciting because it could expand insight into optimizing raster angles for optimum performance of a part, and in theory reduce the experimental datasets needed to develop models. At this time however, there is very limited data validating predicted values against experiments. ANSYS and other software that have been designed for composite modeling (see image below from ANSYS Composite PrepPost) can be used as starting points to explore this space.
Schematic of a laminate build-up as analyzed in ANSYS Composite PrepPost
Schematic of a laminate build-up as analyzed in ANSYS Composite PrepPost
  • Hybrid Tool-path Composite Representation: One of the limitations of the above approach is that it does not model any of the details within the layer. As we saw in part 1 of this post, each layer is composed of tool-paths that leave behind voids and curvature errors that could be significant in simulation, particularly in failure modeling. Perhaps the most promising approach to modeling FDM parts is to explicitly link tool-path information in the build software to the analysis software. Coupling this with existing composite simulation is another potential idea that would help reduce computational expense. This is an idea I have captured below in the schematic that shows one possible way this could be done, using ANSYS Composite PrepPost as an example platform.
Potential approach to blending toolpath information with composite analysis software
Potential approach to blending toolpath information with composite analysis software

Discussion: At the present moment, the orthotropic approach is perhaps the most appropriate method for modeling parts since it is allows some level of build orientation optimization, as well as for meaningful design comparisons and comparison to bulk properties one may expect from alternative technologies such as injection molding. However, as the application of FDM in end-use parts increases, the demands on simulation are also likely to increase, one of which will involve representing these materials more accurately than continuum solids.

Constitutive Modeling of 3D Printed FDM Parts: Part 1 (Challenges)

As I showed in a prior blog post, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is increasingly being used to make functional plastic parts in the aerospace industry. All functional parts have an expected performance that they must sustain during their lifetime. Ensuring this performance is attained is crucial for aerospace components, but important in all applications. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is an important predictor of part performance in a wide range of indusrties, but this is not straightforward for the simulation of FDM parts due to difficulties in accurately representing the material behavior in a constitutive model. In part 1 of this article, I list some of the challenges in the development of constitutive models for FDM parts. In part 2, I will discuss possible approaches to addressing these challenges while developing constitutive models that offer some value to the analyst.

It helps to first take a look at the fundamental multi-scale structure of an FDM part. A 2002 paper by Li et. al. details the multi-scale structure of an FDM part as it is built up from individually deposited filaments all the way to a three-dimensional part as shown in the image below.

Multiscale structure of an FDM part
Multiscale structure of an FDM part

This multi-scale structure, and the deposition process inherent to FDM, make for 4 challenges that need to be accounted for in any constitutive modeling effort.

  • Anisotropy: The first challenge is clear from the above image – FDM parts have different structure depending on which direction you look at the part from. Their layered structure is more akin to composites than traditional plastics from injection molding. For ULTEM-9085, which is one of the high temperature polymers available from Stratasys, the datasheets clearly show a difference in properties depending on the orientation the part was built in, as seen in the table below with some select mechanical properties.
Stratasys ULTEM 9085 datasheet material properties showing anisotropy
Stratasys ULTEM 9085 datasheet material properties showing anisotropy
  • Toolpath Definition: In addition to the variation in material properties that arise from the layered approach in the FDM process, there is significant variation possible within a layer in terms of how toolpaths are defined: this is essentially the layout of how the filament is deposited. Specifically, there are at least 4 parameters in a layer as shown in the image below (filament width, raster to raster air gap, perimeter to raster air gap and the raster angle). I compiled data from two sources (Stratasys’ data sheet and a 2011 paper by Bagsik et al that show how for ULTEM 9085, the Ultimate Tensile Strength varies as a function of not just build orientation, but also as a function of the parameter settings – the yellow bars show the best condition the authors were able to achieve against the orange and gray bars that represent the default settings in the tool.  The blue bar represents the value reported for injection molded ULTEM 9085.
Ultimate Tensile Strength of FDM ULTEM 9085 for three different build orientations, compared to injection molded value (84 MPa) for two different data sources, and two different process parameter settings from the same source. On the right are shown the different orientations and process parameters varied.
Ultimate Tensile Strength of FDM ULTEM 9085 for three different build orientations, compared to injection molded value (84 MPa) for two different data sources, and two different process parameter settings from the same source. On the right are shown the different orientations and process parameters varied.
  • Layer Thickness: Most FDM tools offer a range of layer thicknesses, typical values ranging from 0.005″ to 0.013″. It is well known that thicker layers have greater strength than thinner ones. Thinner layers are generally used when finer feature detail or smoother surfaces are prioritized over out-of-plane strength of the part. In fact, Stratasys’s values above are specified for the default 0.010″ thickness layer only.
  • Defects: Like all manufacturing processes, improper material and machine performance and setup and other conditions may lead to process defects, but those are not ones that constitutive models typically account for. Additionally and somewhat unique to 3D printing technologies, interactions of build sheet and support structures can also influence properties, though there is little understanding of how significant these are. There are additional defects that arise from purely geometric limitations of the FDM process, and may influence properties of parts, particularly relating to crack initiation and propagation. These were classified by Huang in a 2014 Ph.D. thesis as surface and internal defects.
    • Surface defects include the staircase error shown below, but can also come from curve-approximation errors in the originating STL file.
    • Internal defects include voids just inside the perimeter (at the contour-raster intersection) as well as within rasters. Voids around the perimeter occur either due to normal raster curvature or are attributable to raster discontinuities.
FDM Defects: Staircase error (top), Internal defects (bottom)
FDM Defects: Staircase error (top), Internal defects (bottom)

Thus, any constitutive model for FDM that is to accurately predict a part’s response needs to account for its anisotropy, be informed by the specifics of the process parameters that were involved in creating the part and ensure that geometric non-idealities are comprehended or shown to be insignificant. In my next blog post, I will describe a few ways these challenges can be addressed, along with the pros and cons of each approach.

Click here to see part 2 of this post

Arizona Chief Science Officers Design Their Own 3D Printed Name Badges

az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-0The Chief Science Officer program is a program for 6th-12th grade students to represent their school in STEM. And what better way is there for them to identify themselves then with 3D Printed name badges?  The program’s sponsors, the AZ SciTech Festival offer a training retreat for the kids who get elected as their school’s CSO and we all thought introducing design and 3D Printing would be a great activity.

As part of the 2015 Fall CSO Institute, PADT’s Jeff Nichols joined local designer and artist John Drury to spend some time with the kids explaining how to work with logos and shapes to convey an idea, and how to design for 3D Printing.  The kids worked out their own design and sent it to PADT for printing.

We converted their sketch into a 3D Model, starting in Adobe Illustrator. The sketch was traced with vector geometry and then a generic name was added. This was then copied 144 times and each name was typed in, with a few extras. This step was the only boring part.

az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-6

The design worked great because it is a simple extrusion with no need for support material.    The outline of their names were exported as DXF from Illustrator and then imported onto the 3D Model and extruded up to make a solid model of a badge. This was then copied to make a badge for each student. Then the names were imported and extruded on the patterned badges.

az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-5
The was a simple extrusion for each feature, allowing for contrast and readability but keeping things simple.
az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-4
This project was a great opportunity to use both patterns and importing 2D drawings. By laying everything out in a grid, we only had to make one badge and copy that. Then import the names and extrude those on the patterned badges.

STL files were then made and sent off to one of our Stratasys FDM 3D Printers. The FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) process extrudes an ABS plastic filament, and you can change material during the build. So, to add a bit of contrast, we changed the filament color after the base of the design was done, making the logo and student names stand out.  The final results came out really nice.

az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-1
This is what they look like right out of the machine. We swapped out two color for each build. With some clever packing, we were able to get 12 badges on each platform.
az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-2
The final products really stand out.

az-scitech-cso-badges-3d-printed-3

This project was a lot of fun because we were able to work with the students. They got what John and Jeff taught them and did a great job.  We know they will be placed with pride on back backs and jackets across Arizona.

To learn more about the CSO program, visit their website: http://chiefscienceofficers.org/ Check out the blog.  Some of these kids can really write well and their insight into Science, Technology, Math, and Education is insightful.

3D Printing the 4th Dimension – GISHWHES 2015 Scavenger Hunt

padt-sundial-insun-apple-watch-wGISHWHES is a huge international scavenger hunt. Every year teams around the globe comb through the list of 215 tasks and pick as many as possible that their team can do.  Last year they introduced 3D Printing as a task, and we helped a team 3D Print a quill pen. That was a lot of fun, so when this year’s list included an item on 3D printing, we jumped at the chance to be involved.

The item was:

110: VIDEO. Use a cutting edge 3D printer to 3D print your representation of the 4th dimension.62 POINTS

Being engineers we said “4th Dimension?  Time.”  Then it became a choice between the way mass distorts the space-time continuum or some sort of clock’ish thing.  The distortion thing seemed difficult so we focused on a clock.  Being that we were constrained on budget and time we decided to do a sundial.

The result can be seen here in this YouTube video.

It was a fun project and the team spent a bit of time in the 112F sunshine trying it out.  We can’t wait to see what we will get to do for the 2016 scavenger hunt.

Making the Model

A couple of people have asked if we downloaded the solid model for the sundial or if we made it. We actually made it. After a little bit of research we found that making a simple horizontal sundial like this one is very easy. Here are the steps we took:

Get Geometry Values

So it turns out that the angle of each hour line is determined by the latitude of where the dial will go. The angle of the pointy thing, called a gnomon, is also the latitude.  So for Tempe, AZ that is 33.4294°.That gets applied to the equation:

angle(h) = arctan(sin(L*tan(15° · h))

h = integer of the hour, 6 am to 6 pm
L = latitude

I plopped that into Excel:

=ABS(DEGREES(ATAN(SIN(RADIANS($C$3))*TAN(RADIANS(15)*B7))))

and got the following:

Latitude 33.4294
Hour Angle
6 90.00
7 64.06
8 43.66
9 28.85
10 17.64
11 8.40
12 0.00

Build the Solid Model

The next step is to build the model. I used SolidEdge because I know it real well and was able to knock it out quickly.  But all CAD tools would be the same:

  1. Pick a center point.
  2. Add lines as rays from that using the angles in the table above for each hour.
  3. Design the shape of your sundial to look cool. I did a simple circle .
  4. Mark the hours using the sketch. I raised up thin rectangles.
  5. Model the gnomon using the latitude as the angle.  Make this as fancy or simple as you want.
  6. Add whatever doo-dads you want.
  7. Label the hours if you want.
  8. Save to STL

Here is what my sketch looked like:PADT-sundial-cad-model-hour-sketc

And the final solid model looked like this:

PADT-sundial-cad-modelWe sent this to the printer as shown in the video, and got a sundial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real World 3D Printing: PADT Helps ULA Save with Stratasys Digital Manufacturing

Every once in a while a customer hits a home run with Additive Manufacturing, and United Launch Alliance had done that with their application of Stratasys technology to the production of flight-ready components for their rockets.  They were able to leverage 3D printing to take one component from 140 parts to 16, reducing the risks associated with creating the assembly, the piece part costs, and the assembly cost. And PADT is proud to say we were partners in this effort with ULA and Stratasys.

If you are not familiar with ULA, they are the worlds premier launch service company in the US.  It is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed that launches the majority of military and civilian payloads that are sent in to space. True "rocket scientists" who are headquartered down the street from PADT's Littleton Colorado office.  They just released a ton of information on how they are using the Stratasys devices they acquired through PADT as an example of what the technology can achieve. 

Here is a picture from Stratasys of one of ULA's structural engineers, Kyle Whitflow, holding an ECS duct they created on the Stratasys Fortus 900mc they purchased through PADT: 

Stratasys just released a great video on how ULA is using the technology. This is a great example of the right people, using the right technology, in the right way:

You can also read the official press release here

We are highlighting his application as a way to let people know that 3D Printing is not just about makers, nor is it just about engineering prototypes. Every day users are creating production hardware to produce usable parts that save them time and money.  Ducts for rockets are a perfect use of the technology because they are complex, low volume, and can make single parts that need to be made in multiple pieces using traditional methods.   This application also highlights the power of the material choices available to users of Stratasys FDM technology.  ULA is using ULTEM 9085 for these ducts because it is durable, lightweight, and can stand up to the heat of the launch event. 

Those of you familiar with the process will notice the dots on the duct. Those are target dots for 3D scanning. ULA took the technology one step further and scan the completed hardware to make sure the manufactured part is within specifications. 

environmental-control-system-duct

The team at ULA has been a pleasure to work with.  They saw the promise of Additive Manufacturing but dealt with it like the seasoned professionals that they are. They started by making engineering prototypes, then as they got a feel for the technology they switched to the production of tooling for manufacturing.  They have now developed the confidence needed to move to flight hardware.  In addition to supplying the machines, PADT consulted with ULA early on, touring their manufacturing facilities to better understand their needs and taking them to see how others are using FDM for manufacturing.  We were fortunate enough to even be invited to attend the launch of their Orion spacecraft from Florida as their guest.  

We are very excited about the additional uses ULA and other companies will develop in the near future for Additive Manufacturing.

 If you want to know more, or would like to have PADT help you in the same way we assisted ULA, please reach out or email info@padtinc.com.

Six Things to Do when Shopping for a 3D Printer

Stratasy-Mojo-3D-Printer-in-Shopping-CartPADT has been in this prototyping business for a while, even before we called the machines that make physical parts directly from computer models a 3D Printer.  When we started it was rapid prototyping and we have purchased maybe a dozen machines for our own use, and sold several hundred to our customers.  As the cost of these systems comes down and the number of people interested in having their own 3D Printer goes up, we thought it would be a good time to share our experience with choosing systems with the community.

Here are six things that every person should do when they are shopping for a 3D printer. We even recommend that you write these down and fill out a form before you contact the first vendor.

Thing 1:  Understand What you will use your Parts For

This seems obvious. You would not be looking for a 3D printer unless you knew you needed one and you knew what you needed it for.  But in reality it is very easy to get caught up in how powerful and just plane cool this technology is and you start thinking about what you can do, and you forget what you need to do.  The best way to approach this is to not think about which technology you may end up with, that will point you in one direction or another. Just assume you push a button and a prototype of your part comes out. What would you actually use it for?

The key here is to be honest. If the reality is that your receptionist really likes models of Japanese Anime characters, and you plan on making models of such in an attempt to get her attention, then be honest about that. You need a printer with the detail and perhaps color capability for that. But if you really think about it you probably need one to make patterns for doing custom composite layups, so your use will be very different and the so will the system you need.  She probably will be just impressed with your layup tooling. Well, maybe not but your boss will.

image

Our experience tells us that customers often get hung up on features that they get excited about, but when you look at the end use of their prototypes, they really do not need some of those features.  We have seen people buy a machine because it was the only one that did this one thing they got fixated on. But in the end, they only make two prototypes that need it a year and the other 137 prototypes they make are kind of sucky.  Make a list of all the uses and put a guess next to them that shows the percentage of parts that fit into that use.  A typical example would be:

  • 35% Mockups for design reviews
  • 25% Models for the machine shop and vendors to help them plan machining
  • 15% Fixtures for testing
  • 10% Consumer testing and marketing mockups for ad campaigns
  • 10% Fit models to build
  •   5% Other

Thing 2: Benchmark the Machines on your Geometry

DinoFingersClose-TangoGrayHR

When we run into someone that is unhappy with their 3D Printer, three out of four timeswe find out that it just does not perform like they thought it would.  And if we dig deeper we find out that when they were shopping for a printer, they just looked at parts that the various vendors gave them. Demo parts. They never made a variety of their own typical parts.  This is especially true if they ended up buying a lower cost machine.

Here is a secret of every person selling a 3D Printer, that probably is no secret to you. They pick the demo parts they show you because those parts look really good on their technology. And if you are not closely familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each technology, there is no way for you to know that the parts they showed you may be the only parts that actually look good on that technology.

Untitled_00252

Get four or five parts that are typical parts that you would prototype, and have them made on each technology.  Even if the vendor tells you they can only afford to make one sample part for you (with the cost coming down the margins on these machines is low so few in the business can do a bunch of free parts for every potential sale),  go ahead and pay money to get your geometry made.  You may be shocked by the results, especially on some of the newer low cost machines.

Thing 3: Ignore Hype or the Herd

Any fast growing industry has a lot of hype, and a lot of mob pressure to go with one technology over another.  3D Printing is no different, and in fact it is worse because this technology is so cool and interesting.  The problem with hype and herd mentality is that the company with the best public relations people or with the “hippest” story gets all the attention regardless of the technology. And it feeds on itself. They get more attention because they got more attention.

A case in point is the recent introduction of a hand-held fused deposition modeling system.  Very cool, lots of hype and interest.  But really, who could use that for real work?  Even a hobbyist is going to struggle with making anything useful with a tool like that. But there is a lot of hype around it right now and a huge amount of interest. I’ve had a taxi driver mention it to me when he asked what I do.

It is human nature to want to be part of something big. So it is hard to push that aside and look at each 3D Printer you are evaluating on its own merit. Not what the press is saying, not what other people are touting, not what is the newest and flashiest.  We are talking basic “make me a useable part” here.  Look at it with basic and non-influenced eyes.

Thing 4: Calculate the Total, Long Term Cost

Of all the things listed here, this may be the hardest to do. There are so many costs that go into making prototypes. The initial cost of the machine is small compared to all the other costs. What we recommend you do is make a spreadsheet and list cost items in the first column, and create rows for each 3D Printer you are looking at, then fill it out. We like to put in the cost over three years.

Here are some cost items we recommend people include:

  • System
  • Cleaning system
  • Facility modification costs
  • Build and support material
  • Cleaning materials
  • Maintenance fees
  • Labor to prepare jobs
  • Labor to post process jobs
  • Facility square footage for machines, cleaning equipment, material storage, etc…
  • Scrap rate cost (some systems have a higher scrap rate, you need to include the cost of lost time and material because of that)

Thing 5: Honestly Prioritize the Features you Want and Need

It is always a good idea to make a “want” and “need” list, regardless of what you are purchasing.  When you are dealing with a set of technologies with so much buzz around it, we feel it is doubly important.  Sitting down and making a list, then justifying it to someone else clarifies what you should be looking for more than anything.

We also recommend that you prioritize the list.  Marking things as Want and Need is a first step, then every one of those should also be ranked in order of importance.  You can use a point scheme or you can just put them in order from most to least.  This will help you sort through the gee-whiz stuff and truly understand where the value of your investment in 3D Printing can be found.

Needless to say, it is critical that you finish Thing 1, and refer to it, when completing this step.

Thing 6: Figure Out what is Good Enough, then Ask for More

OK, maybe this one sounds like a sales pitch: “You know what you really want, but really, trust me, you need more.”  Experience tells us that this is actually true. When you are talking 3D Printing we run into customer after customer that felt the system they purchased was “good enough” for their needs then they realize it does not do what they need.  And in most cases it is because they really needed a bigger machine, or they needed a more robust material than they thought.

The last thing you want to do is invest in a 3D Printer then six months later try and turn it in to get one that is bigger, faster, more precise, or that runs a better material.   Now you are still paying for the more expensive system and you wasted money on the less expensive one.  Be honest, upgrade in the beginning to what you really need in the long run not what you think you can get by with in the short run. Because, in the end, you will save money and have better parts.

Doing the Six Things and Getting that 3D Printer

You know you want one. You actually probably need one. We have been doing this for a long time and almost every customer that has made an intelligent investment feels like the investment has been a positive one. And by intelligent investment, we do not want to imply that they bought a system from PADT (although statistically that may be true). What we have found is that these companies took their time, they used some variation of the steps listed above, and they treated their purchase as a long term investment.

You too can make a smart choice and make in-house 3D Printing part of your company, job, or even hobby.  PADT is here ready to help you with that choice.  We can show you the complete line of fused deposition and Polyjet 3D Printers from Stratasys. We can also provide some advice on what we think is a good fit for your needs, and help you capture data for the six things we have outlined here.  And don’t forget, we have a full 3D Printing services offering, with all the major systems and materials. So we can show you the advantages of all of them by providing you with your outsourced parts while you look for an in-house solution.

Stratasys Objet Polyjet Systems

Retail 3D Printing at the Beginning of 2013

I just came across a posting from Terry Wohlers that he did in December with some interesting observations on the growth of 3D Printing in retail stores:

3D Printing at Retail Stores

I have to agree with Terry’s assessment that these efforts in Africa and Europe to bring this new technology to a mass market through old business models may not click.  Some of the efforts here in the US seem to be a better fit.  Reading the article, and the fact that non-technical people are constantly bringing up 3D Printing around me, got me to thinking about the retail space and where it is headed.

Is Online the Future for Retail 3D Printing?

Shapeways_websiteIn New York, the VC backed experiment at Shapeways seems like a more viable option for mass retail 3D printing.   There was an interesting interview done in December by the Business Insider that sheds some light on how things are going, but does not discuss the business aspect too much.  What I am interested in knowing is what type of margin Shapeways is making on their parts with the prices as low as they are, or are they using their buckets of VC money to build market share in hopes that volume will bring their margins up?  It would be interesting to know.

A French company called Sculpteo has a similar model. I’m sure there are others.

3D Systems, along with buying up as many technologies as they can, has launched their own retail competitor to Shapeways called Cubify.   Their advantage is that they do not have to pay full price for machines or materials.  It is early days and in some ways it looks like a vehicle for promoting their low-end FDM CUBE machines, but the reach of 3D Systems may make a difference.

The Brick and Mortar Store

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Although these online based models have the advantage of access to the masses to grow their markets, storefront retail outlets for 3D Printing also seem to be taking off.  Makerbot, the kings of getting media attention for low-end 3D printing, has a showcase store now in Manhattan. This store may be more for marketing than a direct revenue generator, but it starts a trend.   A new startup, 3DEA is also in New York City and they are trying to use similar low-end FDM technology to provide 3D printing to the masses through a corner store, literally.

Here at PADT we are aware of several companies starting the same thing in the west and they seem to have good solid business models that will not only go after the art/accessory/gadget market but they are also looking at other more practical retail applications.  We think this broader and more balanced approach has merit.

Is New York the Center of Retail 3D Printing?

Are you seeing a trend here? Retail 3D Printing in the US seems to be focused on New Your City. There is a store in Pasadena called Deezmaker, but it is more hacker-centric selling more kits than home machines or direct to consumer printed objects.

Is this NYC bias because the market for consumer 3D printing is huge there? Or is it the art community? Or is it a tech-infiriority complex with the west coast?  A “we missed all this computer based stuff, so we are going to lead on this 3D printing thing” effect?

I suspect it has more to do with the proximity to Wall Street and the mass media than anything else.  Which may or may not be good for the additive manufacturing business.  It means cash and exposure for something that really captures the imagination of the general public. But is this a bubble that will grow and pop for the full industry? Or will it just be the retail side?  Only time will tell.

FDM Rules, but not Necessarily Good FDM.

One other take away from this retail trend is the dominance of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology that is making much of this possible. Although Shapeways seems to use almost all of the technologies, most of the startups that are trying to get the cost down and the volume up are using some sort of low-cost FDM technology. This is reflected in the lower costs and in the poor finished part quality that is seen on most of the websites. It is too bad more are not looking at technology Stratasys, the originators of FDM and producers of machines that make very high-quality parts.

stratasys_mojoI bring this up not only because PADT is a long time Stratasys reseller, but because the poor part quality might result in a black eye for the industry as a whole.  And the concern is not just about aesthetics, but also about part strength.  There is a lot of excitement over making replacement parts for appliances, toys, and consumer electronics.  Delamination in low-cost FDM parts is a real concern.

I also wonder if the merger of Stratasys and Objet might allow for the development of low cost and reliable 3D Printing based on the Objet inkjet printing approach as a compliment to FDM based systems.

What is the Future?

rasputinAnyone that is in the RP business knows that the use of additive manufacturing for prototyping, tooling, and even production is growing and getting better. Machines are faster, more accurate, and offer much better material choices. And the cost of systems that make strong, high-quality parts is coming down. So the non-retail side of this market should see continued strong growth.

The retail side of things is seeing a lot of buzz, a lot of press, and a lot of interest from average consumers.  As with any new market it is hard to guess where it is going.  But history has shown us that something like this that shows the potential of being a disruptive technology will have a big impact, and the market will whipsaw back and forth a few times before the technology finds its place and becomes mainstream.

For the record, just to see how close I get, I predict the following landscape for retail 3D Printing in five to ten years:

  • Two or three large on-line outlets, focused on art, fashion, and accessories as an outlet for small designers.
  • One or two large business supply/service chains that offer 3D Printing alongside traditional printing and copying using high quality FDM technlogy
  • A variety of specialty local almost neighborhood stores that offer duplication using 3D scanning and printers along with part printing.

Hopefully someone will remind me of this post in the future and we can see how far off I am.

 

 

Stratasys and Objet Merger Complete

Stratasys

It is now official. Stratasys and Object have completed their merger to form a company worth over $3.0 Billion.  Actually, as we prepare this update it is up to $3.37B.  Obviously the markets thing this merger is a good thing.

And now Stratasys has a new logo and what we think is a great slogan: “For a 3D World”

You can read the press release here.

As a long time Stratasys distributor and a user of Objet’s and Stratasys systems in our rapid prototyping services business, we are very familiar with both product lines and look forward to the synergy of the merger.  These are two truly complimentary product lines.

Right now this merger will have no impact on how we do business with our existing customers for any of the product sales or services we offer, including sales of new systems, maintenance of existing machines, material ordering, or prototyping services with either FDM or PolyJet.  As the two companies combine organizationally we will keep everyone informed.

Learn more about the Stratasys line of Mojo, uPrint SE, Dimension, and FORTUS 3D Printers here.