Video: Practical Considerations of 3D Printing Functional Parts

Jonathan Schroeder of 3D Platform considers 3D printing as a manufacturer. Here are some considerations of making functional parts and cost-effective production parts.
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3D printing is a viable option for production, says 3D Platform president Jonathan Schroeder. His company’s 3D printers include components made this way. However, just as with any other production operation, there are ways to use 3D printing that optimize its effectiveness and efficiency, and he describes what that means in this video conversation with AM. For example, reinforcement or fasteners can be added to the part during the build. Users can also choose how finely to slice the model of the part and weigh the trade-offs of printing with different nozzle sizes.



Pete: I’m Pete Zelinski with Additive manufacturing magazine and I’m here with Jonathan Schroeder, who is president of 3D Platform. John, your company makes a large travel industrial 3D printer with a very open and accessible design. Talk about that open design and what makes it possible.

Jonathan: Sure, there’s a lot of things that makes it possible. The open design allows users to be able to more flexibly create parts. One of the things we saw, we find is that plastic parts by themselves, although polymer technology and industrial engineering has come a long way, they’re never gonna be as strong as metal. So, we found that a lot of users, because of the open platform, can put pen fasteners inside of their PEM nuts, put a silicone seals on it, they can run wires through parts. You can essentially build a part halfway up and then run parts through it or put inserts inside of it as a process is going and then continue on. One of the demo parts that we have is a chair that people can sit in and the spine of the chair is a little weak if it’s just male plastic, so we have a bent piece of sheet metal that we put inside of it. Essentially, its like overcasting so processes build up a certain level you put this, the strengthening agent in or whatever you’re going to put inside of it and then you can continue one and its simply not possible in a closed machine.

Pete: I believe earlier versions of your printer shipped with parts that were made on the printer itself. Talk a little but about that, how you’ve used 3D printing in your own production.

Jonathan: In our machine, there’s a number of parts that are 3D printed, parts that would otherwise be injection molded but the cost of the mold is very high. So, our story is very or very typical of a small manufacturer or even a bug manufacturer. A big company that’s launching a new product from the beginning, you want to do that with those low investment as possible so there are certain parts that lend itself to 3D printing process and instead of making those parts out of metal, to start with, we did FAA studies on it and found that a plastic part was perfectly acceptable for the start. It has almost no startup cost or fixed cost, but the variable cost is higher than a diecast part, which has a higher fixed cost and a lower variable cost. Once you’re going picks up, you can go to casting.

Pete: Just like any process. There is an economical way to use additive manufacturing.  There’s a cost-effective way to use it. What is the cost-effective way to use this process?

Jonathan: Absolutely, so one of the things that we find is that a lot of customers want a perfect looking part coming off of their additive equipment and there’s kind of scale. So you have decisions to make when you choose to go and slice your part and choose to produce it. For example, on FFF process, you can choose what size nozzle you want to use and, on our equipment, you can go anywhere from a .2 mm nozzle all the way up to a 6 mm nozzle. It’s a very wide range. The 0.2 mm nozzles can give you very smooth surfaces on angles and its going to look much closer to net shape when it comes off the printer. The 6 mm nozzles can be very granular. There’s gonna be steps and its going to require more post processing, so you know we, as a manufacturer of equipment, are not able to answer that for the customer. All we can do is point out and ask them a simple question: “What’s more important to you?” If you look at the Theory of Constraints and you look at what’s more important, is your machine your burden or is your labor afterwards your burden? If you have plenty of manpower available to you and you want to get as many parts as possible off your printer, you are much better off printing apart with a larger nozzle that will produce much faster and then spend a little bit of time afterwards sanding that part or doing some applying of some kind of post processing technique to get a smooth part, or you have to make the decision that, at the end of the day, part with some steps in it. It’s perfectly acceptable for this jig that’s going to hold my part in my shop.

Pete: Yeah, so 3D printing well beyond prototyping ready for production but that means thinking about it like a manufacturer. Jonathan, thanks for talking to us about what that thinking looks like.

Jonathan: Thank you very much, I appreciate the invite.