Is it worth to invest in a professional 3D printer?
Once upon a time, when additive manufacturing was considered by most people to be the technology of the future, professional 3D printers cost hundreds of thousands of euros, and the print quality left much to be desired. With the release of 3D printing patents, hundreds of 3D printing companies entered the market. A large number of these companies began to produce cheap desktop printers, which made the technology more mundane and accessible to the Average Joe.
Author: Michał Kowalczyk
Until recently, a desktop printers had an open chamber and printed with PLA and several other undemanding filaments. Today on the market we can find “desktops” that offer more and more professional features. Currently, these printers have a closed chamber, higher and higher temperatures, and are made of good materials, thanks to which they can handle more materials than their predecessors from previous years.
Then, if desktop 3D printers offer more and more at a relatively low price, does it make sense to invest in a professional 3D printing machine that often costs several times more?
Of course! In fact, the two types of printers are very different from each other. And while desktop printers have made a huge technological progress, this progress was not less in the case of industrial printers. In fact, it is industrial printers that are primarily responsible for setting direction for the entire industry. In such printers, the latest mechanical, electronic and software solutions are used, which significantly increase the quality of printing, material possibilities and user experience.
How are desktop printers different from industrial printers?
- The main difference that distinguishes industrial printers from desktop printers is the design of the printers and the quality of the components used. Industrial printers have a very rigid structure that is entirely made of metal. This allows, above all, to achieve much higher printing speeds without losing print quality, but also such things as a screw drive and nuts with clearance compensation affect the life of the printer itself and the fact that after hundreds or thousands of reprinted hours, industrial printers print with the same quality.
- Another feature that distinguishes the two types of printers that meets the eye is the cubature of the printer. Desktop printers usually have +/- 200mm in each axis, which translates into a print volume of 8l, while industrial printers with +/- 500mm in each axis have a print volume of 125l, thanks to which we are able to print elements 15 times larger than on a desktop printer.
- 3D printing is associated mainly with complex geometries that are often inaccessible to other manufacturing technologies. However, not everyone knows that complex shapes and internal structures are exclusively reserved for industrial printers, because they are equipped with two print heads. What do they give? They give us the ability to print from two different materials, including support materials such as HIPS, which can be easily broken from our model, but most of all from water-soluble materials such as ODS-20. This material allows us to create countless channels and projections in our printout, because the supports can be rinsed by placing the printout in an ultrasonic cleaner.
- In addition, industrial printers are equipped with a closed and heated working chamber, which allows us to print from engineering materials. They have much better strength parameters than standard filaments, but also need much higher temperatures in the chamber during the printing process. That is why a heated chamber is so important to be able to control the printing environment and material shrinkage. In desktop printers, the temperature in the chamber is close to the ambient temperature, so the range of materials compatible with such a printer is more limited than in the case of printers dedicated to industry. For comparison, a desktop printer can usually print from 3 to 6 different materials, while an industrial printer can print up to 20 different materials.
- Another very important aspect is dimensional accuracy. Professional printers from good manufacturers achieve accuracy of 0.2%, and even higher with proper printer calibration, while desktop printers have an accuracy of 0.5% -1%. While for small details, it will not matter that much, when printing larger elements, e.g. 200x200x200m, the dimensional deviation will be about 2mm. The dimensional accuracy is influenced by many factors, the extruder design, the quality of the components used, stepper motor drivers, and these elements, usually in industrial printers, are of a much higher class.
- The last thing to decide on a decent industrial-class 3D printer is the support offered by the manufacturers of such printers. Often, manufacturers do not talk about their devices only as a 3D printer, but as printing systems. This is because manufacturers of industrial solutions offer, among others, auxiliary devices such as a filament dryer, ready-made settings for printing, but also implementation training in printer operation and setting the appropriate printing parameters and model editing.
Many people think that an industrial printer will be too difficult for them and prefer to start their adventure with 3D printing from something cheaper and more basic … nothing could be further from the truth!
A printer using an industrial printer has far fewer responsibilities than if he were using its “desktop” counterpart. This is because they have many great solutions, such as: automatic table leveling, mesh leveling, automatic lifting of the inactive head, or automatic nozzle cleaning. In fact, everything happens from the level of the control panel, be it on the printer or from a dedicated website, unlike a desktop printer, which often requires basic knowledge and intervention from the printer.
Summing up, the biggest disadvantage of professional printing systems is their relatively high price because the prices of such printers start from PLN 50,000 net and end at PLN 200,000 net. Nevertheless, this price is followed by specific advantages in the form of reliability, print quality, additional services and many others.
If anyone else is wondering whether it is worth choosing a more expensive solution, the answer is yes!
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