By Cassandra Balentine
Part 2 of 3
Larger build sizes are trending in the three-dimensional (3D) print space. With bigger size capabilities come notable benefits like simplified part production. However, as with all technologies there are pros and cons.
In part one, Bigger and Better, we discuss the advantages of trendy, larger build size 3D printers and here in part two we tackle limitations.
Overall, when it comes to additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, and as an extension—solutions with larger build sizes—the primary limitation lies in the conception and design of the parts.
“The same limitations on AM adoption can apply to larger sizes; for some technologies, ‘larger sizes’ means ‘higher cost’ of the unit,” says Giorgio Olivieri, applications manager, Meltio, noting that Meltio is changing this equation.
“Each mode of AM has limitations. There is always a trade-off between feature scale and deposition rate. When printing smaller and smaller geometric features, your print speed typically decreases. Thus as we print larger parts or assemblies, there is a trade-off between resolution and fabrication time,” shares Mark Norfolk, president, Fabrisonic.
“3D printing becomes truly meaningful when parts are specifically designed for the intended application rather than being constrained by traditional manufacturing processes. Using AM for parts that are already manufacturable through conventional methods offers little benefit. It is crucial for designers and engineers to create parts that leverage the full potential of AM by tailoring them to the specific application at hand,” comments Kareen Malsallez, marketing manager, 3D Ceram.
While there are numerous advantages offered by 3D printing, there are also some limitations when it comes to large-scale production. “The size of the part that can be produced can be limited by the size of the printer itself. Not all materials are suitable for large-scale production, some may have limitations in terms of strength or durability. Inefficient post-processing techniques affect timelines, causing a disruption in the production process. Variations in printing parameters, material properties, and environmental conditions can lead to inconsistencies in the final products,” notes Beth Wyatt, director of marketing, MELD Manufacturing.
Blake Teipel, Ph.D., CEO, Essentium, cites material consumption, longer print times, and the need for robust and stable printing systems as potential limitations. “It is crucial to have precise calibration, robust mechanics, and sufficient support structures to maintain print quality.”
Michael Mignatti, VP printers, UltiMaker, says due to the size of these printers, the machines and materials can be quite costly and require a dedicated, large space to hold them. “These printers would also need technicians who know how to install, operate, and maintain them, which can limit how many people have direct access to them. The build times for large prints can be quite long, which drives the need for high reliability. Material selection tends to be limited on these machines; expanding the material portfolio often requires a more expensive feature set on the printer. These costs can go up rapidly.”
Jeffrey DeGrange, CCO, Impossible Objects, warns against warping or deformation typically associated with the 3D printing of large parts.
“There may be additional challenges with maintaining the print quality, such as warping or layer shifting,” agrees Max Siebert, co-founder, Replique. “This means that larger prints may require more preparation, more support structures to prevent warping and monitoring during the printing process to ensure successful outcomes. Experts are therefore needed to use those machines correctly, for example by the use of external 3D printing services.”
Hanifeh Zarezadeh, 3D product manager, Photocentric, stresses that not all parts can be cost-effectively printed in large volumes, either they require demanding physical properties or very low prices or just aren’t geometrically suited to printing.
Jasper Bouwmeester, CEO, XXL-DLP, believes that certain 3D printing techniques—e.g. FDM, WAAM—are quite easy to scale up in size, but the resulting product becomes rough and therefore needs a lot of post-processing. “This limits the practical applicability of these specific technologies.”
“There are technological challenges associated with larger sizes, related to coverage area of each laser, how the lasers interact, as well as topics related to the homogeneity of the gas flow across the entire powder bed. It’s also clear that the size of the largest powder bed fusion parts, specifically for metal, are now challenging the domain traditionally held by directed energy deposition,” shares Dr. Kartik Rao, strategic marketing director, Additive Industries.
Consistency is important in 3D printing, and maintaining the same conditions over the whole build chamber becomes more and more challenging. “In contrast to that, some printing is done connecting traditional industrial robots to e.g. extruders to prepare very large parts. However, maturity will still need to be increased to comply with industrial standards,” says Siebert.
Doris Logtenberg, marketing and communication, CEAD Group, points out that often small, intricate details cannot be accurately reproduced in large-scale 3D printing due to the limitations of layer width and toolpath capabilities. “However, in large sized parts, the focus is typically on printing larger features and structures, making the absence of small details less problematic in most cases.”
Siebert also sees cost as a significant limitation to larger size 3D printing. “As the size of the printer increases, so does the cost of the equipment. This means that larger printers may not be a feasible option for smaller businesses or individuals with limited budget, if they would like to go for in-house 3D printing.”
Another consideration is the cost and hassle that results from a large, failed print that may occur days into a job that must be repeated, says DeGrange.
The amount of materials possible with large-size 3D printers also result in limitations regarding the range of potential applications, adds Siebert.
Pros and Cons
Advantages and limitations are part of every technology, the same holds true when weighing the benefits of going larger in 3D builds.
Part three of this series brings a product round up of select 3D printers categorized as “large” by manufacturers.
Read part one of this series, Bigger and Better.
Aug2023, Industrial Print magazine