Advantages of 3D Printing for Mechanical Part Fabrication
Mechanical part fabrication is an essential part of many manufacturing processes, and companies are constantly looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their fabrication methods. In recent years, 3D printing has emerged as an accessible and cost-effective way to manufacture parts. At MJS Designs, we use 3D printing to provide custom tooling, enclosures, and small production builds at minimal cost.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital model. The process involves using software to slice the model into 2D layers, then building the physical object one layer at a time until the final product is achieved. This can be done by several means, such as extruding a plastic filament, solidifying resins, or melting powders with a laser. Each material and method used in the 3D printing process has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
3D printers are able to utilize various materials for multiple applications, each with unique mechanical characteristics. Some of the most common materials are plastics, metals, ceramics, and composites. Plastics are one of the most popular materials in 3D printing. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and can be used to create parts with a wide range of properties, such as flexibility, strength, and durability. There are many different types of plastics available, including ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PLA (Polylactic Acid), and nylon. ABS is a common thermoplastic in 3D printing due to its durability and strength, while PLA is a biodegradable plastic that is more environmentally friendly. Metals are another material in 3D printing, often utilized in industries such as aerospace and medical, where parts with high strength and durability are required. These metals include titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel. Metal 3D printing can produce complex geometries and highly detailed parts with great accuracy and precision. Ceramic 3D printing is often a resource in industries such as dental and medical, where parts with high precision and accuracy are required. Ceramic parts can be highly durable and resistant to high temperatures, making them useful for a wide range of applications. Composites are materials that consist of two or more different materials combined together. In 3D printing, composites produce parts with unique properties, such as increased strength or improved conductivity. Some of the most common composite materials in 3D printing include carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar.
3D Printing Technologies
There are several 3D printing technologies available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The three most common 3D printing technologies are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most widely utilized 3D printing technology. It is a relatively simple process that involves extruding melted plastic filament through a heated nozzle and depositing it layer by layer onto a build platform. The nozzle moves back and forth along the X and Y axes, while the build platform moves up and down along the Z axis, to build up the object layer by layer. FDM is one of the most versatile 3D printing technologies, able to utilize a wide variety of plastic and composite materials. This assortment of printing material also allows parts created by FDM to have strong mechanical properties at a lower cost. Compared to other technologies, the parts produced by FDM tend to have lower accuracy and resolution, and the surfaces may require post-processing to achieve a smooth finish. This makes FDM the primary technology for prototyping and generalized production.
- Stereolithography (SLA)
Stereolithography (SLA) is a 3D printing technology with a liquid resin that is cured by a UV laser to create the desired shape. The resin is contained in a vat, and a build platform is lowered into the resin. A UV laser then draws the shape of the object onto the surface of the resin, causing it to solidify and adhere to the build platform. The build platform is then lowered further, and the process is repeated for each layer of the object. SLA is capable of producing highly detailed and accurate parts with a smooth surface finish, making it ideal for applications such as jewelry, dental models, and intricate prototypes. However, SLA is generally more costly than FDM, as the resin used in SLA is more expensive and may be difficult to work with. SLA parts are also generally more brittle than those produced by other 3D printing technologies.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a 3D printing technology that has a laser to fuse powdered material, such as plastic or metal, into a solid object. The powdered material is spread evenly over a build platform, and a laser then selectively melts the powder to create the desired shape. The build platform is then lowered, and the process is repeated for each layer of the object. SLS is capable of creating parts with high strength and durability, and the technology can use a variety of materials, including nylon, metal powders, and ceramics. It produces parts with intricate geometries and internal structures that would be difficult or impossible to build with other 3D printing technologies. However, SLS is generally more expensive than other 3D printing technologies, and the SLS machines are larger and more complex. The machines also tend to be more difficult to program and operate, requiring skilled technicians in a dedicated production environment.
Advantages of 3D Printing
Traditional machining methods are known for their accuracy, precision, and surface finish quality, especially when working with metals. They are well suited for producing large quantities at a relatively low cost per part. However, traditional machining methods can be time consuming and expensive for producing complex geometries or low volume production runs. This is an area where 3D printers have clear advantages, some of which are:
One of the significant advantages of 3D printing is speed. Traditional machining methods can take days or even weeks to fabricate a single part, depending upon the complexity and required tooling. 3D printing, on the other hand, can produce a part in a matter of hours, or even minutes. This speed is especially useful for rapidly prototyping or producing parts on demand.
Another advantage of 3D printing is cost. Machining parts in traditional methods can be expensive, especially when producing parts in small quantities. The lack of required tooling for 3D printing eliminates many upfront costs, making low volume production and prototyping feasible. This cost effectiveness makes 3D printing an attractive option for businesses to optimize their production.
3D printing allows for a high degree of customization. With traditional machining methods, making changes to a part design can be time consuming and expensive. With 3D printing, changes can be made quickly and easily, without the need for additional tooling or setup. This customization capability allows for greater design flexibility leading to better product performance.
Another advantage of 3D printing is the ability to create complex geometries. 3D printing allows for intricate designs with internal cavities and intricate shapes that would be difficult to achieve with traditional machining methods. This capability makes 3D printing an attractive option for industries such as aerospace, medical, and automotive, where complex parts are often required.
The FDM Printing Process
At MJS Designs, our Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer to creates tooling, test fixtures, custom enclosures, and rapid prototypes. The general steps involved in the FDM printing process are:
- Design: The first step in the FDM printing process is designing the part to be printed using 3D modeling software. This software exports a 3D model that is compatible with the printer software.
- Slicing: Once the 3D model is ready, the next step is to slice the model into layers. Slicing software creates a set of instructions that the printer will refer to when printing the part layer by layer. This software also allows the user to customize the settings for the print, such as the layer height, infill density, and print speed.
- Preparing the printer: Before printing can begin, the printer must be prepared. This involves leveling the build platform to ensure the first layer adheres correctly, loading the filament into the extruder, and setting the print temperature based on the type of filament.
- Printing: Once the printer is ready, the printing process can begin. The printer nozzle moves back and forth along the X and Y axes, while the build platform moves up and down along the Z axis to build up the object layer by layer. The printer will follow the instructions from the slicing software to create the object.
- Post-processing: After the part is finished printing, it may require some post-processing. This can include removing any support structures that were printed along with the part, cleaning up any rough edges or excess material, and sanding the surface for a smoother finish.
The MJS Designs Difference
At MJS Designs, we are committed to providing the best solutions for your tooling, fixtures, custom enclosures, and prototypes. Our team can work with existing 3D models, or create entirely new designs to help you take advantage of the many benefits of 3D printing. Contact us today to learn how we can help with your fabrication needs.