The 3D Printing Sweet Spot

As additive manufacturing technologies continue to improve and evolve more and more companies are finding more and more ways to utilize the benefits of having an in-house 3D printer. You may be aware of the benefits of having an in-house 3D printer but how do you know if a 3D printer is the right fit for your company or at least if it is worth looking into to? 3D printers have sort of a sweet spot within the manufacturing realm, that is:

  • Where part complexity is high
  • Expensive tooling is required, but
  • not justified by expected part volume

Where part complexity is high:  3D printers offer design freedom because you no longer have to design with manufacturing constraints in mind when printing your end use parts.  You can design with the end goal.  Let’s use NASA as an example.  Using their FDM 3D printer they were able to quickly & simply produce very complex parts in production grade thermoplastics, such as ABSplus, poly-carbonate, and Ultem for their Mar’s test rover. 3D-printed parts on NASA’s rover include flame-retardant vents and housings, camera mounts, large pod doors, a large part that functions as a front bumper, and many custom fixtures. 3D printers offer the design flexibility and quick turnaround to build tailored and complex parts. For example, one ear-shaped exterior housing is deep and contorted, and would be impossible — or at least prohibitively expensive — to machine.  Read more about how NASA is using 3D printers >>

Expensive tooling is required: Depending on the number of parts you produce 3D printing has the ability to replace your metal tooling with less expensive plastic tooling to give you the exact same parts. This allows you to produce a short run of your parts quicker and at a reduced cost.  Diversified Plastics, a custom injection molder, has experienced significant time savings using their PolyJet 3D printer to produce molds with fine details and smooth surfaces.  By being able to 3D print the mold components, Diversified Plastics can supply their customers with prototypes in a matter of days rather than weeks – and it’s actually less expensive. Their customers are then able to use these parts to test out their design concept early in the product development process and determine if the design is going to work all without cutting any metal. Read more about Diversified Plastics >>

Lower expected part volume: It can be hard to justify the creation of an expensive metal tool if you only need 1 or a handful of parts. However, what is the absence of that part costing you? Hours spent on design analysis, manufacturing inefficiencies, missing potential design flaws early on, delays getting a new product to market, lost business?  This is where 3D printing really shines.  It allows you to easily justify the cost of a few prototypes to validate and test designs, a mold to produce a prototype in the same process and materials that you will use for the final product.  How about that custom fixture(s) that would speed up the manufacturing process or that scale model(s) of a new product needed for an upcoming tradeshow.  All these parts can quickly and cost effectively be produced on a 3D printer.


Ready to explore if 3D printing is right for your company?  Contact us and we will walk you through the process and help you decide if and what 3D printer is best suited for your unique needs and applications.

Stratasys 3D Printers are Shaping the Future of Additive Manufacturing

Stratasys has once again redefined what a 3D printer is capable of by recently unveiling two new pieces of game changing additive manufacturing technology – the Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrators and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator.

The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator is designed to address the demands of aerospace, automotive and other industries for large, lightweight thermoplastic parts with repeatable mechanical properties.  The system turns the traditional 3D printer concept on its side to realize an “infinite-build” approach which prints on a vertical plane for practically unlimited part size in the build direction.

The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator combines Stratasys advanced extrusion technologies with Siemens’ Motion Control hardware and PLM software. It’s designed to revolutionize the 3D printing of composite parts for transportation industries like Automotive and Aerospace, plus Oil & Gas and Medical applications. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator uses a unique 8-axis motion system that enables precise, directional material placement for strength while also reducing dramatically the need for speed-hindering support strategies. This redefines how future lightweight parts will be built, and provides a glimpse into how this technology could be used to accelerate the production of parts made from a wide variety of materials.

Want more information about Stratasys 3D printers?

We help companies utilize 3D printing to solve their biggest challengesWe support the mid south region including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, & Louisiana by providing, implementing, training, and supporting Stratasys 3D Printers and rapid prototyping services.

3D Printing A Perfect Part – Part 2

3D Printing A Perfect Part – Part 2

Note: This is Part-2, Click Here To Read Part-1

Last time we touched on building from the foundation of a good CAD file, this entry deals with orientation of the part during the build as a factor in making a good part. This orientation may be different in PolyJet versus Fused Deposition Modeling and also varies on the end use of the part that you are building. However there are few good guidelines.

In general if you are building a part with a cylinder shape, hollow tube, or circular ductwork, you will want to build the part in a vertical orientation. In other words, you want to build the parts so that the open area of the tube faces upward. This orientation allows you to minimize the amount of support used, maximize the stress resistance from forces from the side and minimize the stepping that can be seen when the part is built on the side. This build orientation may be a factor when looking at whether you can get the part into the build envelope, but in general, if you can get the part into the build area vertically, try to go that route.

In parts where you using PolyJet and building the part out of Rigur or Durus, if the part is going to be flexed across a thin wall area (such as a prototype of a living hinge) you will want to build the part with the thin section in the x and Y axis with the longest side of the hinge area getting the longest paths on the material laydown. Try avoiding doing short pathways of material build where the layers will be at the flexure points.

Note that the parts with living hinge prototyping will not have the same lifetime as an injection molding part with the same feature due to difference in material tear strength.

In prototyping a flat part, if the flat area exceeds 4 inches, remember that getting a similar part in injection molding would mean developing geometry to assure flatness. In end of arm tooling, thin flat areas with tips that must be accommodating to robotics with precision placement should have “v’s” or ribs to assist in keeping the parts from defecting, much like an injection molding part. In contrast, in injection molding achieving a flat surface is difficult due to material shrinkage and internal stresses in the part due to material flow and knit lines where the material fronts meet together during processing.

In 3D printing, you can often get the desired flatness on the part, but then have problems reproducing the flat feature in the production part. In FDM Ultem for example, you can print low volume production parts that have the flat feature, but in injection molding would not be abler to produce the same flatness.

3D Printing A Perfect Part


EngATech Technical staff get asked about tips and “how to’s” regarding printing better parts on a regular basis, often enough in fact that we are hosting an October 20th webinar on the subject.  But overall, there are some general tips that help customer achieve the best build for their application, but you have to start with a foundation.  That foundation for 3D part design and build is the CAD file.  And, most of the best practices involve getting your CAD file print ready.  Here are a few areas to pay attention to:

CAD to STL file conversion – make sure that you save the file from the native format to a STL file in a high resolution mode.  Usually in SolidWorks or Creo, there is a checkbox when you get ready to save that asks you to define the type of file and whether it is high resolution.

Save parts that have multiple areas with different material being printed in PolyJet digital format as an assembly file.  If we can’t see where you want different materials printed into the file, it is difficult to define what goes where.  We can import files as an assembly, but usually it is best to save as an assembly.

Triangles and resolution – if the part is coarse, the file will print out coarse with facets on curves and poor resolution in fine features.

Check files for errors such as inverted normal and open edges.

Fine features and walls thickness  – in general, features below 0.020” should have special attention and you should talk to the service provider.  On FDM parts, walls of that thickness may or may not be producible, depending on the machine used.

Currently several CAD providers are working with Stratasys to fully integrate the program into using 3D printers seamlessly from the design to the print.  Work continues in this area and we monitor how customers are using this technology in the commercial marketplace.  The two most notable providers are Creo and Autodesk, and now we are also seeing online Cad program such as TinkerCAD that allow you to develop designs without having to buy a seat of CAD software.  We found the program to easy to use, and you can start with existing simple files and add to them to get even faster results.

And, in case you have a program that doesn’t save to STL format, there are several web based providers that will do this service.  EngATech doesn’t have experience with these vendors, but the GrabCAD community forums and Thingiverse communities have users who can give you the pros and cons of several different programs.

Overall, we have just touched on a few areas that contribute to part robustness, and all the things that make 3D printing such an exciting area to explore.

Note: Click Here To Read Part-2