Celtic3d are exhibiting at this year’s “The Ultimate Business Show“, TUBS2017 at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre on 26th April 2017.
So what is 3d printing?
3d printing has been around for decades but how can you use it to create an advantage for your business? There are a few different technologies involved, all of which add material in layers one at a time until the object is complete. The other name for 3d printing, additive manufacturing, is probably a better description of what is going on and how it differs from the traditional method of starting with a block of material and cutting away until you have the desired shape.
Despite being around for some time, 3d printing is still seen as something a bit niche and many folks have not (yet) come across it in their day-to-day business, nor have they figured out (yet) how to take advantage of it in their own business. Like any technology, it is important to first understand what it can do, what it is good at and when there are better alternatives.
The range of materials that can be 3d printed continues to expand rapidly. There is a range of plastics, each with different properties and uses; resins that are being developed for prototyping to mimic the characteristics of production materials; metals that range from steel powder fused together by a laser, to cast bronze, brass and even gold and silver. Recently, ceramics have become available where the clay is 3d printed, then glazed and fired in the traditional way.
There are different technologies within 3de printing. The main categories are:
- Fused Deposition Manufacture (FDM). The material is fed as a filament through a heated nozzle which melts the filament.
- Stereolithography (SLA) a light or laser is shone into a photosensitive resin (usually from below).
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) a layer of powdered material is spread over the build-plate and a laser traces the outline of the layer, melting particles of powder together.
- Variations on these include using inkjet technology to jet a binder liquid into powder rather than using a laser, this has the advantage of being able to add colour, but the resulting models are brittle and need careful handling.
When to use 3d printing (and when not to)
The possibilities are almost endless but a reality check is needed. While 3d printing is often cited as a quick process, it is not going to beat the speed of pre-manufactured items held in stock. , 3d printing is expensive compared to mass manufacturing techniques, so 3d printing something you can already buy online or in a shop would be a mistake.
3d printing’s main strength is in manufacturing unique and low production run items you can’t buy elsewhere. Some examples where 3d printing makes sense:
- Bespoke jewellery
- Dental and medical
- Personalised gifts
- Architectural models
- Exhibition models
- Product prototypes
Uniqueness is not the only consideration. There are examples of parts using a lattice structure to save on weight without compromising strength that could not be made any other way.
We already mentioned that 3d printing does not make sense in every case. It might not make sense for the whole object either. Bearings and threads would likely be better formed by incorporating a separate part bought for a few pence. There are lots of cases where using a different technique in combination with 3d printing gives a better and cheaper result. For example, at Celtic3d, we have found that 3d printing is ideal for models of buildings, but for the ground-plane, we get sharper (and cheaper) results using laser cut sheets of wood or acrylic.
Once we have the digital file sorted out, any of the techniques associated with digital fabrication can be used and combined to get the best result.
But why a model?
Having said a lot about the process of making a model or an object, let’s take a moment to consider the benefits of having a model in the first place. Using paper plans or on-screen visualisations requires your audience to do a certain amount of mental gymnastics to understand the shape and form. The big advantage of using a model of your product or building design is that communication of shape and form is instantaneous. We are naturally wired to understand physical shapes and can absorb and process more from a physical model than we can from a flat representation. Also, put a model in a room full of posters and drawings and watch where the crowd concentrates their attention. We see models as augmenting, rather than replacing presentation graphics, visualisations and new VR technologies. Used alongside other tools, a model can significantly improve your client and stakeholder engagement.
Celtic3d at TUBS2017
Celtic3d are exhibiting at “The Ultimate Business Show” (TUBS2017). To see some examples of 3d printed models, see an FDM printer in action and to chat to us about how 3d printing and digital fabrication can help your business, visit Celtic3d on stand 57.