FOCUS ON INDUSTRY – JANUARY 2018
MUST desktop 3D printers be disposable?
Disposable by definition means that once a product has reached the term of it’s use, it is simply thrown out and replaced by another. Most low end household appliances like toasters and blenders are disposable. Once they stop doing what they are designed to do, you throw them out. Some computers. Cel phones. All designed to promote disposal rather than repair so the user can be persuaded to getting the ‘next’ model.
The financial costs involved in constantly disposing and replacing these devices is not always something individual or organizational users can (or should have to) afford.
Additionally, one of the many benefits offered by 3D printing/additive manufacturing are its enhanced environmental bona fides. Additive manufacturing is by default a more environmentally sound than traditional subtractive manufacturing, and many of the filaments currently on the market equally trumpet their credentials as ‘environmentally friendly’. Disposing of printers, many having acrylic cases that are hard to recycle effectively certainly acts to counter any benefits accrued during the lifetime of the printer.
The cost of disposal can be pronounced for the individual user, but they become even more so for institutional users like companies or schools and school districts that may have need of more than one printer. Over the course of 10 years, the costs can be…extensive.
Is there another way?
The C(F)-130 Hercules entered production in 1956. Today, very few people have not seen these aerial workhorses at air shows. They provide support and transport in times of crisis, and are used by more than 70 countries worldwide. A total of 2300 of these aircraft remain in service. The popularity and long life of this aircraft is a testament in part to the concept of modularity.
Modularity in the context of a complex machine refers to the ease in which components can be replaced or upgraded incrementally without having to dispose of the core machine.
In the case of the C-130 Hercules (shown above), over the life of the planes users have had to replace electronics to update them to contemporary specs, fuel tanks, hydraulics, propellers and so forth. In 2000, the US Department of Defense authorized an engine upgrade that would not only extend the life the of the US fleet of C-130’s, but would save $2 Billion dollars in the process.
Clearly, modularity is a powerful cost savings tool.
But does that mean that you have to buy a multi-million dollar airplane to gain these benefits? Or buy a $100,000 3D printer before you can call it ‘non-disposable’?
The short answer: NO.
DISPOSABLE vs MODULAR DESIGN
As mentioned above, disposable designs are exactly as they sound. They are self-contained units that once their use has expired – either by design or cause – are disposed off.
Thrown out and then replaced by a different unit.
The economic impact of a disposable design is straightforward and considerable. Consider for a moment that since its origins in 2009, Makerbot has introduced no less than 5 generations of 3D printers – an average of one new generation every 1.5 years.
The net aggregate costs of disposing of one unit and purchasing the next unit spanning over 5 generations is close to $15,000CDN – and that does not include exchanging extruders, filaments, shipping, cost of downtime, etc. And in addition to the net monetary cost of replacement, each generation of Makerbot has added on average 30 lbs of waste/generation, or 150 lbs to waste. The case used by most disposable units is typically acrylic, a group 7 plastic that is not readily recycled or biodegradable.
This is also true of other printer brands like Ultimaker and Inksmith, and virtually every other 3D printer currently in the market. It is important to note however that despite the various product generation or ‘evolution’ for each of the brands, the underlying FDM 3D printing technology itself has remained unchanged. Rather it is the addition of features (like WiFi, corporate decisions to switch to proprietary software, extruder upgrades, changes in heating bed, etc…) that has driven the changes.
MODULAR designs stand in sharp contrast.
A modular design, much like the C-130 Hercules, allows for incremental changes and updates to be made to the printer to augment performance and lengthen its lifespan without having to replace the printer. The INFINITY3D printer has a modular design, and here are some of the benefits this offers its owners.
Every component of the INFINITY3D is designed to allow users to either replace or upgrade, and every upgrade made to the baseline INFINITY3D is designed to be retrofittable onto pre-existing INFINITY3D printers. Since it’s introduction in 2011, various components of the INFINITY3D have undergone upgrades.
For example: The current Cobra extruders being used in the INFINITY3D have replaced the Tiger Extruder. The Cobra extruder is more friendly towards flexible filaments like TPU, PolyFlex and ColorFabb flex. A client with an earlier model which to replace the Tiger extruder with the Cobra would be able to do so at the fraction of the cost of purchasing a different unit (Cost = $300).
Future product development and additions will be retrofitted in similar fashion, saving the client hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the life of the printer.
The INFINITY3D’s modular design even allows clients to expand the utility of their 3D printer by modifying the hardware and allowing for the attachment of different tools, like a laser engraving head or a milling head (though the latter is not recommended without proper dust collection).
Firmware is the software that controls the actual machine – it can be freely upgraded and modified to suit modifications and hardware additions (like different extruders or the laser engraving head mentioned above).
Contrary to most competitors, Revolution 3D Printers has refrained from proprietary software systems and intends to continue using open-source software. Open source software grants the use 3 big benefits:
- cost – open source software is much less expensive if there is a cost at all
- customizable – allows the user to make modifications they deem beneficial to the operation of the software and the integration of the printer into production
- support – open source software benefits from a generally more open dialogue.
Given the quick pace of change for emerging technology’s, the benefit of a modular system that allows clients to stay abreast of changes in the industry without recurring and undue capital expenses can be a great strategic benefit and demonstrates another impressive reason why the INFINITY3D printer is the most cost effective and environmentally conscious 3D printing option currently in the market place.
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FOCUS ON INDUSTRY – DECEMBER 2017
Additive manufacturing, often more colloquially referred to as 3D printing, is sweeping across a great number of industries both high tech and more traditional, and it is generating a lot of interest and questions about how the process can benefit individual companies.
Additive manufacturing is not only pervasive today, but it’s future is almost limitless.
The global additive manufacturing market has been growing in excess of 25% per annum for the past 5 years and it is estimated that it will hit almost $15 billion dollars in 2018, and that growth rate is not expected to slow down. Estimates of growth by 2020 range between $20 and 25 billion, and just shy of $100 billion by 2030. By contrast, the growth of more traditional CNC machine tools is expected to grow at a far more modest rate of between 4 and 6% for the foreseeable future, not accounting for the increasing pressures placed on more traditional manufacturing techniques by emergent additive manufacturing technologies.
In other words, additive manufacturing is big…and about to get much, much bigger!
The Focus on Industry portion of the R3DP ‘To Infinity and Beyond’ Newsletter is normally to investigating and describing the impact of additive manufacturing on specific industries, and that is something that we intend to continue.
However before we do, we felt it was a good time to get back to basics and answer some of the most common questions revolving around additive manufacturing:
“WHAT’S IT FOR?”
Definitely one of the most common questions currently revolving around the 3D printing industry on behalf of commercial clients is those 3 simple words: What’s it for?
By that, business owners are asking what can you do with a 3D printer. Why is it everyone is saying that 3D printing is revolutionizing the way we are doing business?
Historical and traditional methods of manufacturing have been defined first and foremost by adjusting and removing sections from a pre-existing form or material. Earliest civilizations would find a stone and chip away at the edges until they refined it into a usable tool. Although the techniques for refinement are far more sophisticated today, many involve some of the same principles – wood lathes, CNC lasers and torches, saws – all of them designed to form a component from raw material.
Additive manufacturing works in reverse. Rather than ‘take away from’ existing materials, the additive manufacturing process ‘begins and adds to’ in order to create the desired item.
So the answer to the first question is: Its used for the manufacturing of goods, products and items.
Additive manufacturing can be used to produce prototypes, end use products, visual displays, product components….using materials ranging from thermoplastics to foodstuffs!
“HOW DOES IT WORK?”
The concept of additive manufacturing is really very simple.
One of the main reasons additive manufacturing is commonly referred to as ‘3D Printing’ is because it begins on a two-dimensional plane using the X and the Y axis – think of a drawing on a piece of paper – and then incrementally adds layers to the preceding layer – adding ‘depth’ on the Z- axis, one pass at a time – a little bit like a normal printer.
While the actual technical details are bit more involved, conceptually the process of creating a printed model is not that much more complicated. Essentially a computer model or mesh is created using one of a small host of existing free and pay for use software. The model is saved in the appropriate format and then processed by ‘slicing software’ that essentially takes the model and ‘slices’ it into much smaller layers…like a loaf of bread, only much, much thinner. The ‘slicer’ then converts the layers into a code the printer can understand – G-code – and the printer begins its work and adds layer after layer until the model is complete.
This process is now being used to produce everything from alternator brackets, to jewelry, to field use medical equipment like the otoscope shown below.
“WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES?”
Normally, this question revolves why industries are increasingly integrating additive manufacturing into their models. Some of the benefits additive manufacturing possesses over traditional manufacturing techniques can include:
- Less waste
- Faster Production Times
- Faster Prototyping of New Designs
- Less cost, especially if the production of components includes multiple steps such as cutting, welding and so forth
- Enhanced Design Complexity
- Integration of proprietary/unique elements into product design
- Stronger components by way of reduced joints, variable infills, greater selection of materials
…and the list goes on.
The capacity to impact and benefit specific companies and organization is limited only by the imagination of the user, and the capacity of the printer. Open source and open filament printers often times best suit the needs of commercial clients because they lend themselves well to complexity and to diverse material applications.
So the next question is, how can additive manufacturing benefit YOUR organization!
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