When it comes to revolutionary concepts in the manufacturing world, 3D printing tops the list. Whereas it used to take weeks to create a working prototype for a new product or part, 3D printing aka additive manufacturing (AM) has dramatically slashed that timeframe. In many cases, 3D printing has made prototyping so accessible; manufacturers and CNC machining services can feasibly produce a working model in hours.
Today, 3D printing is substantial for creating prototype and end-use production parts in hundreds of materials. It comprises a group of technologies used to build physical parts by adding material in a layer-by-layer fashion from a computer-aided design (CAD) file, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methods, such as machining.
3D printing opens new opportunities and gives hope to many possibilities for companies looking to improve manufacturing efficiency. It has the potential to revolutionize industries and change the production line. The adoption of 3D printing increases the production speed while reducing costs. Nowadays, 3D printing is increasingly used for the mass customization, production of any types of open source designs in the field of agriculture, in healthcare, automotive industry, and aerospace industries.
If you’ve decided on 3D printing for a prototype or even an entire production run, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is what kind of material to use for the part. 3D printers are evolving rapidly in terms of materials that can be used, however, there are limitations. Like any manufacturing process, 3D printing needs high quality materials that meet consistent specifications to build consistent high-quality devices. When deciding which materials to choose for your project, it’s helpful to answer a few basic questions about your requirements.
Part Requirements: Mechanical Properties
The first question to ask is whether the part has mechanical properties. This is the overarching question that ultimately determines your material choice. Mechanical properties include things like degrees of elasticity, hardness, fatigue limits, and tensile strength. If your part has any mechanical properties, you immediately narrow your focus to several types of materials.
Once you’ve determined that your part has mechanical properties, the next question to answer is whether it requires strength or flexibility. If flexibility is your goal, then you’ll want to choose a rubber-like material. These materials provide the greatest flex for your part and produce the needed elasticity.
If strength is the greatest need, then you’ll have three material choices: ABS-like material, nylon, or ABS. To determine which of these is best for your project, decide whether your part requires high resolution. If yes, then ABS-like or nylon are the best options for you. If resolution isn’t an issue, then you can go with ABS material.
Part Requirements: No Mechanical Properties
If your part does not have mechanical properties, the list of appropriate materials for your 3D printing project is a bit wider. Again, several questions will help narrow down the material for your project.
Does your part require transparency? If the answer to this is yes, then you’ll immediately cross out any material that is not transparent. This limits you to clear and color-tinted transparent materials for your project.
High Resolution and Complex Geometry
If the transparency of your product isn’t an issue, then the next question you’ll need to determine is whether your product needs to be high resolution and if it has complex geometry. These two questions will provide the final deciding factors regarding the type of material you choose.
If your product is high resolution and has complex geometry, the best material for 3D printing is Visiclear. If your product requires high-resolution printing but does not have complex geometry, then the ideal material for your product is Verowhite.
Not High Resolution
If your product does not require high-resolution printing, the only other question you need to decide is whether it has complex geometric requirements. If it does, then you’ll want to select ABS for your printing material. If your product is not high res and has no complex geometry, then PLA is your best bet.
Depending on your part requirements, 3D printing is a smart way to go for both prototypes and entire production runs. Though there are many materials to choose from, by answering a few simple questions about your part, you can quickly determine the best choice for your needs. This decision tree can help you choose the best material for your project: