My 3D Printing thoughts and lessons learned

 Lessons learned from my 3D printing hobby.

As I learn tips I will add to them.   I have used PLA, PETG, ASA and clear PVB so far.  

  What is needed to advance 3D printing to be a reliable process.

  1. Design must improve.  Designing for past manufacturing methods was very mature.   Designers must learn how to design for 3D printing to make it useful for production work.  3D printing wont replace everything, it has it's niche and use.  Many very good uses.  To take advantage of it Designers will have to learn new design rules and methods.   Just changing the orientation of a 3D part while making the part could have a major effect on the design.  Most importantly, design leaders must learn to use and validate 3D designs and parts. 
  2. Organic design tools are needed.  CAD software that can also check and implement design rules for 3D modeling. 
  3. The "post processing" of the data to make manufacturing code must continue to develop.   To be able to design a part 10mm square with a 5mm hole and have it print out to 10mm square and with a 5mm hole within a design tolerance.  Adjusting the model from nominal dimensions to fit tolerance needs to go away.
  4. The industry must stop re-inventing the wheel.  The very first 3D machines in 1986 did not use G&M codes and did not use tool paths.  They printed the completed table as a grid and deflected the laser.  They were very slow and expensive.  Customers had to teach the 3D companies the basics of NC programming at the time.   Those designing "additive" machines need to  investigate machine tool design, movement compensation, welding and other overlapping technologies.
  5. The professional 3D machines must become machine tools, not elaborate hobby machines.    More sensors to help control the 3D process.  Better understanding of the variables.  Processing the sensor data and then developing the algorithms to make it all usable in the manufacturing environment.    A 100 machines should take the exact same code and be able to make the exact same part, within the required manufacturing tolerances.  This is not the standard yet. 
  6.  Material Science.   Turning 6061 aluminum into powder, then melting it with a laser to make a 3D part does not make a 6061 grade aluminum part.   The process changes the material. New materials must be developed for 3D printing processes.  Materials must be predictable, reliable and consistent in 3D use.  Metals, plastics, resins are all ongoing.  For many years 3D was done with existing materials.  In the last few years, development of new materials has grown and must continue to grow. 
  7. Trade secrets and patents too easily obtained and widely applied are limiting advancement.
  8. Data, data and more data is needed.   The rocket industry embraced 3D printing to help make very expensive and costly rocket engines.  Traditional processes took hundreds to thousands of steps and 9 months to years to build all the complex parts and assemblies.   With 3D printing the process is simplified, overall faster and potentially 10% of the overall cost.   It has taken the rocket industry 30 years to be successful with 3D printed parts. 

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Last Update June 27, 2024