Published 07th December 2020 | Articles

How often do we use our 3D printer and why?

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model.

The term “3D printing” can refer to a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object, with material being added together (such as liquid or powder grains being fused together), typically layer by layer.

3D printers can be bought for as little as a couple of hundred dollars (off eBay) or up to £500,000 for specialist machines. 3D Printers can typically print in:

  • PLA
  • ABS
  • Polycarbonate
  • Carbon Fibre
  • Differing shore hardnesses of rubber
  • UV curable resins in transparent/opaque with varying replicant properties of other polymers
  • Steels, stainless steels, titanium and chrome steel

These materials are commonly used in 3D printing, but stem cells, chocolate and concrete can also be added to an ever-increasing list.

In general, industrial 3D printers can print in several formats:

  • SLS
  • SLA
  • DMLS
  • LOM
  • MJM (to name a few….)

Generally speaking, FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) is the main system used by small businesses, schools, colleges, hobbyists and design houses.

We at Cambridge Design Technology have a mid-range FDM machine.

We can print in ivory coloured material and a soluble scaffold (support structure) material which allows for overhangs and hollow parts to be printed.

Why do we use 3D printing?

At CDT, as a natural progression of communication and verification of our work, we utilise 3D printing as a quick and easy way to substitute a flat 2D image laser (printed on a piece of paper) with a physical object.

Explaining or describing a part, when it is physically sitting in someone’s hand is far easier and more effective than spinning a model on a screen and showing a static image.

Once a CAD design is created, it can sometimes only take an hour (or even less) to export the files, set up the print, warm up the heated printing chamber and press go.

The length of a 3D print job can vary hugely from as little as 5 minutes, for a simple spacer or washer, to 5-6 hours for a large casework.

Fear not, however, long print jobs can be setup and run overnight.

In terms of our use of 3D printing at Cambridge Design Technology we use the prints to make test fixtures, small mechanical items, (shims, washers, spacers, clamps etc), housings, proof of principle models, moving mechanisms and more.

We can even print pre-assembled assemblies with moving parts and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) as dummy volumes to assess the fitting and assembly of parts.

The sky is the limit when it comes to 3D Printing.

At CDT, anything that we can design on CAD can be printed – as long as it is no bigger than 10”x8”x10”, no thinner than 0.7-1.0mm and no more than 30 cubic inches. However if a bigger part is required, we are able to join several parts together with multiple prints if necessary.

How often do we use our printer?

When we’re at prototyping phases, we sometimes find we use our printer daily. Other times it sits idle for longer periods, however it is never long before we power it up again and create something quickly and cost effectively.

We’ve found that our in-house system has saved us thousands of pounds as well as incalculable hours, days and weeks in numerous projects.

The main reason for this is that by 3D printing in house we don’t need to outsource and subcontract parts to specialist suppliers.

Feeling inspired? For more information about how we can work with you on your next product design and prototyping project, please call Jon Plumb now on 01787 377106. Or email info@cambridge-dt.com

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