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Professional 3D Printers

Professional 3D Printers

The prices of printers in the professional market start at € 10,000, – and exceed up to € 1,000,000, -. Manufacturers protect both purchase and material price and may also vary by provider or region. The 3D printers are therefore better offset than the printers for the prosumer. We discuss, among other things, the application and industry, but also the price of the material and the machine for the different technologies and their printers.

SLA and FDM Systems

The two biggest players in the professional 3D print market are 3D Systems (SLA), and Stratasys (FDM). In the following sections of this section you can read how both companies developed their own technology at the end of the 1980s. Meanwhile there are more parties are already active. Following a failed collaboration with HP, Stratasys completed a merge with 3D printer manufacturer Objet at the end of December. Together, they are currently the largest market share with an estimated market value of $ 3 billion. 3D Systems is also actively acquiring new technologies with a total of 31 acquisitions until November 2012, of which 24 in the last two years. Various players are active in the metal printing market.

FDM

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the only technology for all end users that consists of 3D printers. Stratasys developed this technology and is still the market leader in the professional market. All Stratays FDM printers currently have a minimum layer thickness of 178 microns. Subsidiary Dimension offers the Elite an entry-level model with a building volume of 203mm x 203mm x 305mm. The Dimension Elite costs € 22,800, -. Stratasys has a professional line called Fortus. The largest printer of this line – the 900mc – with a purchase price of € 300,000, – and a building volume of 914mm x 610mm x 914mm of another caliber.

FDM is mainly used for functional testing of prototypes in different sectors. Tool manufacturers such as Black & Decker, Motorola manufacturer Motorola, as well as 3M use FDM to test new designs. The latest generation of Mars Rover is currently tested with seventy-printed components, even though they are replaced in the final model. The technology is also used to manufacture finished products. There are some Unmanned Aerial Vehicles flying around with FDM parts. In addition, both the controversial Wiki Weapon, and the exo-skeleton for the 2-year-old girl Emma, are manufactured using FDM.

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POLYJET

The Israeli Objet developed the Polyjet technology in the late 1990s. With the Objet 24, the desktop series provides an entry-level model for just over € 15,000, -. Just beyond the reach of the enthusiastic prosumer, and not focused on this target group. Objet printers are all prototype machines. This makes the machine very suitable for educational purposes. The Objet 24 has a building volume of 240mm x 200mm x 150mm. One drawback is that the Objet 24 can only print in one piece of material. This material is delivered in cartridges that cost € 300 per kilogram. Objet has recently announced the launch of a new printer with a building volume of 1000mm x 800mm x 500mm, called the Objet 1000. This 3D printer, like Objet deConnex 500, can work with 120 different materials,  it can do fourteen prints in a single print. The price for the Objet 1000 is still unknown, the Connex 500 costs € 200,000, – excluding post-processing of the stations. Objet’s machines are mainly used in the development of consumer products so that they can be tested functionally. One advantage of these professional printers is that the multi-material printers can print both flexible, clear and strong materials at once.

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SLA

3D Systems Owner Charles Hull is the inventor of the Stereolithography technology. This is still the core technology of 3D Systems. In November 2012, 3D Systems presented at Euromold – the world’s largest design and product development design – the Projet 3500 HD max. The printer costs € 75,000, – the entry level in the professional SLA and has a building volume of 300mm x 185mm x 200mm. The machine is suitable for the new material of 3D Systems, Visijet X. The material promises qualities similar to injection molded ABS, and with a thickness of 16 microns, the surface quality also seems to be true. The SLA printers of 3D Systems are also used in dentistry. There are also materials available, suitable for printing models for (lost) casting. This technique is applied to jewelry and special tools for the medical world. The Mammoth SL, a special printer that uses SLA, was developed internally by 3D Print Giant Materialise. For the merger of Stratasys and Objet, they were by far the largest company involved in 3D printing, including software development, a technical and creative design department and a service desk. The Mammoth SL is available through the Materialise service desk and offers a building volume of 2100mm x 700mm x 800mm. The machine is used to test full dashboards of concept cars.

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FULL COLOR 3D PRINTING

Within the professional 3D print market, there are two parties promising full color 3D Printing, Z-Corp – now part of 3D Systems and MCor Technologies. The MCor printers use Lamined Object Manufacturing (LOM) and were previously omitted in this section. The printer prints sheets A4 in color and then a laser intersects the sheet in a 2D pattern. The 3D printer then glues the printed sheets to the underlying layer. This creates a 3D object. The main reason for the technology being mentioned is the recent announcement that Staples office chain offers a 3D printing service with MCor printers. The printer manufacturer targets the business model of the first 2D printers, including Xerox. The MCor Iris is the latest printer of the manufacturer with a building volume of 256mm x 169mm x 150mm. MCor rents the Iris – including material and service costs – for € 11,500, – per year.

Z Corp sells its ZPrinters in various formats.

The best-selling printer in the range is the ZPrinter 650 with a build volume of 254mm x 381mm x 203mm. The printer is sold with an integrated powder removal cab. The purchase price of the machine is € 45000, -. In the most detailed position, the machine can print with a film thickness of 90 microns. However, detail is not the main quality of the printer. Color, speed and relatively low material costs – € 0.20 per cc – are typical of the ZPrinter.
Both technologies are used exclusively for the physical representation of prototypes. Directly from the printer, the models are quite fragile, and deteriorate over time. However, various coatings provide protection and can counteract aging. The full color capability makes the technologies suitable for their own segment of applications. For example, engineers work with the technology to communicate with a customer or marketing department. Architects also adopt the technology.

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SLS

Professors at the University of Texas developed early 1990’s technology behind Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Spin-off company DTM commercialized the technology and signed a license agreement with the German EOS. Following the acquisition of DTM by 3D Systems, there were a number of court cases in 2003 regarding the infringement of the patents about SLS. Both companies decided to bury the battle axe in 2004 and concluded a cross-license agreement. Both EOS and 3D Systems currently offer SLS machines for the professional market.
The printers are suitable for Nylon powder, and glass filled Nylon powder. This latter enhances the impact resistance and structural properties of the printed model. Material costs are between € 40 per kilogram and – when supplied by the manufacturer – € 110 per kilogram. 3D Systems offers its Sinterstation Pro 230 – with a building volume of 550mm x 550mm x 750mm and a minimum thickness of 80 microns – for 750,000 euros. Recently, Huazhong University announced a printer with a building volume of 1200 at 1200mm.
The technology finds this broad application both in prototyping and in finished products. EADS Innovation Works in England manufactured the Airbike from printed components and applies the technology for manufacturing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. For consumers, jewelry is available with this technology. For example, Dutch Suuz offers customizable rings and bracelets in various colors.
Due to the unique form capabilities of 3D printing, and the ability to produce in low volumes, 3D printing is a special technology. Combined with the specific strength and rigidity of metal, technology is such an attractive alternative to CNC milling, pouring or sparkling. Thus, the technique is currently being applied in; the aerospace for gas turbines; automotive for suspensions and the medical sector for, for example, implants or tools.

Machine manufacturers are now printing end products, and there are special printers in the jewelry manufacturing market.

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3D-PRINTEN IN METAAL

There are currently three techniques commercially available for direct printing in metal. All these techniques are based on powder. In this case, a layer of powder is selectively cured with various differentiation techniques. In the building room, a separate atmosphere is created to prevent oxidation during the process. Non reactive materials are used in vacuum or nitrogen, and for reactive materials in an argon environment.
The two most commonly used technologies – Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and associated printers – are extensively compared in this presentation. The biggest difference between the two is the energy source, where DMLS uses a laser (light) and EBM of electrons for curing. With DMLS, the light is focused using optical lenses, and diffused with mirrors. There are currently more materials available for DMLS. The electrons are focused with the first magnets and deflected with a second set of magnets. EBM offers advantages in less complexity, efficiency and construction speed.

 

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EBM

The Swedish Arcam started in 1997 with the development of their Electron Beam Melting Technology (EBM). Five years later, they launched the first system, and now they have sold more than sixty machines. Currently, the limited availability of building materials is an obstacle, but the power of the laser offers great advantages in residual voltage and construction speed. By using magnets for focus and direction of the beam, installation and maintenance costs are reduced.
The Arcam A1 – for small parts, such as medical implants – and the A2 for larger parts such as the aerospace industry – are currently the two available Arcam printers.

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DMLS/SLM

Where the SLS market is limited, there are several metal variants. Multiple licenses provide more parties to the market. In addition, the properties of metal ensure that investment in technology development is more attractive.
Concept Laser offers the M1 & M3 printers under the name Laser Cusing. Special to these printers is that they do not heat the building room, but completely heat the metal through the laser. This ensures better mechanical properties of the final product, similar to alternatives such as CNC milling. The printers of Concept Laser can also engrave. Renishaw offers – after acquisition of MTT Technologies – 3D printers under the name Selective Laser Melting, similar to DMLS.
The EOSINT M270 – for details see this comparison – is currently the most popular printer on the market. The machine costs € 430,000, – and includes full installation and associated equipment € 650,000, -. A major advantage of the machine is that the machine quickly switches between different building tasks, and that it is possible to print on existing models. The disadvantage is that – using a laser – the construction speed is limited, and that residual voltage remains in the material. Post-processing is therefore required, and further increases the construction speed. The variable cost of use – gas, building materials and finishing – is higher for DMLS than for EBM.EOS has recently marketed the M280 with a more powerful laser – which reduces residual stress – and a larger building volume. EOS offers – in collaboration with Cookson Precious Metals – a 3D printer specifically for the jewelry and watch industry, the Precious M080. The printer is specifically designed for printing in gold (18k) and has a building volume of 80 x 80 x 100mm.
3D Systems offers systems called Selective Laser Melting. Due to limitations in the field of medical regulation in the US, SLM system decline has unfortunately remained limited compared with Arcam and EOS.

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DIRECT PART MATERIALIZATION

The Direct Part Materialization technique is commercially offered by Ex One. The printing technique requires some modeling of the model. After printing, the model is sintered and then impregnated with bronze to achieve full density. Nevertheless, the machine distinguishes itself at a particularly fast print speed. The M-print is the largest available metal printer, with a very large building volume of 760 x 390 x 400mm. Full print volume will last about thirteen hours. Available building materials are stainless steel, bronze and tungsten.

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