CNC vs 3D Printing – How to Decide

CNC vs 3D Printing

Subtractive manufacturing (computer numerical control, or CNC machining) has been one of the most preeminent manufacturing methods for the past several decades. Introduced in the 1940’s, subtractive manufacturing was used as a tool to machine highly complex parts that require optimal precision. Essentially, the process involves subtracting or cutting from a block of material to create an end product. Today, subtractive manufacturing comes in many different forms (milling, turning, laser cutting, wire EDM, and carving) and is used for a wide variety of prototyping, production and assembly line applications.

Additive manufacturing (3D printing or rapid prototyping) is a newer fabrication process, and is experiencing significant growth due to technology and material advancements. Introduced in the 1980’s as a tool for product developers to physically reproduce prototypes from their digital designs, 3D printing has become commonplace due to its speed, flexibility and cost advantages. Antithetical to subtractive manufacturing, AM deposits materials only where it is necessary on the build platform and typically does so layer-by-layer. AM comes in many different technology forms (FFF, SLA, DLP, MJF, etc.) and is capable of printing a plethora of polymer and metal materials.

Both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a product development and the manufacturing environment. There are certainly arguments to be made to determine which process is ideal for your business or application, but it’s important to note that these technologies are oftentimes complementary and can exist side-by-side. You can identify ways for these technologies to benefit your department by looking at several factors, such as business model, company maturity, design development or production process. For example, a machine shop will use CNC machining for voluminous production requirements and alternatively, use 3D printing to produce parts that are designed with advanced complexities or geometries that are just not possible with subtractive technology.

To better understand how your department can optimize current and new technologies, we have provided a brief guide to help discover which technology will provide the most benefit to your application. Subtractive and additive manufacturing is very broad so, for reference, this guide will compare general CNC machining vs. FFF thermoplastic 3D printing.

Prototypes of Office Furniture at Steelcase
Prototypes of Office Furniture at Steelcase

Prototyping

When to use subtractive manufacturing?

CNC machining equipment can be expensive and is typically reserved for production purposes. Due to setup time and operator oversight, CNC machining requires a more hands-on approach. However, if the equipment is available - subtractive technology is a viable option due to part precision and build tolerance. It’s an excellent piece of machinery but could be considered overkill due to the cost or time associated for setup.

When to use additive manufacturing?

3D printing was strategically designed for rapid prototyping because CNC equipment was either unavailable or too expensive to operate. Although some subtractive technologies are theoretically faster, additive manufacturing provides an advantage when it comes to design and cost efficiency requirements. Many product developers will create several iterations of a prototype and print them overnight for review the next day. In addition, the cost is significantly lower than subtractive manufacturing—especially when it comes to revisions.

It’s always important to compare speed, quality and cost. While the act of fabrication with CNC is faster than AM, set up time is an important consideration and holistically, will take longer compared to 3D printing. It’s possible to argue that subtractive manufacturing may produce higher tolerance parts (not always the case), but additive manufacturing is certainly the ideal choice when it comes to cost and multiple revisions. And let’s face it—no one gets their prototype perfect the first time. Check Mark Prototyping.

Subtractive Manufacturing Additive Manufacturing
Speed to Build
Quality of Build
Cost Effectiveness
Overall

Production

When to use subtractive manufacturing?

As previously mentioned, subtractive manufacturing technologies such as CNC are predominantly used for voluminous production. Setting up a CNC machine requires collecting stock, writing G-code, tooling and post processing so the labor time is longer compared to AM. However, once the machine is operational, it is considerably faster and part size will no longer be a factor. It’s always important to consider the breakeven cost point when it comes to technology comparison, but for the most part, CNC is a great tool for production purposes.

When to use additive manufacturing?

Material advancements in AM have led to fascinating production applications with many companies operating in the automotive, aerospace and consumer product markets. For example, the aviation industry has adopted 3D printing to print lighter weight frames, doors and brackets that capitalizes on the advantages of selective material deposition. These advantages enable the production of highly complex designs that are traditionally not possible with CNC. Customized components and short run production requests are also possible with 3D printing. However, the major limitation for high volume production with 3D printing remains to be the cost per part.

Car Restoration: 3D Printed Center Console
JK Automotive 3D printed this center console for a classic Ford Bronco

If you are looking for assistance to determine which technology is right for your production application, we recommend benchmarking your part for a cost and time analysis. This is common in the marketplace, and will help you better understand the technological and economical benefits associated with either subtractive or additive manufacturing.There are many factors such as size, quantity, time, materials and post processing that need to be accounted for and we suggest contacting the experts.

Intangibles

What is the intrinsic value of subtractive manufacturing?

Next to injection molding, subtractive machining is the most cost effective mass production technology in the industrial world. It’s been a tried-and-true method for generations. There isn’t a machine shop or service manufacturer that doesn’t either operate or outsource subtractive manufacturing for production purposes. It’s commonality within industry means that it is easier to find technically competent resources. Just by sheer volume, subtractive manufacturing is inherently more accessible.

What are the advanced benefits of additive manufacturing?

The limitless design freedom available with AM is unparalleled to any other fabrication technology. The ability to strategically deposit material and design with support structures breaths life to innovation and engineering possibilities. Working gears, complex airflow channels, lightweighting with honeycomb structures and many more applications are possible with additive manufacturing. It enables engineers to think outside the traditional box of machining and identify new ways to produce better and higher performing parts.

Conclusion

One size does not fit all when it comes to fabrication technologies. Injection molding and CNC machining have been the most cost effective mass production methods available to industry, while 3D printing adoption has grown significantly within the past decade. Amongst other variables, it’s important to compare size, quantity, functionality and purpose to establish what makes the most sense for you.

If you address these questions by industry, you may want to consider the following: The consumer product industry is experiencing massive growth with personalized footwear, accessories and electronics with the use of 3D printing. The automotive and transportation markets have invested significant time and resources to identify large format 3D printers that can replace bonding, welding and tooling requirements necessary on the production floor. Custom AM materials with superior mechanical properties have led to major advancements in biomedical and healthcare approved medical devices and applications. What industry are you in?

 

Talk to an expert to learn more about how 3D printing can benefit your prototyping or production needs today.

FAQs

Is CNC better than 3D printing?

Both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a product development and the manufacturing environment. There are certainly arguments to be made to determine which process is ideal for your business or application, but it’s important to note that these technologies are oftentimes complementary and can exist side-by-side.

You can identify ways for these technologies to benefit your department by looking at several factors, such as business model, company maturity, design development or production process. For example, a machine shop will use CNC machining for voluminous production requirements and alternatively, use 3D printing to produce parts that are designed with advanced complexities or geometries that are just not possible with subtractive technology.

Will 3D printing replace CNC machining?

One size does not fit all when it comes to fabrication technologies. Injection molding and CNC machining have been the most cost-effective mass production methods available to industry, while 3D printing adoption has grown significantly within the past decade. Amongst other variables, it’s important to compare size, quantity, functionality and purpose to establish what makes the most sense for you.

If you address these questions by industry, you may want to consider the following: The consumer product industry is experiencing massive growth with personalised footwear, accessories and electronics with the use of 3D printing. The automotive and transportation markets have invested significant time and resources to identify large format 3D printers that can replace bonding, welding and tooling requirements necessary on the production floor.

Is CNC same as 3D printing?

The basic difference between 3D printing and CNC is by its principles.  3D printing works on additive manufacturing principle. Whereas CNC works on subtractive manufacturing principle.

CNC machining is a subtractive process, starting with a chunk of metal and using programming controls (CNS Computer Numerical Control) which controls the machine tools movements in three dimensions, removing material until the object is complete. 

3D printing is additive, and the most common sort uses a plastic filament and melts it’s via a hot end extruder.  The movement of the extrude are controlled by the printer so that a line of plastic is laid down in a programmed shape, layer by layer.

What are some advantages of 3D printing over CNC?

Today, more companies in a variety of industries are embracing the 3D printing process as it presents many significant advantages over the more traditional manufacturing methods of subtractive manufacturing and injection molding:

  1. Speed
  2. Cost
  3. Flexibility
  4. Competitive advantage
  5. Tangible design and product testing
  6. Quality
  7. Consistency
  8. Risk Reduction
  9. Accessibility
  10. Sustainability
Is CNC or 3D printing cheaper?

Though on average 3D printing is cheaper, costs depend on how many parts are required and how quickly you need them. For larger quantities (higher double digits to 100s) CNC is likely to be more appropriate. For low volumes, 3D printing is more appropriate and lower cost. 3D printing is also more appropriate if you need your prototypes or parts very quickly. There are additional factors however that make comparing the two technologies more difficult. These include materials varying in cost (from cheap materials like ABS to materials that can cost $500/kg like PEEK) and repairing and changing machinery (such as CNC heads).

What is the difference between CNC machining and 3D printing?

3D printing is known to be simpler to use than CNC machining. This is because once the file is prepared, you just need to choose the part orientation, fill, and supports if needed. Then once printing has commenced, no supervisor is required, and the printer can be left until the part is finished. Post-processing requirements depends on the technology.

However, CNC machining is a far more labour-intensive process. A skilled operator is required to choose between different tools, rotation speeds of tools, the cutting path, and any repositioning of the material the part is being created from. There are also post-processing techniques which can require more time.

Will metal 3D printing replace CNC machining?

CNC and 3D printing use the same core technologies, so advances in one also pushes advances in the other. If considered whole manufacturing process of metal parts, it will appear that metal 3D printing and CNC machining are somehow two different things, and one cannot replace the other.

Metal 3D printing is constantly improving and can replace some of the processes but can still require CNC machining.

Should I buy a 3D printer or CNC machine?

It depends on what you want to do. The short answer can be “3D printer”, because it is very versatile. Long answer is that there are dozens of factors that could affect your decision. In general, if you are undecided, you would probably be happier with a 3D printer.

CNC routers need highly skilled specialists, they produce a lot of noise and waste and can only be used in a workshop environment.

A 3D printer is slower, but producing low volumes is a lot cheaper. 3D printers can be operated after basic training and with lower emissions they can also be placed in an office surrounding.

Bigger is Better in 3D Printing

Big 3D Printing: Bigger is Better

Recently, a 3D printed house went on sale in New York, first of its kind. Pretty remarkable, but it’s still considered a novelty and must overcome several barriers before successful market adoption.

The additive manufacturing industry is advancing at an incredible pace and technology improvements, material capabilities, use cases, competitors and adoption are at an all-time high with no signs of slowing.

According to a collection of reports compiled by AMFG, the anticipated annual growth rate until 2023 is anywhere between 18.2 - 27.2%. What was once a $3 billion industry in 2013 may exceed $30 billion in just a decade. This is driven primarily by major industrial players operating in North America, Europe and Asia. As adoption increases, so does the need for scalable technology that can solve the problems of today and tomorrow. As an industry we have historically looked at speed and reliability as major requirements, but recent data suggests that size has become a very important factor to industrial manufacturers, product developers and designers.

Size Matters

There are large format 3D printers available today that are being applied to a variety of industries and applications. For example, fabrication facilities and foundries are integrating larger printing technology to create new casting patterns that are more precise and cost effective. These foundry patterns can range from 100,000mm2 up to 400,000mm2 and are typically built through a manual process that is imperfect and expensive.

Being able to digitally design and 3D print with repeatable results continues to be a distinct advantage. The concept of large in this market is determined by application, and the one size fits all approach does not apply. Below is a list of the prime examples and industrial use cases to further justify what may work for you.

Large Parts

This is highly relevant for automobile, transportation and aerospace manufacturers. Engineers in these industries design all sorts of products, prototypes and tools that can benefit from a large platform 3D printer. For example, a luxury car designer wants to create custom bucket seat options for premium customers who are eager to personalize their vehicles.

Building a human-sized prototype seat would typically require multiple 3D printed parts that must be bonded or welded, and if the tolerance is off on one print then the whole part needs to be redone. Large format 3D printing solves this unique problem by simply starting and finishing the entire part during one print. In addition, this technology has proven to be a useful manufacturing tool for production lines. Train and plane manufacturers work with very large and heavy frames, chassis and doors during the assembly process. Although most of this can be automated with industrial equipment, some of it requires manual labor due to complexity or lack of resources.

Many industrial manufacturers are building custom jigs, fixtures and manufacturing aids to enhance the worker environment and improve efficiencies. These are oftentimes paired with scanning and reverse engineering technology, which tends to be a successful and safe application of large format 3D printing.

Big 3D Print Ford Production Jig
Car Production Tool for Positioning in Assembly at Ford

Batch Part Production

3D printing is quickly gaining notoriety as a production tool that will improve manufacturing independence. The global supply chain is shrinking, and antiquated methods of overseas production are becoming a thing of the past. This is apparent for many consumer products, electronics and medical device manufacturing companies who cannot operate with long lead times.

The beauty of large format 3D printing is not just for large parts but for batch production parts. Why not fill up a build tray with 10, 50, 100 or 1,000 parts and print them overnight? Oftentimes referred to as on-demand manufacturing, this enables product development companies to immediately provide products to their customers. This reduces the need for warehousing and eliminates logistical nightmares associated with overseas transportation. As companies begin adopting the digital warehouse concept, they will continue to embrace large format 3D printing as an advantageous way to enhance customer relationships.

Big 3D Print Batch Printing
Air Duct in a Verizon Kiosk in the NCY Subway by Boyce Technologies

Immediate Iterations

How often do you design the perfect product the first time? It’s almost impossible. As engineers, our job is to iterate and improve upon designs to maximize functionality, aesthetics or any other requirement. Occasionally referred to as rapid prototyping, 3D printing has become the obvious tool selection for most product development companies who are bringing products to market. For reference, the average new product development lifecycle timeline is about five months for consumer products.

This further demonstrates that the competition is constantly innovating and it’s up to the engineering team to identify cost effective ways to get to market faster. One way is with large format 3D printing and the overnight production of multiple parts, assemblies, ideas and product iterations on a single build platform.

Conventional manufacturing methods are limited when it comes to the automation of multiple parts in a single process, and typically requires multiple days of setup time, labor, post processing, etc. Imagine printing multiple variations of your prototype, functionality testing them and having a verifiable design by the end of the week.

Big 3D Print End Use Product
3D Printed Water Scooter by Jamade

Conclusion

Size is relative. What works for you may not work for someone else, so it’s always important to conduct your own research. The 3D printing marketplace is full of complicated technologies, so understanding the positives and negatives can become quite challenging.

When it comes to determining what size platform works for you, we invite you to consult with one of our experts. With close to a decade’s worth of experience providing technology solutions and a long list of satisfied customers, we feel confident in our ability to point you in the right direction.

ITERATE FAST. PRODUCE FASTER. GET TO MARKET FASTEST.

The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Learn More

ITERATE FAST. PRODUCE FASTER. GET TO MARKET FASTEST.

The BigRep PRO is a 1 m³ powerhouse 3D printer, built to take you from prototyping to production. It provides a highly scalable solution to manufacture end-use parts, factory tooling or more with high-performance, engineering-grade materials. Compared with other manufacturing and FFF printing solutions, the PRO can produce full-scale, accurate parts faster and at lower production costs.

Learn More

NEXT GENERATION LARGE-SCALE 3D PRINTING – Webinar Q&A

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Our next generation webinar was a great success with guests joining from all over the world to listen to Frank Marangell, President of BigRep America Inc, and Abbey Delaney, Marketing Manager, discuss the limitations of old FFF technology, why the additive manufacturing market needed a solution, and what BigRep’s new MXT technology®, which powers our latest industrial printers—the PRO and the EDGE—will do for large-scale, industrial 3D printing.

The webinar closed with a dynamic Q & A session, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to answer all of your questions, so in this article we will dive deeper into what listeners really wanted to know about BigRep’s next generation 3D printers.

What is the layer thickness options and Z build rate at layer height 1,2,3 etc?

The MXT has all the flexibilities in layer heights of a traditional extruder. Specifically, since the extrusion is very fast, the first release is using a 0.6 mm nozzle, for which we recommend a 0.4 mm layer height—a finer resolution is also possible.

Could you specify the max working extruder temperature for the PRO?

The max extruder temperature is 300C as the extruder is designed for a wide range of materials.

Is the max throughput of 1,000 mm/s reliable for long prints?
Certainly. Both the BigRep PRO and the EDGE were built to print large parts and to run in industrial environments—around the clock. The maximum speed at which the X-Y gantry can move is 1,000 mm/s on the EDGE. The PRO has printing speeds of up to 600 mm/s, with throughput of around 400 cm³/ hour.

What speed and acceleration should xy motors move in order to keep up with these extrusion rates?
The speed and acceleration are dynamically set by the Bosch CNC control system to allow for an optimal printing experience and material performance.

What is the accuracy of the PRO and the EDGE?
The accuracy of the printers is considerably better than their predecessors the ONE and the STUDIO, but the important factor is repeatability: the repeatability is much higher than any other extrusion printer on the market, awakening the potential of large-scale industrial 3D printing.

DISCOVER OUR 3D PRINTERS

 

Could you share more details about the new toolpath generation? What makes it so innovative?
The new toolpath is optimized for high-speed and stability and is currently still in development. Stay tuned to our blog for more details as they emerge.

How much do the printers cost?
If you are interested in receiving additional pricing information, please submit a request here.

How does the internal structure of printed parts appear on the EDGE, as compared to the ONE, in reference to the slide titled ‘how it really looks’?
As the EDGE is pre-beta, we have yet to formally compare the internal structure, but we will publish results in 2019. A study of the PRO will be published early in 2019.

According to the material compatibility table, neither the PRO or the EDGE can use PLA. Can you confirm?
The PRO and the EDGE are industrial materials printers; nevertheless, the target applications for the PRO and the EDGE are in the area of industrial/technical plastics—not PLA. However, the BigRep ONE and STUDIO are PLA compatible.

Is it possible to use two spools of two different types of filaments, using the same fusion temperature?
Although the same melting temperature does not mean the same extrusion characteristics, in general, the use of two different types of filament is achievable, but this needs to be tested and validated, prior to its release.

Regarding materials, are you looking into developing polymers with low CTE, as this will expand the use of AM for aerospace composite cure tooling?
The materials we develop and release in 2019 will unlock new applications for forms and molds—including aerospace applications. With reference to technology and the temperature of the various systems, it all depends on the resin systems used for its components. The curing of parts after production is also possible at 60°C. BigRep is currently speaking with prospective clients to gain insight into their requirements. Knowledge sharing is essential to help advance the additive manufacturing industry.

What printer will PEEK material be available on?
The EDGE—the industry leader for high-end thermoplastic materials.

How do support materials work on BigRep machines?
This is where the second extruder comes in to play: this enables the support material to work. BigRep will introduce special support materials for high-end/high-temp build materials.

Are there any food safe plastic filaments offered by BigRep?
PETG is already available and it is FDA approved (https://bigrep.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/BigRep-Technical_Specification-PETG.pdf) Furthermore, PP is on the materials roadmap and PC also. FDA compliant BigRep materials: PLA, PVA, ProHT, ProHS, and PETG.
With respect to food safety, the material used is one thing, the complete process of producing food products for consumption is a whole other thing.

What is the max temperature capability of your materials from an end use application perspective?
The max extruder temperature is 450° C or 842° F.

Are the materials listed for the PRO and the EDGE all plastic based or can these be printed with metal?
We are an industrial 3D printing company, specifically a thermoset plastics company. There is no plan to print with metal in the future.

Can this new system work with a carbon filled polymer like Nylon?
We are in the development/testing phase with fiber filled plastics. Watch this space!

Frank-Marangell-bigrep

Frank Marangell is President of BigRep America Inc. and Executive VP of Global Sales at BigRep. He has been operating at the top level of the additive manufacturing industry for over a decade.

Connect with Frank on Linkedin HERE.

Opening a new dimension for Additive Manufacturing

E-Motorbike - Additive Manufacturing Applications

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BigRep premieres innovative 3D­ printed prototypes for E‐Mobility and automation applications: showcasing a new dimension of additive manufacturing.

3D printing thought and innovation leader BigRep showcases the world’s first fully (FFF) 3D printed, functional E-Motorcycle and bionic passenger seat, as well as an adaptive robotic gripper and 360° mobile industry platform for automation applications.

Opening a new dimension for Additive Manufacturing, these prototypes designed by NOWLAB the BigRep innovation consultancy, and printed on BigRep’s large-scale 3D printers, include two groundbreaking prototypes for e-mobility applications: the world’s first fully 3D-printed and functional electric motorcycle, the NERA, and a bionic passenger seat, the Aero Seat. Advancing applications in AM are two other new prototypes, the Adaptive Robotic Gripper, designed for flexible handling applications, and the Omni Platform, a 360° mobile industry platform for fully automated manufacturing environments.

"These exciting prototypes not only demonstrate the unprecedented capacity of FFF large-scale 3D printing technology in Additive Manufacturing”, said Stephan Beyer, PhD, CEO of BigRep GmbH. "They also emphasize our unique ability as the market’s innovation and thought leader to bring cutting-edge technologies from design to reality, providing a market value added lead for our industrial customers.”

Discover our 3D Printers

NERA E-Motorcycle
Lead Design: Marco Mattia Cristofori with Maximilian Sedlak

nowlab-blog-2

Using 3D printing technology for cutting-edge e-mobility solutions, NOWLAB has developed the world’s first fully (FFF) 3D-printed and functional e-motorcycle, the NERA e-motorcycle. As a distinction from similar prototypes, all NERA parts, excluding electrical components, have been 3D-printed, including tires, rims, frame, fork and seat.
"The NERA combines several innovations developed by NOWLAB, such as the airless tire, functional integration and embedded sensor technology”, explains Daniel Büning, Co-founder and Managing Director of NOWLAB. "This bike and our other prototypes push the limits of engineering creativity and will reshape AM technology as we know it.”

NERA illustrates the massive benefits that 3D printing offers for the production of end-use parts, particularly for batch sizes between lot size one to small series by reducing lead times and costs, optimizing supply chains, and limiting dependency on supplier networks.

In building NERA, the engineers didn’t simply adapt existing motorcycle designs, but instead envisioned a bike for large-format FFF technology, setting a benchmark for truly creative design; breaking the limits of traditional mechanical engineering. Among the many innovations featured in NERA are the airless tires with customized tread; a lightweight rhomboid wheel rim, flexible bumpers (instead of suspension) and the electric engine, which is fitted in a customizable case.

Aero Seat
Lead Design: Maximilian Sedlak

nowlab-blog-4

Another prototype for an e-mobility application is NOWLAB’s Aero Seat, based on aerospace developments and game-changing passenger seat designs for autonomous driving technology. This exciting seat shell design has an almost bionic touch, look, and feel as the seat adapts to the driver’s individual body shape: using a 3D body scan prior to the seat production, the shell will provide its users with an unprecedented level of comfort to reduce the stress and physical discomfort of long-distance travel. Last but not least, flexible material (TPU) was used for printing the seat cushions, which molds to the passenger’s body shape. In addition, they are attached to the shell using only a few fixing points to reduce vibrations.

Adaptive Robotic Gripper
Lead Design: Tobias Storz

nowlab-blog-4

The Adaptive Robotic Gripper has been designed to advance the full integration of robotics into automated AM, more specifically to grip finished parts from BigRep printers. Created on a BigRep STUDIO large-scale printer, the bionic gripper is mounted on a robotic arm. The gripper has three modular fingers and an opposable thumb and is capable of handling objects of any shape by wrapping its fingers around it instead of using excess force. It is responsive to pressure with a force-monitoring system that automatically adjusts its grip.
The bionic design of the robotic finger tips is inspired by the lamellae of geckos that help them climb walls. Each finger segment of the robotic gripper has an additional pad made of flexible lamellae. When force is applied these fine rib structures gently hold the gripped object by their restoring force.

Omni Platform
Lead Design: Marco Backenhaus with Mirek Claßen

nowlab-blog-5

The equally innovative Omni Platform is a 360° mobile industry platform (size: 100 by 80 cm) for highly flexible applications in automated manufacturing environments and smart factories. It can both serve as an automated logistics carrier (loading capacity: up to 200 kg) and as a platform for additional devices such as robots, for example, to be mounted.

The 3D-printed platform has a fully integrated design, i.e. any bearings or electronics can be integrated during the printing process. Two key elements are special 3D-printed omni wheels with two different materials, allowing the platform to move sideways, and an integrated safety feature (human detection antenna), which was also 3D-printed.

Learning in 3D: Equipping the Next Gen of Engineers & Designers

3D printing and education

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We’re excited about this next generation of students finishing their studies with demonstrated practical abilities to use 3D printing technology, and a thirst to change the way we design and build. From the BigRep Innovation Award, which recognizes 3D design talent, to working with universities and students on realizing their complex prototyping projects, BigRep is committed to supporting education about FDM and additive manufacturing.

A new video by BigRep zooms in on three innovative projects that are underway at universities in Denmark, Germany and Britain, all of which exemplify the potential of 3D printing and how it can enhance tertiary or vocational education.

Learning Your 3D ABCs - Large-Scale 3D Printers for Education

One engineering student at Kingston University in London has been designing a 3D-printed injector for a rocket engine and spoke about how the 3D printer has transformed the way designs are developed in real life for testing. Creating a design, producing it, machining it to make changes – this process can be difficult and time-consuming, but the 3D printer makes it easy to develop multiple versions for testing at the same time for a faster turnaround.

One student project has involved using Kingston University’s BigRep ONE to print molds for Caterham racing car parts, such as a carbon fiber door for the driver. As engineering lecturer Dave Haskell says, they print the pieces, which can then go straight into the wind machine for testing.

3D printing in education
Engineering students at Aalborg University have access to the department's BigRep ONE

As Haskell puts it, a main benefit of large-scale 3D printers is that they do not limit your imagination. Practically, you can print big. He says that if there’s any easier way to do it, an engineer will find it. For example, 3D printing is so much easier than trying to make something out of foam. We would also argue, that if there’s a more innovative way of doing something, clued-in students are likely to find it.

At Aalborg University, a pair of students doing their Masters in Offshore Energy Systems are working on a project to create a floating turbine. The blackboard where the pair have sketched out their calculations looks like a jumble of numbers to the average untrained eye, but it represents the working out on a complex design for the 3D printer. They have scaled the design and printed it large scale to test.

For more information and video content on the exciting 3D-printed bicycle project at Aalborg University, which was covered on Plastics Today and All3DP, then click here to watch the bike in action. Just quietly, we’re curious to see whether their frame would work with our world-first, 3D-printed bike tires, printed using our TPU-based Pro FLEX.

3D printing in education
This 3D printed bike frame was designed and 3D printed at Aalborg University

The Technical University (TU) Wildau in Brandenburg, Germany, has a BigRep 3D printer that their engineering students use to develop prototypes with different functionalities. In the video, TU Wildau’s FabLab Manager and Ph.D. candidate Markus Lahr, shows a 3D-printed casing for a gear.

He speaks of the great opportunity that large-scale 3D printing technology brings to students to bring their ideas to life in such a formative time in their professional lives and education. An extended video by BigRep offers insight on another student project at TU Wildau, involving printing a bicycle with the BigRep ONE.

Though it is not only university-age students that should be learning about FDM! Guillaume Kouyoumdjian, BigRep’s Head of Online Services, recently gave a presentation on 3D printing to his daughter’s 5th grade class at the bilingual French-German Märkische Grundschule in Berlin.

A member of the BigRep team introduces 3D printing to pupils at a French school in Berlin
A member of the BigRep team introduces 3D printing to pupils at a French school in Berlin

Using a small 3D printer – for space and time reasons it was not possible to use a BigRep large-scale printer! – Kouyoumdjian showed the young students how to design, slice and print a small object in 30 minutes as part of his presentation. The object was used as part of an interactive story aimed at showing the children how 3D printing could easily reproduce objects. Most of the students had never heard of 3D printing before, and one student exclaimed, "I have so many questions in my head. 45 minutes was much too short!"

Ms-Sigalas

Class teacher Ms Bénédicte Sigalas said, “There was a well-established link between the different subjects the children are studying and their daily lives. The presentation on the evolution of past, present and future jobs was very interesting.”

We look forward to hearing how some of these students are changing the face of additive manufacturing a decade down the track!

Your Questions Answered – 3D Printing Webinar Q&As

Picture of 3D printing experts brainstorming about their next architectural project

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Our recent webinar ‘How to Revolutionize Your Architecture and Construction Business with 3D Printed Formwork’ was an exciting opportunity for us to connect with other 3D printing, construction and architecture enthusiasts. We had a great group of attendees there on the line asking questions of our webinar hosts, Jörg Petri and Tobias Wallisser. Due to limited time, Petri and Wallisser were not able to answer all questions on the day, so we contacted each participant with answers to their questions afterwards.

Many of the questions were very topical and great opportunities to explain some more context behind the scenes of BigRep and NOWlab projects, and Petri’s view of construction in the future with additive manufacturing. So, we decided to publish the answers here below!

Remember, you can easily watch the webinar for free here.

Can you go over the purpose and type of sensors you are embedding? Are you embedding them in the concrete or the plastic part?

The sensors were embedded in the concrete using a 3D-printed protection ring. We used capacitive sensor technology, so the closer you get with your hand, the stronger the signal. The sensor itself can be printed as well, as we did in another project: The Modular Wall.

Discover our Industrial Use Cases

Can you address cost of 3D printing vs. milling at this scale? We have found machining to be a lot cheaper.

To do a proper calculation, you have to look at the whole process chain. As print times are increasing, this calculation is no longer valid anyway. One of the clear advantages of 3D printing the formwork is less material waste. If you are milling, you will always use a massive block of a low-quality material like styrofoam, the waste for which cannot be easily recycled. After on-site use, the casting element is declared as toxic waste that has to be disposed of at high cost to the producer. In addition to this, you generally have to cover the milled part with epoxy to achieve the necessary strength.

The advantage of 3D printing over milling is that you only use the material you need to form the concrete, and you can print using high-quality polymers that are recyclable. If the strength is sufficient, you can print PLA as a biopolymer – you do not need to recycle it, as it is biodegradable. It is also possible to produce undercuts with flexible materials like a TPU-based filament (Pro FLEX) or a water-soluble PVA.

For each company, the cost and time saved used 3D printing will vary. However, we have found that many customers manage to significantly reduce their time to market. Milling can be cheap, but then can also take up to
several weeks longer than 3D printing molds, for example. So, the saving in terms of resources, material and competitive advantage are substantial. Here is a video providing some examples of time and cost savings that some of our customers have experienced.

Furthermore, the advantage of 3D printing is that it can fit into the production process – it does not have to replace it all together. We find that sometimes customers use traditional milling methods for some parts, while they use 3D printing technology at other stages of the production chain.

Can you also address direct 3D printing of concrete without molds vs with molds?

As mentioned briefly in the webinar, both technologies will play their part on the future building site. The current resolutions for 3D printing do not allow for the production of a visible concrete wall with the necessary surface quality demands.

Furthermore, speed will be an issue. If you reduce the printing resolution,it will be too slow and thus the advantages of using 3D printing are somewhat diminished.

The issue of reinforcement of 3D printed concrete walls is still waiting be solved. That is the advantage of the molding – we are tapping into an existing method and simply changing it slightly. This way, we retain the standards and methods used on-site with in-building pipes, establishing reinforcement, etc. Eventually, this technology and requisite methods will have been developed, but for now, it’s a good start: we’re focused on how replace or optimize some parts in the process chain.

What are the UV properties of BigRep materials? Have you done any testing for outdoor end-use applications?

We are moving through this process currently, to put our latest materials through new tests. We are using modified PLA, which resists temperatures up to 115 degrees Celsius. This is enough for the concrete, which would likely be exposed to the heat from sunlight. Our material development continues, and we will be working on new ones to withstand high temperatures and retain their strength and surface quality. Stay tuned for the end of the year when we have a big announcement surrounding this topic!

Can you develop on formworks recycling process?

We are in the process of testing this right now, to understand the best ways to clean the prints, ensure the safety of any toxic materials etc. So, there is no firm guideline for recycling yet, but it certainly is an important factor in the construction process, as 3D printing moves forward to become an important part of the process.

School is in Session, with Canadian ‘Innovation Enablers’ CAD MicroSolutions

CAD Microsolutions logo

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This summer heralds a big change for the rapidly expanding CAD MicroSolutions. They’re looking to move into their new, larger headquarters in Toronto, Canada, which will also serve as their demo facility. As one of the most recent partners to join the BigRep reseller community, they plan to showcase one of our machines on the demo floor – BigRep’s are the first large-scale printing machines they have added to their portfolio of 3D printers.

“BigRep was the sweet spot,” said Hargurdeep Singh, Director of Additive at CAD MicroSolutions. “We were missing the large-build envelope from our portfolio.” He zeroes in on what it was about the technology that motivated them to bring BigRep products to their customers: namely, the open source technology regarding materials and German engineering.

The Canadian firm has been servicing businesses across the country providing mechanical and electrical CAD solutions since 1984. They have expanded into additive manufacturing as well as VR/ AR and IoT solutions. At the helm of CAD MicroSolutions’ additive program, Singh and the team are based in Toronto, with an office in Cambridge and representatives across Canada, including in Montreal and Ottawa. They have a strong technical team, providing both remote and field support, as well as customized training.

Long-time resellers of Solidworks, CAD MicroSolutions was very selective as they expanded into additive manufacturing. They wanted to be sure their technology partners provided solutions that their clients would value. Singh says this has worked to their advantage. He explains that they are now in an advantageous position, being able to pick the solutions that best fit customer needs.

There’s a core focus on education, as training lies at the heart of what they do. Offering webinars, assisting SMEs find funding to explore additive manufacturing potential, and more, CAD MicroSolutions is intent on spreading the word about 3D printing technology. Singh said, “We don’t just want to sell a box,” – it’s ideas and potential they want to offer, as their company tagline ‘Innovation Enablers’ indicates. Students are, in his view, the ‘future force’, as they’re going to make equipment recommendations to their future employers.

The company has also recently partnered with the Canada Makes network, which is a manufacturing industry-led initiative to boost Canadian innovation by encouraging adoption of additive manufacturing technologies. CAD MicroSolutions has seen enormous potential in Canada for shortening production cycles in the furniture industry with large-scale additive manufacturing. Singh said, “It has become very much like the fashion industry – they want to feel, touch, analyze the product. You just can’t do that digitally, so you need a physical, life-sized model in front of you.”

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As well as working with the furniture, foundry, and mechatronics industries, CAD MicroSolutions sees the immense possibilities for educational institutions to further explore industrial 3D printing and specifically additive manufacturing. For Singh, it’s personal. “If I hadn’t had the chance to use, to play with them [a 3D printer] at my university, I don’t think I would have the passion and the desire I have today for additive.”

It’s a lucky thing he did come across a 3D printer in his institute, as it spurred the researcher on to win a host of accolades for the papers he has written on the subject, such OACETT’s Best Publication Award in Year 2014, for his paper titled ‘Cost Optimization of FDM Additive Manufactured Parts’. Singh has a technical research and development background, with a mechanical engineering specialty, and joined CAD MicroSolutions in May 2017 to head up their additive manufacturing division.

Discover our Industrial Use Cases

Fusing Creativity & Technology for Innovation

Some say working in the tech sector doesn’t leave much room for creativity. I beg to differ, and so do most others when they see what my team and I do every day at the intersection of creative and technology. Fusing together art, design and technological innovation has opened up a wealth of possibility for us here at BigRep, and for our customers and partners, in particular.

From an early stage, BigRep decided to have a creative team, and ensure it was a core function within the company. We reached out to designers, architects and artists, and sought interesting collaboration opportunities to demonstrate what large-scale fusion deposition modeling (FDM) could do.

Four years ago, when BigRep started out, not many creative professionals had ready access to 3D printing technology. The awareness level was so much lower than it is now. For us, it was about showing what it really means to use large-scale 3D printing. There’s a difference between doing something large and something that is really 1:1. We took on the exciting challenge of offering more value-added education on what FDM really is, and the potential of it.

In this post, I am keen to give more insights into how we approach our large-scale creative work at BigRep, and why I believe we’ve been pioneering a new-wave approach to creative large-scale 3D printing.

One of our early collaborations was with Munich-based industrial designer Thorsten Franck, on the London table. It is one table that can support a 20-kg plate of glass atop it, and one of the most interesting things about the design is that it can be printed in one loop, in just one day. I think it’s a great example of 3D-printed furniture because it uses the full one cubic meter of the BigRep ONE, it’s made for FDM and designed directly in the G-code, demonstrating big volume at high speed.

We also partnered with Juergen Mayer H. on a project that was about visualizing the code that banks use to disguise information, such as on the inside of envelopes. Given the cavities within the sculpture, 3D printing was the only technology to translate the digital model into a physical reality.

Juergen Mayer H. makes creativity & technology meet with his 3D printed Sculpture
Juergen Mayer H. with his 3D printed Sculpture

Another creative cooperation on perhaps the largest scale we’ve attempted yet, was with Andreas Greiner, in which the Berlin-based artist took a CT-scan of the skeleton of a broiler chicken and converted it into a skeleton the size of a dinosaur – at a scale of 20:1. Produced in partnership with the Technical University of Applied Sciences (TH Wildau), the seven-meter high sculpture was on display at the Berlinische Gallery, as part of Greiner’s suite of works representing society’s attitude to the meat industry and food production and consumption. It’s fascinating, as an artist myself, to see how our technology can bring a concept to life in a way that has such an impact on a space, and those who view it.

Andreas Greiner with 3D Printed Sculpture
Andreas Greiner with 3D Printed Sculpture

From early on, BigRep wanted to connect to the energy of the city here in Berlin and invest resources in projects that showed the potential of FDM, through film and dynamic content. We wanted to educate, inspire and show what the future could look like – thus the BigRep Innovation Award was born, and launched in October 2017. Starting in partnership with NOVACAD Systems, as a competition for Canadian students to design a chair for 3D printing, we want to help equip the next generation of designers, architects, engineers and artists to develop the skills and know-how to innovate with 3D printing.

I remember what it is like to submit works to open calls and competitions, so my advice for BigRep Innovation Award entrants would be: become familiar with the kinds of technologies available in the 3D printing sphere. Not everything is always ‘printable’, so learn how to design specifically with the technology in mind, and this will yield the best results.

Furthermore, try to be original, and to bring your passion and individuality to the design. Take the time to understand how the technology translates design into digital form and don’t worry about making mistakes. Our large-scale 3D printers are great trial and error tools. You can know in one day how something looks on a 1:1 scale. That changes everything – for design, for art, for creation.

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Amir Fattal is Head of Marketing & Creative Projects at BigRep in Berlin. He is also an independent artist and business developer for art and culture, who has curated and participated in numerous international exhibitions in galleries and museums.

Connect with Amir on Linkedin HERE and on Instagram HERE.

“I raced Amazon Prime, and won.” – The fast-print wonder that is the ‘Kinky Korb’

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There are few phenomena quite like the online shopping empire Amazon. The giant online shop offers same-day delivery in Germany and other countries, which many would agree cannot be beaten. Until its delivery time was unofficially beaten – by an in-house BigRep design and The ONE large-scale 3D printer.

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It all began with garbage – well, specifically a lack of desk-side recycling receptacles in the BigRep NOWlab office, that is. Mirek Claßen, industrial designer and architect at BigRep’s NOWlab, was on the hunt for more wastepaper bins in BigRep’s Berlin office, and when he saw a few more were needed, he did what many of us would do: he looked online to find some, and saw Amazon’s range available for same-day delivery. But simply ordering some for delivery wouldn’t have been as fun as Claßen’s next idea. “I thought, why not print one, but make it more beautiful, customizable and very print-friendly,” he said. “The idea for the Kinky Korb was born – a recycle bin that fulfils your office needs.”

Named for its quirky shape and the German word for ‘basket’, Claßen designed the Kinky Korb to be sturdy, aesthetically interesting and a fast-print object. “The recycle bin can be printed in vase mode and is tandem machine ready,” explained Claßen. “So, it has a print time of 2.5 hours per item and I bet that’s even better than Amazon’s same day delivery service!”

Waste paper on the way into a Kinky Korb paper bin
The Kinky Korb paper bin receives its first delivery...

The design works in every color – in fact, the louder the color, the better! BigRep’s PLA filament comes in a range of funky colors, and the Korb is strong and shiny in the Black PRO HT filament as well. Because it is fast to print, incredibly useful and uses a relatively small amount of filament, the Kinky Korb is the ideal project to test out the BigRep range of colors.

When Jörg Petri, NOWlab’s Head of Innovation, was asked to bring a little give away furniture piece printed on the BigRep ONE at the ‘Mobility Goes Additive’ event in Frankfurt in November 2017, it created more hype than would usually be reserved for a humble paper basket. Passers-by asked to buy one on the spot. This is how the Kinky Korb made its way to the headquarters of German rail service Deutsche Bahn. BigRep has been partnering with Deutsche Bahn on several research and development projects, including one to print headrests as end-use parts. The company put in an order for some colorful Kinky Korbs for their newly refitted office in Berlin.

So, for a quick side project, there are some lively, colorful results when there is a BigRep printer around. Needless to say, all BigRep staff with the standard-issue wastepaper baskets are vying for a funky new yellow, orange, black or green Kinky Korb!

Man holding Kinky Korb paper bin
Investigating the Kinky Korb

NOWlab is the research and innovation hub within BigRep that endlessly searches for new ways to scale and shape additive manufacturing for tailored industrial use cases. NOWlab's team of experts work to create custom industrial application solutions using cutting-edge, patent-owned production methods and processes. As a key player in the research sphere, NOWlab is leading BigRep’s journey to discover the future of industrial manufacturing and products.

BigRep Innovation Award’s Lindsay Lawson: Bending the Rules of 3D Printing

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To create something truly original, sometimes you must throw the rulebook out the window. Berlin-based artist Lindsay Lawson knows all about challenging the boundaries of what is possible, especially when it comes to technology – in fact, it’s an essential facet of her work creating sculpture and other artworks for 3D printing. Lindsay has had her works exhibited extensively across Europe and the United States, where she is originally from. When she is not exhibiting in cities like Vienna, Los Angeles, London or Rome, Lindsay works with BigRep on special projects that challenge its large-scale printers to develop interesting and complex 3D-printed objects.

It was Lindsay’s experience raising artistic works from the 3D print bed, fusing form and function, that made her a clear choice for the jury in the BigRep Innovation Award’s open call to students in Canada. As part of the four-person jury, Lindsay will help decide the ultimate winner of a Canada-wide competition, with a $3,000 cash prize, for the most innovative design of a 3D-printed chair. Following a public vote, a select number of entrants’ designs will be presented to the jury members, who will all be looking for originality, strong understanding of 3D printing principles, aesthetic innovation and structural integrity.

We sat down with Lindsay to find out how she approaches 3D printing in her work, and get her tips for competition entrants.

BigRep: Could you please tell us a bit about how and why you developed your expertise in 3D printing as an artist? 

Lindsay Lawson: My artistic practice is centered around sculpture and video. While my initial foray into 3D modelling was animation, I soon wanted to translate those skills into 3D printed sculptures. Any type of art-making is somehow affected by the tools and materials one chooses to use. With 3D printing the process is how to turn a virtual form into a physical object, and that opens up many new paths to creating something interesting.

BR: With your use of 3D printing technology in your work, how do you balance form + aesthetic with function + structure? What are the challenges you encounter in striking this balance?

LL: The key is to design objects that are particularly suited for additive manufacturing, otherwise it’s like eating soup with a fork. I’m all about printing fast and light so I like to design objects that require no support with minimal infill and few perimeters. Often this means bending some rules of 3D printing – for example, sometimes I like to over-extrude so that I get a thicker wall on a single perimeter print rather than making it double perimeter, therefore cutting the print time in half. But if you’re going to break some rules it’s crucial to design intelligently for the technology you’re using, rather than working against it.

I particularly like to work with some of our more challenging 3D printer materials like transparent PETG, wood filament, flexible TPU. By “challenging” I mean that these materials may not print certain geometries as well as standard materials like PLA. I recently designed some light fixtures that were printed with transparent PETG because the material has a beautiful, silver luster when it refracts light. That project required that I first consider the limitations of FDM in addition to the printability of PETG to inform the functional design of the structure. For me, aesthetic decisions always come last.

How to Submit Your Design

BR: Do you have any words of advice to any students for whom the Innovation Award is their first official design award submission?

LL: If you want to 3D print an object, there is no point in designing something beautiful that can’t be printed. My biggest advice for Innovation Award submissions would be to understand how FDM works and then use the constraints of the technology as a starting point for inspiration.

BR: Which news sources, blogs or publications do you devour for inspiration and industry news?

LL: Since my background is in art, I pay a lot of attention to contemporary art publications and exhibitions, but for design inspiration I like to look at Dezeen and designboom. There are many innovators here at BigRep, so I get a lot of industry news shared from curious colleagues.

Read more here from two other BigRep Innovation Award jury members about their approach to designing furniture for 3D printing. Full competition details, including the entry form, can be found here.

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Lindsay Lawson is an artist and a 3D printing specialist, NOWLab @ BigRep


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