6 Time Factors About the BigRep PRO

The BigRep PRO is an industrial large-format 3D Printer to support your company's development and production. Since the PRO launched in 2018, the BigRep R&D team has mainly focused on making this machine better by listening to what the customers wanted.

With an almost one cubic meter build volume, the BigRep PRO is a fully enclosed industrial 3D printer for producing full-scale, large parts, including functional prototypes, factory tooling, patterns and molds, and end-use parts.

In November 2021, we launched a newer and more powerful BigRep PRO, also known as the PRO.2.

Our focus? EASE-OF-USE. We built a large-format 3D printer that can be used by everyone.

This blog post lists 6 time factors about the BigRep PRO to better understand this 3D Printer's potential.

It took 12 seconds to remove the parts below from the bed by bending the SWITCHPLATE®

Ever had issues removing big 3D printed parts from your printer? Well, say no more!

Quoting Kerry Stevenson, Founder at Fabaloo:

“I can personally attest to slicing up my appendages on several occasions when wrestling a print stuck on a glass plate with a sharp chisel. Not fun at all.”

The SWITCHPLATE® is magnetic and easily snaps into place. Heat increases the adhesiveness of the SWITCHPLATE® surface, so your print stays fixed during printing but is easy to remove once cooled. For time-saving production, the SWITCHPLATE® can be swapped before cooling to free the printer to begin the next print.

Thanks to this feature, the effort to remove large parts from the bed is radically reduced. No need for scrapers, brims, or worrying about your appendages!

SWITCHPLATE-3D-Printing
SWITCHPLATE-3D-Printing-2

In 8 minutes, your BigRep PRO is automatically calibrated

We had a precise aim: make sure the first layer is ALWAYS right. 

Why is the first layer so important?
Believe it or not, a not adequately calibrated first layer for single or dual extrusion is the leading cause of FFF 3D print failures for desktop and large-format 3D printers.

With the updated MXT® Controls, the brain of the BigRep PRO, calibrating won’t require manual actions and can not be wrong. The MXT® Controls use proprietary algorithms and surface-mapping to bypass manual print bed and extruder calibration, ensuring that the crucial first print layers are optimal every time.

Before a new gcode starts printing, the machine will run an autocalibration process, which takes around 8 minutes. In the first step, the extruder will map the printing bed and build a digital mesh. Secondly, the PRO will print a few lines on the bed; the sensors will map them to gather the necessary information, ensuring a perfect first layer with the Z calibration and a perfect XY calibration for dual extrusion.

To put things in perspective, manually calibrating a large format 3D printer can take up to 2 hours!!!

Autocalibration-MXT-Controls

2 hours and you will be mastering our slicing software BigRep BLADE

BigRep BLADE is a free and easy-to-use slicing software allowing greater control of printing parameters on all BigRep large-format 3D printers. With BLADE presets, you can easily prepare your 3D printing files in just a few clicks. Features like auto-orient and auto-placement make BLADE simple to use.

Large-format 3D printing doesn't only mean big parts. With the BigRep PRO, you can also produce several smaller pieces using the "batch production" feature of BLADE.

This feature will ensure the parts are printed "sequentially," 3D printing one STL after another rather than printing all of them simultaneously. This process is only possible with large-format 3D Printers with an XYZ moving portal like the BigRep PRO and will save you up to 10% in printing time, depending on the geometries, in just one click! Software optimizations are great, aren't they?

If you want to discover more features about BigRep BLADE and how it has been optimized for large-format 3D printing, you can download BLADE for free and watch our basic and advanced training.

Also, if you are used to slicing files with Cura, BLADE will look much more familiar!

3D-Printing-multiple-parts
3D-Printing-sequentially

By slicing the above four manifolds sequentially instead of all together, we saved 5% printing time.

13 days! The longest print we have run on a BigRep PRO so far.

The BigRep PRO has been designed to 3D print as long as you need with its custom-built gantry engineered for high speed, fast acceleration, and accuracy. The robust frame eliminates vibrations during printing, assuring fast yet precise movement gliding the extruders along with a reinforced carriage system. Powered by Bosch servo motors with integrated encoders, the PRO calculates the real-time location of the print head to self-monitor for position accuracy. We call it the 2nd Generation Precision Motion Portal.

In addition, the already-mentioned MXT® Controls orchestrates the harmonious coordination of all components and processes to ensure fast printing, accuracy, and repeatability. It employs proprietary algorithms that improve your gcode print file. The result is better quality, such as smoother surfaces from spline interpolation, higher accuracy from backlash compensation and vibration filtration, and overall consistent results.

That’s why our customers can 3D print 24/7, reliably. 

Unfortunately, we can not show you the 13 days part because of an NDA, but we can show you how a six-and-a-half-days print of a prototype for a car bumper looks fresh out of a BigRep PRO!

large-3d-printed-bumper-bigrep-pro

For 2 weeks, your engineering materials are kept dry in the filament chamber

The PRO’s environmentally sealed filament chamber with a two-spool capacity ensures that all materials, including engineering-grade and water-soluble, remain dry in a consistent temperature and humidity-controlled environment. Even when powered off, the PRO’s airtight material storage ensures best-in-class quality and reliability.

In addition, we need to highlight that we give you a choice regarding the filament. The BigRep PRO is an open system, which means you can use third-party filaments.

BigRep offers original filaments with qualified BLADE profiles, including biopolymers, fiber-filled, engineering-grade, and water-soluble support materials, meaning you can start printing virtually any shape immediately. On the other hand, we know that some customers prefer to order their filament from different providers or make their own!

For example, our customer METSO Outotec uses a BigRep PRO in Brasil to manufacture large-scale sand casting patterns. Close to their facility, there is a filament provider able to support them with the material they need. METSO Outotec preferred to use locally produced material.

Why should we lock you in a closed system?

BigRep-PRO-chamber

1 month shorter lead time than outsourced CNC machining

We 3D printed a large-format hand-held jig (see picture below) and compared the lead times with a couple of CNC machining shops in Germany.

The results are pretty interesting:

saving-3D-Printing-vd-CNC
BigRep-PRO-jig
BigRep-PRO-fixture

If you are interested in learning more about how 3D printing and CNC work together, download this ebook for free!

ITERATE FAST. PRODUCE FASTER.
GET TO MARKET FASTEST.

Explore the PRO

ITERATE FAST. PRODUCE FASTER. GET TO MARKET FASTEST.

Explore the PRO

About the author:

Marco Mattia Cristofori <a style="color: #0077b5" href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/marcomattiacristofori/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Marco Mattia Cristofori

Head of Product Marketing

Marco is a creative product marketer with an architectural background. He has been part of the BigRep family for five years, following all the development stages of its outstanding large-format 3D printing solutions.

A Short Introduction to Generative Design

Generative design: Introduction

Imagine you could create thousands of options for a single design the push of a button and then you just pick the best option! Generative design makes this possible.

Generative design is pushing the boundaries of what engineers and creators can achieve. The technology leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automatically generate design solutions based on design criteria.

This capability enables designers and engineers to explore geometries and forms beyond the bounds of human imagination and come up with superior solutions and products. Generative design’s potential is further unlocked using advanced manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing. In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know in order to understand and get started with generative design.

What is Generative Design?

Generative design is a a software-driven iterative design process in which 3D geometries are created based on goals and parameters. The software, which uses AI-driven algorithms to make optimized geometries that meet or exceed performance requirements.

In the generative design process, you are not required to upload an existing part or geometry. Instead, you input constraints and design goals for a given part, and the software will auto-generate a series of designs that meet your specifications. Inputs include dimensional and weight constraints, maximum cost, material type, necessary loads, what manufacturing technology is being used, and more. Generative design software takes all these factors into account when computing 3D models, resulting in a series of different designs that fit the parameters and goals.

From there, the various options can be further analyzed - either manually by the designer or using an automated testing program - to rank the geometries based on how well they meet the defined goals. The top choices can then be further refined and optimized until the best solution is found. Notably, because generative design is driven by artificial intelligence, the software continues to learn with every project, leading to increasingly advanced outcomes.

Difference Between Topology Optimization and Generative Design

While both are at the forefront of design processes today, topology optimization and generative design are not to be confused or conflated. One optimizes an existing CAD design to meet certain specifications, while the other creates a design from scratch using algorithms.

Topology optimization is a widely used tool in many CAD software programs. In the topology optimization process, users upload a CAD model and specify the design goals for the part including constraints, loads, etc.. The software processes this input and creates a single optimized geometry based on the original CAD model.

The generative design process, on the other hand, starts at a different point. Rather than input an existing 3D model to be optimized, you begin by setting the project constraints and goals. AI-driven software then analyzes these and generates a series of design outcomes, which you can evaluate and optimize further.

In summary, there are two important distinctions between topology optimization and generative design. First, unlike topology optimization, generative design does not require a human-designed CAD model to initiate the design process. And second, generative design offers you multiple optimized design outcomes, enabling you to explore more potential solutions and further refine the design.

Benefits and Limitations of Generative Design

There are many benefits to using generative design, including previously unimagined solutions and faster design iterations. As a relatively new software solution, however, generative design is still burdened by some limitations, which we will explore in more detail. But first, let’s take a look at some of the benefits.

Benefits of Generative Design

New design concepts: Traditionally, product designs are typically based on models that already exist. With generative design, however, geometries are not restrained by existing models. The software can therefore produce wholly new geometries that may surpass existing designs in terms of functionality and performance, often with an unexpected and novel appearance.

Faster time to market: Generative design technology can dramatically speed up product design timelines and therefore accelerate the time to market. Not only does it auto-generate multiple outcomes for a given set of parameters, it also enables you to compare the various designs and further refine them in a digital setting. This means by the time you get to physically prototyping your new product, many of the potential design flaws will have already been anticipated and avoided.

Complex design: Used in combination with advanced manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing, generative design unlocks unprecedented design freedom. Previously impossible parts, with lattices, organic structures, and complex internal geometries can be achieved to attain the best possible performance outcomes and meet design goals.

Automated Assessment: Once the design outcomes have been generated the best option must be chosen. Depending on the project, this can be simply an aesthetic decision made by the designer, but more often this is a matter of part performance. Additional algorithms can be implemented to evaluate and rate the generated design in regard to parameters such as part performance, accuracy in relation to defined goals, and many more.

Partition wall made with Generative Design

Limitations of Generative Design

Upskilling: To make the most out of generative design software, designers must understand how to work with machine learning and AI-driven software. This is especially true for more complex design applications. Not all designers are equipped with these skills, which creates hurdles for adoption.

Accessibility: One of the challenges facing generative design today is accessibility. The cost of using generative design software has traditionally been steep, which makes it prohibitive to certain users. Free options are available but tend to require the users to script their own algorithms. Fortunately, thanks to cloud computing solutions, the price of generative design solutions is starting to decrease. In 2021, for instance, Autodesk cut the price of its Generative Design Extension for Fusion 360 by 80% to increase access.

Generative Design Process

Once an exclusive technology, generative design software is becoming more accessible as CAD software providers integrate the process into their product offerings. Below are some of the leading generative solutions on the market:

Autodesk Fusion 360

A leading CAD software program, Fusion 360 offers users a wide selection of 3D design tools. Autodesk’s Generative Design Extension for Fusion 360 utilizes machine learning and AI to quickly iterate design solutions based on defined goals and parameter sets for various manufacturing processes, including 3D printing, CNC machining, casting, and injection molding.

Siemens NX

PLM software provider Siemens has brought generative design to market in its NX platform. Siemens NX is an integrated solution that offers a combination of intelligent design and simulation for product design. NX also integrates topology optimization powered by convergent modeling.

PTC Creo Generative Design

The Creo Generative Design solution by PTC is fully integrated into its CAD/PLM/simulation platform, enabling the seamless transition from design concept, to simulation, prototype and, to production. The solution consists of two design extensions: the cloud-based Generative Design Extension (GDX) and the Generative Topology Optimization extension (GTO). These extensions automatically highlight the top design options for the user and are compatible with both additive manufacturing and CNC machining.

nTopology nTop Platform

nTopology’s generative design software gives the user full control over the design optimization process. With it, you can build custom workflows and utilize field-driven design, which combines simulation, experimental data, and in-house engineering knowledge to generate innovative, optimized design solutions.

3D Printing and Generative Design

3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, and generative design go hand in hand. Used in combination, the advanced technologies enable engineers and producers to take their products to the next level, overcoming design limitations imposed by more traditional manufacturing processes.

3D printing is a relatively young manufacturing approach that builds parts layer by layer. This is different from subtractive manufacturing processes, like CNC machining, which creates parts by removing material from a blank. Due to the additive nature of 3D printing, the technology is capable of producing a greater range of design features, including lattices, organic structures, and internal geometries. Today, there are many types of 3D printing technology on the market, including metal, polymer, and composite systems that fall into hobbyist/industrial and desktop/large-format 3D printer categories, for example. This means additive manufacturing can be used for a broad range of applications in many industries.

Generative design gives you the tools to make the most out of 3D printing. And vice versa. In other words, 3D printing and generative design provide unprecedented design freedom, which creates pathways for more innovative product development.

In addition to the design freedom 3D printing allows, the technology also offers other benefits, including production agility. Let us elaborate. 3D printing is not bound by the same economies of scale as more traditional production methods. This means that it can cost efficiently produce a single or small series of parts. Not only does this have benefits for prototyping, where high-quality functional prototypes can be quickly iterated for testing, but also for the mass customization of end-use parts. Generative design also encourages customization in that it can quickly generate new design variations based on parameter adjustments.

There are several examples of generative design and additive manufacturing being used to enhance the performance of a part. For instance, automotive manufacturer General Motors redesigned a seat belt bracket using Autodesk’s generative design solution and metal 3D printing. Not only did the new part consolidate eight components into a single structure, but it was also 40% lighter and 20% stronger than its conventional counterpart. .

Large-scale 3D printer manufacturer BigRep has used generative design to achieve previously impossible designs. The company’s innovation consultancy NOWLAB relied on generative design software and large-format 3D printing to produce the first 3D printed green wall with built-in drainage and irrigation systems. The first installation, known as the BANYAN Eco Wall, is characterized by an organic, plant-inspired structure measuring 2000 x 2000 x 600 mm, and is designed to irrigate the living plants fitted into it. A subsequent GENESIS Eco Screen was installed outdoors in Berlin and measured 4000 x 4000 x 800 mm. Generative design was vital in creating the unique design and optimizing it for 3D printing.

Industries that Use Generative Design

Generative design is a versatile technology that offers benefits to a range of industries, from aerospace to consumer goods. Here is how the top industries that have adopted generative design are using the approach:

Automotive

In the automotive industry, generative design is being used to improve vehicle part design with the aim of enhancing performance and efficiency. Some of the most important goals in this sector are reducing weight and consolidating parts. Both are critical to improving fuel efficiency in cars.

Aerospace

Generative design is also making an impact in the aerospace industry, where new aircraft part designs are unlocking greater efficiency, performance, and safety. Like the automotive industry, aerospace is leveraging generative design to create more lightweight parts for better fuel efficiency.

Architecture and Construction

In the field of architecture, generative design allows designers and architects to conceive of new, outside-the-box solutions for architectural spaces and layouts while solving complex design problems. For example, generative design can come up with innovative and functional layouts for compact urban living spaces or offices.

Industrial Machinery

Generative design can be used with a range of manufacturing processes, including additive manufacturing and more traditional processes like CNC machining. This means industrial machinery businesses can explore new possibilities not only for AM but also for casting design. For example, industrial machinery designers can create better performing parts, such as gears, while also consolidating the number parts to lower costs, material usage, and overall risk.

Consumer Goods

Product design for consumer goods is all about innovation. Generative design is enabling product designers in this segment to bring superior solutions to market that solve complex design problems. Crucially, generative design takes out a lot of the legwork of designing by streamlining what would normally consist of multiple iteration cycles using AI-driven algorithms. This can save product design teams significant time and money.

Conclusion

Overall, generative design is changing how designers come up with solutions to complex problems. It provides an intelligent, automated pathway for conceiving new design concepts that push the boundaries while still meeting, even surpassing, the brief.

It is also worth mentioning that there are those who think generative design will make designers redundant through its use of automation and AI. This is far from the truth: the technology is not designed to replace the designer, it is built to empower them to explore wholly new design concepts that take product performance and efficiency to new levels. And as the technologies that power generative design—AI and machine learning—become increasingly sophisticated, so too will generative design solutions and outputs.

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.

Explore the PRO

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.

Explore the PRO

About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/dominik-stuerzer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

3D Printer Connectivity – From Monitoring to Smart Manufacturing

3D Printer Connectivity: Touch Display

“We are currently in the fourth industrial revolution."

If you are into production somehow, statements like this one come from every direction: "We're in the middle of the transformation from the non-connected to a connected industrial world. Machines are no longer isolated systems. Connectivity enables machine to machine and machine to human communication. Getting convenient and constant access to data is one driver for machine connectivity.”

At the same time you hear about data security problems and you may wonder: Why is the whole industrial world in the wake of Industry 4.0 opening up their machines and systems for communication with the outside world, may it be with the internet or just local factory floor network zones?

Pro Boyce 5 edited

The Basics of Digital Machines:

3D Printers are by nature digital machines. So other than conventional machines, which need to be equipped with additional sensors to get data about the process, every 3D printer from the very beginning is filled with data.

They know their state. They know in which phase of the print process they are. They know their next steps, their upcoming axis’ movements and extrusions. There are commands decoded in a G-Code and there are manual commands from the 3D printer operator, all collected in printer log files. Professional printers get additional data on their actions from sensors (e.g. closed-loop-control actuators tell the control system that they reached a certain location and monitor the forces they needed on the way), they know temperatures of components and spaces. And sometimes even have webcam footage.

This data is there. It can be used far beyond just controlling the print process in that very moment. It can give tremendous benefits not only to machine manufacturers, but to printer owners, operators, production floor planners & managers, service engineers and in the end the maturity of the printing process itself. Let’s see how:

3d-printer-monitoring-notifications

Level 1: Monitoring & Notifications

The first benefit of getting a 3D printer connected, is being able to monitor it. Data streaming over accessible interfaces lets you gather information on printer’s states and print progresses. This makes centralized visualizations over all your connected printers possible.

This adds a great level of convenience, even efficiency: You can see which of them are currently idle, heating up, printing or paused. You can see which of them are healthy and which are not. You can see how far into the print process each of them already is, which layer is currently being printed and what is the remaining print time which is especially important in large-format 3D printing.

Apart from actively monitoring machines, getting access to live printer data also enables alerting and notifications. Being immediately notified, when a print unexpectedly stops, the printer runs out of filament or the current print is about to finish, boosts efficiency and reduces unplanned idle time to a minimum.

3d-printer-machine-analytics

Level 2: Machine Analytics

Printer data can not only be used to indicate the current state of the machine, but it can also be collected centrally to enable analysis over time. The collection of printer states data and visualization of print statistics lets you easily see how your printer capacity usage has developed over time. The same can be done with filament usage or print success rates. Having a good understanding of the current situation as well as the development until now is the basis for planning. And a great fact base to trigger constant improvement in your organization.

Bringing different data sets together for cross-data analysis lays the groundwork for pattern and anomaly detection. A database with slicer, extruder and printer settings, temperature sensor data and material data can be a good foundation for print part optimization, where for different print iterations of one part all data are compared and patterns for quality are identified.

With recording all process-relevant parameters throughout the whole print, this data can be turned into a high-level quality assurance. Giving you more information and so better confidence than any conventional quality inspection method (remember: for 3D printed part, you should check the inner structures as well).

And again: It does not need to be rocket science. With simply setting up algorithms to compare the dataset of the latest print to a previous one (where the part came out in specs) your production can tell you on the spot and fully automized if your part will be in specs or if deviations were found.

3d-printer-prediction

Level 3: Prediction

When patterns and anomalies are identified and a sufficient amount of data is being considered, future prediction is nothing but the next natural step. When you know the indicators of optimized print parts and the combination of settings, material etc., you will be able to predict the quality of a print part in advance, without the need for print iterations. You will get the first print right.

The same can be done with printer capacities. If you know the evolution of printer usage capacity, you will likely be able to plan capacities and make data driven decisions. You will be able to predict the exact point in time when a new printer is needed and when the invest is returned. Maintenance can be predicted when the indicators of a part’s nearing end of life are identified.

smart-3d-printing

Level 4: Smart 3D Printing

At the end of the process stands its supreme discipline: smart printing. When adjustments to the print are being done during the print by the printer based on sensor and prediction data. When the machine itself learns from past’s faults, the technology will finally fully mature. When all print process related know-how and data interpretation ability is transferred from human to machine, people can finally concentrate on the parts they want to print and not on how to print them.

Until then there are a few steps still to go technology wise. But companies are pushing the development here with every new machine and software generation.

3D printing is by nature the most digital manufacturing process of all. So, to connect and to smarten up this technology can push the efficiency, the quality, the costs and even the convenience of 3D printing to higher levels than what most other production processes can do.

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.

Explore the PRO

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.

Explore the PRO

FDM vs. SLA 3D Printer: Choose the Right Technology

SLA vs FDM 3D Printer: Which Should I Choose

Countless 3D printing technologies and materials are available in the marketplace. You may have heard about the concrete printers that are building homes, or the chocolate dispensing printer or maybe even about the bioprinter capable of recreating organs. While many of these options are real, some are science fiction and others are just bizarre. Which begs the question for entrepreneurs investing in their own business, researchers implementing new technologies for their institutes, or engineers tasked with improving the product development lifecycle: Which 3D printing technology is right for me?

The most commonly used 3D printing technologies are stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM). Originally introduced during the 1980’s, these pioneering technologies have adapted with enhanced materials, speed, size and resolution capabilities. It’s important to note that there are multiple manufacturers and suppliers that offer different versions of FDM or SLA technology, and each is unique in its own way.

Similar to the automobile industry comparing a truck to a sedan, there are numerous providers and options available to compare. While this may be complicated, our job is to simplify it and begin by explaining the basic differences between FDM and SLA. After that, it’s possible to determine which technology may make sense for your business and application.

What is FDM 3D Printing?

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), alternatively referred to as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is the most common 3D printing technology available on the market. Typically, FDM printers operate with singular or dual extruders that are compatible with thermoplastic filaments. The filament is loaded into the machine via material spool, melted and deposited onto a heated build platform following a predetermined guide path. The materials simultaneously cool and adhere to another to create a 3-dimensional part. FDM printers come in a variety of sizes and material compatibilities, and can range from $5,000 to $500,000. Materials may include plastics such as ABS, ASA, PLA and more advanced printers are beginning to offer carbon filled and nylon materials that are stronger and longer lasting.

Strengths

FDM is relatively inexpensive compared to alternate 3D printing methods and tends to yield the most consistent results when it comes to repeatability and strength. In addition, post processing with FDM is simple and most of the time, non-hazardous.

Weaknesses

Printing with thermoplastic materials through extrusion nozzles leads to tolerance and resolution challenges. Compared to other 3D printing technologies, FDM may leave layer lines or slight build blemishes due to the heating and cooling of materials.

FDM 3D Printer

What is SLA 3D Printing?

Stereolithography (SLA) was introduced to the market during the 1980’s and was quickly adopted by many service manufacturers and consumer product companies. Instead of filament SLA 3D printers operate with photopolymers, which is a light-sensitive material that changes physical properties when exposed to light. Instead of an extrusion nozzle, SLA uses a laser to cure a liquid resin into a physical piece through a process called photopolymerization. This unique printing process enables higher resolution parts that have isotropic and watertight properties. Photopolymers are thermoset materials, meaning they react differently than thermoplastics. Similar to FDM, there is a range of SLA printers available in the market with different sizes, material capabilities and price ranges.

Strengths

Laser technology creates pinpoint accuracy which allows for higher tolerance parts with improved resolution compared to alternative technologies. If you require a highly aesthetic part, you may want to consider SLA.

Weaknesses

What SLA gains in beauty it loses in strength. While some SLA materials are engineered to perform better in some scenarios, it’s almost impossible to replicate the same mechanical properties of ABS, nylon, and other FDM filaments. If your parts require functional testing, we recommend sticking with FDM.

FDM vs. SLA: Choosing the Right Technology

Build Volume

Printing large parts or need a large enough build platform for multiple parts/low volume production? It’s not easy to find a printer capable of printing large pieces and of course, size is subjective so it’s important to determine what big means to you.

Since we are working in three dimensions, never underestimate Z height and always remember that parts can be built in different directions to optimize strength or finish. When comparing technologies, it’s important to determine what type of parts you intend to 3D print today and proactively plan for what may be produced in the future. The most common regret is lack of printer capacity.

Finding a large format SLA 3D printer is very difficult and nearly impossible due the nature of the technology. First, there is more waste associated with a large vat of liquid resin. Second, individual part costs tend to be higher since materials will be more expensive. Finally, the pinpoint accuracy of a laser is certainly beneficial for higher resolution parts but that leads to much longer printing times.

★ FDM 3D printing is the ultimate choice when building large parts and has been for quite some time. The inherent benefits of FDM indicates that it’s much easier to have repeatable results, regardless of part or build platform size. Next, there is much less material waste and the time it takes to produce large or many parts is much shorter than many SLA alternatives. Simply put, it’s affordable to print big with FDM.

Large Build Volume FDM vs SLA 3D Printer

Printing Speed

In our hyper competitive commercial and industrial marketplace, new product development and manufacturing speed is paramount to capturing early adopters and market share. 3D printing provides that edge and enables the overnight production of parts without operator oversight. Whether you are deciding between SLA or FDM technologies, speed may not be the most important factor since conventional manufacturing or manual processes take longer than both. With that being said, if 3D printing speed is a priority—consider part aesthetics or resolution.

SLA is famous for building parts that are cosmetically superior to FDM due to the laser technology capable of printing down to 25 micron layers. Taking part size into account helps to accurately determine how long the part will print. Compared to FDM, the speed is almost negligible.

★ However, FDM technologies are typically capable of offering several different nozzle sizes (.6mm, 1mm, 2mm) which provides flexibility for engineers to speed up the printing process. Compared to SLA, FDM is significantly faster but it comes with a compromise. Naturally, the larger nozzle sizes lead to thicker layer lines. Ultimately, you must consider your part requirements and balance between resolution and speed.

Materials

A 3D printer is useless without materials. What is your testing and evaluation process throughout prototype development? How important is it to prototype or produce parts that are mechanically identical to the end-use parts? Would it be advantageous to your engineering team to have parts with chemical resistance capabilities? Static dissipative advantages? There is so much to consider when determining the right 3D printing technology for you but none is more valuable than understanding the material capabilities and output.

SLA materials are ideal for niche applications but lack overall strength and functionality compared to FDM. For example, some SLA materials have biocompatible characteristics that combined with the high resolution capabilities make it perfect for some medical device prototyping and dental use cases. However, SLA materials hardly meet the mechanical properties required for the majority of commercial or industrial requirements.

★ If you require materials that are representative of the end product then you should consider FDM 3D printing. Standard thermoplastics such as ABS, PLA and nylon are commonly used throughout major industries and available on most FDM technology platforms. The strength and durability properties of FDM are superior compared to SLA. This improves product testing and will enable engineers to advance new product development with more confidence and accuracy.

*FDM 3D printing technology is uniquely beneficial compared to SLA because of the ability to build parts with varying densities. While retaining part functionality, it’s possible to create internal honeycomb structures that reduce overall weight and part fatigue. Learn more about how to optimize your designs.

SLA vs FDM 3D Printer Materials

Strength & Durability

Prototyping and product validation can be a rigorous process that includes a series of testing that puts a significant amount of wear and tear on a part. Every industry imaginable must ensure product performance to some degree and the great companies invest accordingly to make this possible. As previously noted, the strength and durability of FDM materials are superior to SLA. ASA materials printed on FDM 3D printers have UV resistant properties that make it ideal for outdoor applications (lawncare, homeowner equipment, etc). Nylon materials are oftentimes used for automotive aftermarket parts that require long lasting durability.

When prototypes or production parts must perform in harsh environments, SLA materials tend to degrade, break or deform simply because the mechanical properties are not completely representative of the end-use part. When determining which technology works for your application, remember to consider what type of environment these parts will need to perform in. It may look nice in the laboratory but it must function in the real world.

SLA vs FDM 3D Printer Strength Durability Example Hook
SLA vs FDM 3D Printer Strength Durability Example Lifting

3D Printed carabiner carries the 500 kg wight of a large 3D Printer

Precision & Quality

Precision and quality are subjective terms that are informed by deisgn intent. For example, those operating in the consumer product and packaging industries require tight tolerances since they will inevitably move to injection mold tooling and are unable to sacrifice precision. Having a speedy printer or advanced material options is great but are your printed parts representing the design intent?

If your product development lifecycle inevitably includes mass manufacturing with injection molding, SLA may be the right option for you. However if you need high quality parts for industrial applications, consider FDM. For example, custom fixtures built to function in a production environment require ultimate functionality and do not necessarily need to have cosmetically clean features. By understanding the design intent of your part you can manage expectations and determine which 3D printing technology works for you.

Applications & Industries

According to AMFG, 3D printing adoption is growing across shop floors globally, evidenced by more than 70% of enterprises finding new applications for 3D printing (Sculpteo, 2019). In addition, the number of manufacturers using 3D printing for full-scale production has doubled between 2018 and 2019 and the overall market is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2022 with an anticipated CAGR between 18.2—27.2%. This represents a wide range of industries, applications and use cases that are pushing 3D printing further than ever before.

Aerospace

Encompassing aviation, space and satellite manufacturing, the aerospace industry is the most cutting edge when it comes to 3D printing and technology adoption. The strict requirements for functionality limit SLA 3D printing simply because the materials do not perform well in rugged environments.

However, advanced thermoplastic materials with FDM have improved strength or ESD properties have been utilized for prototype development and interior cabin components. As previously mentioned, the inherent benefits to create lightweight structures with FDM printing is uniquely advantageous to the aerospace market.

FDM ★★★★★

SLA ★★

FDM 3D Printed Car Interior

Automotive

The automotive market is notorious for using ABS plastic and polypropylene for prototyping and end-use purposes. Since the majority of their applications require robust and durable materials, FDM tends to be the most common 3D printing technology for prototyping, jigs & fixtures, drill guides and low volume production requests. It’s common that automotive engineers require materials with advanced chemical resistant properties that continue to perform when exposed to gasoline and other chemicals, justifying the use of FDM. However, SLA does have an advantage printing clear parts used to test reflectors and lighting mechanisms.

FDM ★★★★★

SLA ★★

Consumer Products

The consumer product industry encompasses everything from kitchen appliances to toys, or handheld hardware equipment to electronic devices. Speed to market is imperative, therefore new product development requires quick iterations and immediate feedback. Oftentimes, products are introduced to consumers before product launch and require it to exceed form, fit and functionality.

It’s not uncommon that both technologies are used in the prototyping process or early validation testing. For example, a handheld device may have an ESD enhanced ABS plastic shell combined with a soft touch TPU grip printed on SLA. More often than not, the ability to print in high resolution with SLA is more attractive to consumer product manufacturers when compared to FDM.

FDM ★★★

SLA ★★★★★

FDM vs SLS Healthcare: 3D Printed Wheelchair

Healthcare

The healthcare market includes medical device development, educational training aids and niche applications for the dental and hearing aid market. Typically, the medical device market requires prototypes and parts to be sterilized which means that the material must withstand certain temperatures through a process called autoclaving. SLA and FDM technologies offer the appropriate materials, but it takes some investigation.

Educational training aids typically require high resolution since they are used for communication purposes, making SLA ideal. The dental market is notorious for using SLA, and the hearing aid market is split between SLA and FDM. Due to the nature of the healthcare market and the importance of printing tiny details, SLA is most preferable.

FDM ★★★

SLA ★★★★★

Education

Research and academic institutes across the world have adopted FDM and SLA technologies in droves. There isn’t a single university without a makerspace, and most secondary schools are beginning to position 3D printing in a variety of different ways. Typically, it’s used to motivate students to try new technologies and embrace their inner entrepreneur.

Many researchers have an interest in expanding material capabilities that make 3D printing a viable option for the future. Whether the purpose is research or student learning, most universities and teaching institutes lean towards FDM due to the relatively low cost and equipment simplicity. Post processing can be challenging with SLA, therefore FDM is a more student friendly option. In addition, the future of FDM looks brighter when it comes to material expansion for manufacturing purposes.

FDM ★★★★★

SLA ★★★

Conclusion

What is your design intent? What problems will 3D printing solve for you today? Tomorrow? What are the most important factors when determining a capital equipment expenditure at your facility (ROI, productivity, innovation)?

To quickly summarize the information presented above, FDM and SLA 3D printing technologies have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to specific applications or usage. When building larger prototypes or industrial parts, consider FDM for the size and cost benefits. When determining which materials mimic your design intent, take a hard look at the material compatibility and evaluate the benefits from each technology—FDM is more robust for functionality while SLA provides higher resolution and better accuracy.

There are thousands of examples where the aforementioned industries have adopted either SLA or FDM technology so although this comparison gives some information, it does not complete the entire picture. Not every industry, production facility or prototype department acts the same and not everyone fits into nice, neat check boxes. Therefore, we recommend speaking with the experts to determine what makes the most sense for you.

Talk to a 3D Printing Expert

 Find out which 3D Printer is right for you.

FAQ: Short Overview

What is an FDM 3D Printer?

FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, alternatively referred to as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is the most common 3D printing technology available on the market. FDM printers operate with extruders that are compatible with thermoplastic filaments. The filament is loaded into the machine via material spool, melted and deposited onto a heated build platform following a predetermined guide path. The materials simultaneously cool and adhere to another to create a 3-dimensional part.

What is an SLA 3D Printer?

SLA 3D printers operate with photopolymers, which is a light-sensitive material that changes physical properties when exposed to light. Instead of an extrusion nozzle, SLA uses a laser to cure / harden a liquid resin into a physical piece through a process called photopolymerization. 

Is SLA stronger than FDM?

Parts made with SLA or resin don't reach the same levels in strength as FDM 3D prints made from polyamide or ABS. For even stronger parts with FDM you can also use fiber filled filaments that further increase mechanical performance.

Is SLA printing faster than FDM?

In general SLA 3d prints are much slower than FDM prints. Due to the small surface area of the laser it takes longer to build each layer. With FDM you can choose the layer heights which allows for much faster and more flexible 3D printing. But at the same time the surface quality of an SLA print will be smoother.

Which is better FDM or resin?

If FDM or SLA is better depends on your needs. FDM usually is much cheaper regarding machines and materials. You can also produce bigger parts with better mechanical performance than with SLA. But SLA gives you much finer details and higher surface quality. 

How fast is FDM printing?

To form a part FDM 3D printers lay a long line of plastic into the desired shape. To determine how fast a machine is printing you can measure the length of that material. Typical speed of an FDM 3d printer is between 50 to 150 mm/hour. But there are also faster FDM machines that are up to 500 mm/hour fast. 

About the author:

Dominik Stürzer <a style="color: #0077b5" href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/dominik-stuerzer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i class="fab fa-linkedin"></i></a>

Dominik Stürzer

SEO Manager 

Dominik is a mechanical engineer whose passion to share knowledge turned him to content creation. His first 3D prints started in university. Back then the 3D printers were big on the outside and small on the inside. With BigRep the machines are finally big in their possibilities.

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