With the recent growth of home and hobby 3D printers, we sometimes hear companies say, “We’re thinking of getting into 3D printing, but before we invest in a commercial solution, one of our staff members is going to make some parts on their home printer.”
While we’re engineers and tinkerers at heart ourselves, and we appreciate the attempt to reduce risk, our experience is that companies are always disappointed by this approach—and wish they had used the time to get productive with a commercial solution.
So to answer the question "Is a hobby/consumer/prosumer 3D printer a good stepping-stone to a commercial solution?", we'll take a look at the top three challenges that a company trying to rely on a hobby printer faces. To increase your odds, we’ll assume the consumer printer is one of the popular FFF/FDM material extrusion types like the MakerBot.
Challenge 1: Repeatability
When you hit print, how often will you get a completed part? If you’ve not experienced a hobby-level printer, this might seem like an odd question. But the reality is that these printers don’t have the reliability you need in a commercial setting.
Depending on your perspective, waking up to see how your print did overnight and finding a bird’s nest of plastic instead of your 3D printed design can either be disappointing or exciting. If you’re a hobbyist, you now get to troubleshoot what happened and learn how to fix it—exciting. But if you’re a business, you probably just lost a day of time-to-market and lost productivity as you labor to troubleshoot the problem—very, very disappointing.
Another repeatability component is that a consumer printer, even when fed an identical source CAD file, will have slight print variations, such as varying layer thickness. In a commercial setting, variations make parts unsuitable for applications where accuracy is required.
Commercial printers like the Objet, J750, Fortus or F123 Series, have the combination of precision and accuracy enough for customers to calibrate their test equipment based on 3D printed parts—that simply wouldn’t be possible with a hobby printer.
|Above: Stratasys F370|
Challenge 2: System maintenance
Home printers need constant maintenance, such as dealing with print head clogs. Who is the technician? You are, of course!
What the commercial side offers is printers with simple preventative maintenance, as simple as wiping the print head on the Objet for example, that keeps the downtime to minimal.
TriMech clients receive regular printer maintenance visits and support help—including the rare case where a machine is down for a critical part, which we can print on our systems for you. Our support team is highly regarded in the region and works diligently to answer your questions live and resolve cases within one day of being received.
Challenge 3: Calibration
Ask a consumer printer owner about their method of calibration. It’s probably something they’ve spent a lot of time perfecting because of how challenging it can be. Commercial printers, including the entry-level Mojo, have heated build chambers for FDM printers, and all of them run self-calibration. Simple, accurate and best of all—no one at your company has to become the “3D printer babysitter.” We bet your team will thank you for this.
|Above: Stratasys Mojo|
Each of these three challenges may seem small on their own, but when you add them up, it’s no way to help your business increase time to market, save costs by eliminating outsourcing or speed up the design process by offering up numerous iterations all in-house.
Consumer models may save money on the initial investment—yes. However, in short order you will be frustrated by their repeatability, calibration and maintenance issues, not to mention not meeting your business needs. Wasn’t that the reason for getting a 3D printer in the first place?
See which Stratasys 3D printer is the fastest for your company's needs by downloading our free 3D Printer Speed Comparison whitepaper.