It is a well-known fact that bringing in additive manufacturing (AM) can help save companies time and (arguably most importantly) money! AM has been used in a variety of applications like jigs, fixtures, concept designs and end-use parts just to name a few. Customers in all fields have felt the benefit of merging AM into their everyday workflow. But many user’s may not be aware that with a few changes they can save even more. In this article, I am going to break down the top five ways you can reduce the time and cost of your FDM printer, in no particular order.
1. Choosing the Right Material
The easiest way to cut down on material costs is to make sure you are choosing the right material for the job. If the part you are printing is just a visual model, chances are is does not need to be printed in a carbon fiber-filled material. High performance materials (Carbon filled, ULTEM, etc.) will always have a higher price tag than something like ASA or PLA. So, reserving the high performance materials for high performance applications can help save costs. With the Stratasys F370, for example, material swaps can be done in as little as one minute.
2. Limiting Your Z-Height
FDM is a process where a thermoplastic is heated to a semi liquid state and extruded on pre-determined toolpaths layer by layer. In this process, the machine spends the most time lowering the bed or raising the print head to print the next layer. This process takes about 3-10 seconds per layer and when you print, it can be 500-1000 layers or more and that time can really add up. So, by simply orienting your part to limit the amount of layers needed to print it, you can dramatically cut down on print times.
Each of these L shaped brackets were set with the same overall printing parameters. The print time for figure 1 was 1hr 35m and the time for figure 2 was only 58 minutes! That’s a reduction of over 30%! Though both of these orientations would provide a successful part by simply keeping your z-height in mind, you can easily shave time off of each print.
3. Utilizing Different Infill Styles
An FDM part is made up of two distinct areas, the outer walls (also called the shell or contours) and the infill (also called raster). Typically, the parts default to a nearly solid or totally solid infill density. This provides the strongest possible part but uses the most material, takes the longest to print and costs the most money. Usually, a sparse infill (anywhere from 20%-50% density) provides a nice balance between strength and print time. In Stratasys’ Insight software you can even remove the infill entirely and just print the outer shell of a part which can further save on material costs.
4. Keep it Clean
Keeping your FDM 3D printer clean can contribute to you saving some money! Make sure you follow preventive maintenance to help your printer keep running smoothly for a longer period, which in the long run saves your company money. By cleaning your machine’s waste container, you avoid waste from building up and reduce printing errors. Additionally, you should make sure that your tip wipe is calibrated and working properly. This will help you save a few extra dollars and will also save you from many errors and failed builds. A tip wipe that is not functioning properly will drag strands of material in your model and could stop the build if the error is large enough.
5. Make Your Materials Last Longer
Protecting your materials and trying to store them under the best conditions is what helps you achieve high quality parts. In times of extended shutdowns, or simply long hiatuses between prints, it’s imperative to store material properly. Each material has their storage indications and you should always pay attention to those, but there are some general rules we recommend you follow to take proper care of your materials like storing them in airtight bags and storing your canister vertically.
FDM has already proven itself as a surefire way to cut down on costs in a variety of applications. But with a little preparation or design work, the savings can be even more. Learning to design for additive manufacturing is as important as designing for typical CNC machining.
At TriMech we offer a full Design for Additive Manufacturing training course to help you get the most efficient parts in as little time as possible. Check out the description and reach out to your Territory Sales Manager to sign up.