Looking to purchase a 3D printer, 3D scanner or 3D printing software?
Quick Overview of Key Differences Between Consumer and Industrial 3D Printing
|Consumer 3D Printers||Industrial 3D Printers|
|Price||Between $200 and $5000||$15,000 and above|
|Build Volume||Usually 10x 10x 10 inches||Greater than 12x 12x by 12 inches|
|Materials||A handful of material choices||Dozens of materials available|
|Resolution||Usually, 50-100 microns, although some are as low as 25 microns||As low as 0.2 microns, normally 10 microns|
|Ease of Use||Relatively easy to use||Requires significant training|
|Customization||Limited as to the ability to change printing parameters||Many printing parameters can be modified|
|Software||Easy to use, supports cloud printing and available on multiple devices||Usually fairly complex, given its options and flexibility, requires trained users|
|Applications||Hobbyists and home users||Rapid prototyping, manufacturing, modeling, and more|
Detailed Overview of Key Differences Between Consumer and Industrial 3D Printing
Consumer 3D Printing
The first obvious difference between Consumer and Professional/Industrial 3D printing is the cost of the equipment. A consumer 3d printer typically costs between $200 on the low end to $5000 on the high end.
The key features of consumer 3D printers are:
- Price: Prices have been falling steadily over the last few years while functionality has improved.
- Size: Consumer 3D printers are designed for home and hobbyist use and generally have a fairly small footprint compared to their professional 3D printers. They are generally about the footprint size of an All-in-One office inkjet printer.
- Technology: Most desktop 3D printers are based on the FDM printing technology, although other 3D printing technologies are beginning to make inroads into this price-point and market.
- Materials: Consumer 3D printers use thermoplastics such as ABS or PLA for printing.
- Standardization: Increasing popularity has led manufacturers to standardize issues such as resolution, materials and filament size.
- Aesthetics: As desktop 3D printers are designed for home use, the look and design are major selling points.
- Software: Software is major consideration for consumer 3D printers. As market is for home users and hobbyists, any software must be easy to use and accessible across multiple devices. This software is geared towards these users and has a user-friendly interface and often includes existing templates and designs.
- Cloud Printing: Most 3D printers sold today support some form of cloud printing via Wi-Fi. Files can either be uploaded by users through online platforms or downloaded directly from existing libraries.
- Community: Consumer 3D printing, especially among hobbyists and the maker movement, has generated a strong community of enthusiastic users who often share their designs with others under open-source licenses.
- The target market is hobbyists and home users looking to create spare parts, customized items, toys and decorative objects.
- The printing process is usually slow as a complex design can take several hours to print and may require monitoring of the print.
Limitations and Challenges
- Build Volume: The build volume of desktop 3D printers rarely exceeds 10 x 10 x 10 inches, although this is beginning to change.
- Resolution: Desktop 3D printers usually print at, currently, as low as 50 microns, although 100 microns is common. This is significantly lower than the best resolution available on industrial printers, some of which can print at 0.2 microns.
- Materials: Consumer 3D printers currently use only a handful of plastic materials for printing, although this, too, is beginning to change.
- Speed: Slow printing speed and more frequent printing errors, compared to industrial printers, are more common in consumer 3D printing.
- Accuracy: The accuracy of a consumer printer will always lag behind the accuracy of a machine costing far more. That being said, consumer 3D printers are improving with each new iteration of 3D printers.
Industrial or Professional 3D Printing
Industrial or Professional 3D printing is the industrial-grade counterpart to consumer 3D printing. As to be expected, Industrial 3D printers are much more expensive, powerful, and capable and efficient.
The key features of industrial 3D printers are:
- Price: Industrial 3D printers are used by design firms and manufacturers for making molds and prototypes and final product. Therefore, these printers have very strict quality standards. A typical industrial 3D printer can easily cost more than $100,000; in some cases, in the millions of dollars.
- Size: Industrial 3D printers vary significantly in size. Most printers are about the size of a large office copy machines and weigh anywhere from 60 to 400 pounds, although the largest weigh a good bit more. Typically, the higher the resolution, accuracy, and speed of the printer, the larger the size. Production quality printers tend to be even larger, weighing over two thousand pounds, with the largest weighing over 12,000 pounds.
- Technology: Technologies employed range from DSLM, FDM, SLS, SLA and PolyJet with new and hybrid 3D printing technologies on the horizon.
- Build Volume: Build volume is a significant consideration in industrial 3D printers. This varies from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer.
- Materials: One of the chief advantages of industrial printers over their consumer counterparts is the range of materials they can use in their print.
- Software: Power and flexibility rather than ease of use are the chief requirements for industrial or professional 3D printing software. Most manufacturers have their own range of software options.
- Aesthetics: Aesthetics are not nearly as important for industrial or professional 3D printers as they are for consumer printers. Expect industrial or professional printers to have a standard industrial design.
- Resolution: Resolution refers to the minimum thickness of the build layer. It is a key requirement for professional applications. Professional printers can print at resolutions as low as 0.2 microns, although 10 microns is more common currently.
- Concept Modeling: Used to bring ideas and concepts to life. Used widely in design, engineering and architecture firms for testing, proofing and fine-tuning raw designs.
- Rapid Prototyping: One of the most important benefits of industrial printers is their ability to make moving parts using different materials. This allows manufacturers to produce a fully functional prototype for testing. Rapid prototyping can dramatically increase productivity by shortening the time normally required in the design process and spot any errors early in the process.
- Manufacturing Molds: Industrial 3D printers allows the manufacturer to make molds and casts for tools, fixtures and jigs in-house within hours, which can significantly decrease production time.
- Rapid Manufacturing: Decreasing costs and faster production speeds mean that manufacturers can use 3D printers to create end-use parts directly without tooling.
Limitations and Challenges
- Cost: Mid-range professional 3D printers may easily cost in excess of $100,000
- Availability: Waiting periods for new 3D printers, given the demand in the manufacturing sector, can often be several months.
- Limited Materials: 3D printers can work with a very limited range of materials when compared to traditional manufacturing.
- Ease of Use: As with any new technology, there is a steep learning curve to using 3D printers; this affects how rapidly it is adopted in many industries.
- Volume: 3D printing cannot compete with conventional manufacturing on volume and remains confined to low-scale production, prototyping and customization currently. As the speed of print and quality of print continues to increase, this will begin to change in the near future.