- Feb 10, 2017
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The Pros and Cons of a Desktop 3D Printer
The reason why 3D printing is the next possible industrial revolution.
3D printers are classified into two main types, which are the consumer (desktop) 3D printers and the professional 3D printers. The main differences between them are in terms of costs, capabilities, and applications. The consumer 3D printers appeared in the 2000s. This was when open-source projects like RepRap, and companies like MakerBot brought more awareness about 3D printing to the public. It was done by providing a range of affordable, easy-to-use 3D printers.
TheRepRap project is an open-source project launched in 2005, that tried to create a printer that could print itself. This was one of the first attempts to develop a feasible consumer-type 3D printer. The industry had a significant and surprisingly positive effect with the launch of MakerBot in 2009. MakerBot built on the concepts and ideas from the RepRap project, and started selling the PolyJet 3D printer assembly kits by April 2009. The commercial and critical success of MakerBot’s first printer, the Cupcake CNC helped to flourish the consumer-type 3D printing. Consumers currently have many choices for desktop 3D printers today, including but not limited to MakerBot, 3D Systems Cube, Replicator 2, FlashForge 3D Printer, and Solidoodle.
The consumer-type 3D printers are mainly used by amateur home users who require an easy-to-use and cheap printer. Despite great improvements made in the past few years, consumer-type 3D printing still remains as a hobby to a small group of people. Factors such as rapid technological advancements and decreasing costs are expected to make this industry mainstream within the next decade.
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Pros of a Desktop 3D Printer
People believe that consumer-type 3D printers are gradually replacing the professional 3D printers. Some of the features they have that differ from the professional 3D printers include the following:
Most of the consumer-type 3D printers cost around $2,000, although some types may cost approximately $400 or less. In contrast, standard professional 3D printers cost around $100,000. This large price difference plays an important role in the widespread of consumer-type 3D printers.
Consumer-type 3D printers are typically used in homes, so the printer’s size needs to be small. For example, the MakerBot Replicator 2X measures 19.1 × 12.8 × 20.9 inches, which is slightly larger than a desktop printer. On the other hand, professional 3D printers vary significantly in size. Most of them are as large as the office photocopy machines, which can weigh anywhere from 30 to 150 kilograms. Typically, printers with higher resolution, accuracy, or speed will be larger in size. Production quality printers tend to be even larger, weighing at least a thousand kilograms.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling):
In FDM printers, a thin filament of thermoplastic (for example, plastic that melts when heated and solidifies at room temperature) is fed into a nozzle. The nozzle then heats up and melts the plastic, which is then deposited in successive thin layers to build 3D models. Its low cost and relatively simple FDM process makes it ideal for use in consumer 3D printers.
The increased usages of consumer-type 3D printers have led to more standardizations in the market. For instance, the standard filament size is currently at 1.75 millimeters in diameter.
The software found in consumer-type 3D printers must be easy and user-friendly since the users are usually amateur home users. Consumer-type 3D printers have their own software which are developed to be easier than its competitors. However, professional 3D printers require the aspects of power and flexibility rather than the ease of use as its main requirements. For these reasons, many professional 3D printers cannot be used by home users.
Most consumer-type 3D printers have the capability of cloud printing. The model to be printed could be uploaded to the internet, and ready models could be downloaded and printed as well.
There is an increasing number of enthusiastic users who are willing to share their experiences with others. By learning from each other, a stronger community is developed where thousands of models are being shared and printed.
Applications: The applications are different between the consumer-type and professional 3D printers. Professional 3D printers are typically involved in prototyping and mass production to increase its productivity. In contrast, consumer-type 3D printers are used to make unique items with sophisticated designs that require a lot of time to print.
Since desktop 3D printers are designed for home use, beauty and design are also critical selling points. Colour is another important factor, which can be seen in printers like 3D Systems Cube that offer a range of bright colours.
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In professional 3D printers, beauty is not a critical factor unlike the consumer-type printers. In fact, most professional printers offer standard industrial designs that can blend in perfectly among copiers and 2D printers in a typical office setting.
Limitations and Challenges
Even though the consumer-type 3D printers have some advantages over the professional 3D printers, they also have their own limitations and challenges.
Small scale projects
The volume of the consumer-type 3D printers is more limited in general. Because of this, its applications are limited to smaller-scale projects.
Resolution refers to the minimum thickness of the build layer, which is a key requirement in professional applications.
Restricted material selection
Consumer-type 3D printers only use plastic materials and it limits its applications significantly. On the other hand, professional 3D printers usually have a wide range of material options available for its users.
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The consumer-type 3D printers are slower than the professional 3D printers.
Main cover image via techcrunch.com