by Steve Jaffe, RP Marketplace
So you’ve found a few suppliers you’d like to hire to do your 3D printing –
but what kinds of questions do you ask to ensure they can best fit your
needs? To help you choose the right supplier to print your design for your
application and budget, RP Marketplace has teamed up with some of the
leading professional 3d printing suppliers to answer clients’ most common
inquiries. Below are the top 5 questions customers ask when seeking
professional rapid prototyping services.
1. What is needed to get something 3D printed?
3D printing starts with a 3D CAD model, and from that an STL file is created
that the 3D printers use to print the model. The files are analyzed by the
supplier and repaired if necessary, which ensures the file will be printed
properly. If you don’t already have a CAD model, companies, like Broadview
Product Development, can provide engineering and design services to help
develop a model from something as simple as a napkin sketch.
2. What kind of finish will the 3D printed model have?
There are many different printing processes (FDM, SLS, SLA, etc.) and
materials which offer a variety of surface finishes, from glossy and smooth
to dull and rough. Having the machine setup and operated properly by trained
professionals, as well as using commercial grade materials, help create the
best finish possible. Many professional suppliers, such as Helix Design,
offer in-house finishing services, ranging from basic painting to specialty
coatings and finishes.
3. How strong and durable are the materials?
The strength and durability of a part is determined by the combination of
its material properties as well as the capabilities of the machine with
which the part is printed. Kyle Squillace, project manager at Impressive
Prototypes, explains, “strength, durability, and cost are directly
correlated to the choices for printing technology. The options, from low to
high, would be classified in the following order: Polyjet, FFF, SLA, FDM,
and then DMLS for the technology choices.” He ranked the following materials
strengths from low to high: PLA, PE-like, PP/ABS-like, PEEK, Ultem, and then
metals. The specific material selection will depend on the parts
application, as each material has its benefits.
4. What is the difference between FDM, SLS, and SLA for commercial
In comparing FDM, SLS and SLA, Louis Roberts, CEO of ProtoEdge, notes that
the Stereolithography (SLA) process has “better detail accuracy and
resolution than any comparable technology.” SLA creates a three dimensional
part by adding layer upon layer of solidified photopolymer resins. Selective
Laser Sintering (SLS) sinters plastic powder one layer at a time to create
tough, durable parts and patterns for functional prototypes. Fused
Deposition Modelling (FDM) uses an extrusion technology by depositing a thin
bead of thermoplastic materials in layers and offers multiple material
choices for strong and stable tooling applications.
5. Is all 3D printing actually 3D printing?
The simple answer, no. As Charles Barton, CEO of Solid Prototype, explains
“3D-printers print from liquid plastic, and have a print head that acts like
a traditional printer; whereas FDM machines are not 3D-printers; they’re
rapid prototyping machines.” FDM, SLS, and SLA are all forms of
rapid-prototyping, and “3D printers’ are simply the newest form of