Guestblog by Joris Peels - 3D printing strategy consultant
A lot of different terms are being bandied about in 3D printing. People refer to systems and categories of systems by many different names. In order to give some clarity I’ll outline some of the major categories of 3D printers.
Desktop 3D printers
Desktop machines began to emerge in 2004 with Fab@Home and in 2008 with the RepRap Project. Since then more than 300 companies have emerged selling desktop 3D printers. Over 500,000 desktop systems have been sold. It may be much more however because at the present the market is so fragmented that it is difficult to estimate well. Desktop 3D printers are priced between $300 - $5000. Typically they have a small form factor of around 30 by 30 by 30 centimeters. The vast majority of desktop systems use Fused Deposition Modeling as a technology but some others use DLP or SLA. The desktop machines can come as kits whereby the user will have to assemble the printer herself. This typically takes between 10 and 40 hours. Most systems are sold assembled at the moment. Desktop 3D printers are made for makers or individuals in a company to easily 3D print parts in an office environment.
The Ultimaker 2, Ultimaker 2 Go and Ultimaker 2 Extended 3D printers.
Pro Desktop 3D printers
The Pro designation is simply a signifier that manufacturers attach to their 3D printers in order for them to appeal to a professional audience. Formlabs was the first to do this. The promise of Pro machines is that they are more expensive but deliver better accuracy. Subsequently many manufacturers started randomly adding the Pro designation to whatever they were selling. They typically retail for $3000 - $5000.
Networked 3D printers
You may not have heard this term since I just made it up. Initially the term 3D printer was used for the industry to describe machines that were suited for use in offices, as opposed to Additive Manufacturing machines which were used for production. Small machines were subsequently used for producing end use parts. Then came desktop 3D printers which had similar use cases. This has made the lines between these things rather blurry. A networked 3D printer is a printer that is meant for use in an office environment to 3D print parts for a group of designers, students, engineers or a department. These printers are chiefly used for prototypes but could make end use parts. The main thing however is that the system is an optimal system for in office use by a group of people. Very similar to the use case of your office HP printer which is shared by you and your colleagues. These printers are larger in build volume than desktop 3D printers and can be accessed via WiFi. Historically entry level Stratasys models have been used like this (minus the WiFi) and Stratasys’ Objet 3D printers are also an example of this.
Deskside 3D printers
If we look at most of the parts made with 3D printing then a lot of them actually come from relatively small systems. Envisiontec’s Perfactory line for example tops out at 135 CM tall. These systems are used to 3D print the majority of the 10,000,000 hearing aids that are made with 3D printing. Typically a Perfactory is used by a technician in an office like environment where the hearing aids are 3D printed and assembled. They can be used in a production space but are often put next to the desk of the person making the hearing aid. This is a different way of doing production than we typically see in mass manufacturing. These systems range in price from $5000 to $70000. Typically they use DLP, SLA or a similar light based technology but deskside FDM systems are starting to emerge. I’ve created this category so that people realize that there is a thriving market for production systems with small form factors that can be used in offices but are made for end use parts.
Industrial AM systems
An EOS P396
Industrial Additive Manufacturing systems are large 3D Printers that cannot be used in an office. They need industrial HVAC, industrial power and protective clothing generally should be worn when people are working around them. They may need extra provisions such as industrial gasses. These systems have high throughput and repeatability and are used for making many prototypes or many end use parts in one batch. Several full time employees are required if one wants to run these systems and a high degree of expertise must be acquired to reliably do production with them. These systems cost upwards of $150,000.
The Luxexcel printer is also of Industrial standard. Curious? Take a look at the Luxexcel video