3D Printing Breakdown
What are the advantages of 3D printing? A 3D printer is essentially a computer designed for manufacturing capabilities. Most printers can print objects as large as 6 inches, but there are some that can print up to 16 inches. A printer we recently got to mass produce caps *wink wink* allows you to print infinitely in the Z-axis using a conveyor belt. The prints simply fall off into a bucket or box when completed - increasing production speed and reducing direct engagement with product development. Another benefit is prototyping. For designs we want to test out before sending to the market, we can determine if the print would be successful before even pressing the start button by viewing it in a slicer software. This allows a designer to rapidly modify models until they are ready for print. Another advantage is materials testing. 3D printing allows users to print in a variety of plastics from polylactic acid (PLA) to Polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG), to thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU), and nylon.
One can rapidly test which materials are best suited for a specific purpose by printing it and testing it directly (although some pre-analysis can be done to make assumptions before printing). One of the last advantages I will mention is cost. In the above story, using a 3rd party printing service cost me a lot of money that could have been spent elsewhere. 3D printing costs are likely to be greater if you take into account the cost of the printer, the material, the energy, and labor. However, if you print for scale and you design multiple objects that need to be tested, or sold, you will quickly recuperate your investment. I probably pay 1% of what I paid above to complete my current prints (if calculating cost on a print by print basis).
How does 3D printing work to enhance the algaeverse? Algaeo uses 3D printers to print caps, equipment, and housings for its systems. We have even begun using biodegradable filaments from Algix (algae based filaments!!!) to increase the sustainability of our systems. Prototypes need to be tested before customers get their hands on them, and 3D printers allow us to do this. Additionally, we can also quickly provide replacements for any damaged goods without waiting on a manufacturer to do so. Many of our planned designs and projects will directly utilize parts made from a 3D printer. Having full control over the production process truly allows our creativity to run wild until we find a manufacturer right for our products and designs.
By this point, you are probably wondering what types of 3D printers we use. We mentioned one already in the above article, but there are a few other kinds we use as well.
Creality Ender 3 V2
Creality S1 Pro
The Ender’s are great printers for beginners. They can help aspiring printers learn about assembly of 3D printers, the various components required for one to work, and how to troubleshoot issues such as bed leveling. The bowden feed system is very forgiving for new printers as well. The Kobra was purchased once we got wind of direct drive printing, which can handle flexible filaments like TPU much easier. The S1 Pro has an all metal hot end (the part the filament comes out of) and is capable of handling Nylon (which can be used for things like bike pedals). Lastly, the CR-30 allows us to put production level jobs on autopilot. If we need to print out multiple education kits for classrooms, we can schedule it on the CR-30 and it will print until the filament runs out, the power goes out, or the job is done.
3D printers are a great tool for prospective product designers, engineers, and architects. It allows for the rapid development and prototyping of designs and products. There are a wide variety of printers, printer types, and printer accessories to make the process easy, but in the end there is a slight learning curve that will need to be overcome for product developers to maximize the potential of this equipment. Algaeo uses 3D printers for all of its prototyping and production, and new devices and designs will also be done using 3D printers. 3D printing can be made more sustainable by utilizing renewable energy sources to power the devices, biodegradable filaments for printed objects (if appropriate), and by utilizing smart printing practices (print in batches or during non-peak energy demand hours of the day). Overall, 3D printing is crucial for building the Algaeverse and we hope you enjoy our 3D printed productions that will ultimately have a positive impact on the planet!