Additive Manufacturing: A Guide to Large-Format 3D Printing

Large-format additive manufacturing enables a big-picture perspective on 3D printing. The increase of the build size widens the possibilities for builds. For example, users can produce bigger parts, taking away the limitations of more standard-sized build envelopes.

3D printing of a large part means that less time is taken designing around several print jobs and assembling multiple parts, and more time is spent ensuring that those parts fulfill requirements.

Choosing to adopt large-format 3D printing can be a huge step but can deliver potentially massive results. Begin by looking into the reasons why 3D printing is desired, what the company goals are, and what is required to meet those needs.

Getting Started

As with all new technology, installing large-format 3D printing starts with investigation. The initial question may be simple: what does “large-format” mean? For 3D printers, “large” is a relative term.

Most extrusion-based (FFF) 3D printers are known as desktop machines as they fit on tablespace. Some of these have very well-regarded build volumes, but when it comes to “large-format”, the machines will need their own exclusive floor space.

Large-format 3D printers have extensive build volumes and are commonly found in professional environments such as R&D centers and manufacturing facilities.

For BigRep, large-format consists of a build volume of at least 1000 x 500 x 500 mm, the size of the BigRep STUDIO machine. It only gets bigger from that point, with the BigRep ONE (1005 x 1005 x 1005 mm), BigRep PRO (1005 x 1005 x 1005 mm), and BigRep EDGE (1500 x 800 x 600 mm).

After discovering the correct size, more capabilities become important. The key characteristics are quality, materials, and speed.

Will engineering-grade materials be used in the production of end products or will usage mostly be limited to prototyping? Is accuracy the most important feature, or are fast mockups key to get to market quicker? These and other questions will help the user find the solution that best fits their application by narrowing the field.

Once a 3D printer suited to requirements has been found for equipment investment, there is a further essential step to bringing the technology in-house: approval of management.

A proper case must be presented for any new technology acquisition. 3D printing has many persuasive arguments in its favor.

The return on investment from a 3D printer can come quickly due to instant applications that make design iteration cycles quicker and bring previously outsourced steps in-house during the workflow.

Showcasing some initial applications will demonstrate to management precisely where large-format 3D printing can provide a difference from day one. Once the decision has been made and the expenditure approved, the final step is the integration of the 3D printer into existing workflows.

Certain applications have already been established but discovering new uses for the technology, particularly as the team builds knowledge and gains experience, can keep the new systems operational and add unforeseen and additional value.

Questions to Ask

It is essential to envision an accurate picture of the results desired after investing in new large-format 3D printing capabilities.

Some beneficial early questions to ask are as follows:

How long will it take to produce the end-vuse part, pattern, mold, or prototype?

  • Is outsourcing an option?
  • How long will it take to manufacture traditionally?
  • Will a non-standard geometry greater increase lead time and cost?

What resources and costs does the conventional method require when compared to additive?

  • Additional equipment
  • Post-processing time or processes
  • Labor

It is important to think about why size is important when looking into the value of large-format 3D printing because of what it enables the user to do.

This creates additional important questions to discuss:

Could the prototype be more effective with 3D printing if build volume was not a limitation?

How easily could a full-scale replica of the part be produced before going to production? How much would it cost and how long would it take?

Size Matters

When it comes to the advantages that large-format 3D printing can contribute to a business, several beneficial elements come into play. The critical features include the possibility of improvements in quality, speed, and cost.

Large-format 3D printing is used in some prominent applications such as prototypes made at 1:1 scale, end-use parts, tooling, patterns, and molds.

All of these applications are especially well-suited to 3D printing integration. Prototyping was the first and largest application area for 3D printing.

In industries like aerospace and automotive, where large parts are frequently required, parts are prototyped until they are approved and can be produced on a mass scale. Being able to prototype in-house in a relatively quick manner makes the time to market and design process more efficient.

An important step of the design procedure is ensuring the appropriate function and fit of parts. The teams being able to work practically with 1:1 scale prototypes makes sure that all real-world parameters are fulfilled, resulting in precise final design assessments.

There is also an increasing use of patterns and molds. 3D printing is not a solution for all end-use part production at the moment, but the technology is gaining a positive reputation in manufacturing workflows.

Creating patterns and molds in-house for use with conventional casting and molding technologies makes sure that the particular geometries designed are reflected in the final parts.

Post-processing time is decreased for both molds and prototypes because the prints can be produced at full scale. It is not necessary to glue or piece together different parts because final assemblies can be developed from a single print bed in one piece.

Large print beds also allow for quick production runs of many smaller parts. Filling the print bed does not necessarily mean one large part; extensive build volumes can also mean greater parts of different sizes. The simultaneous production of spare parts and tools can increase efficiency.

Integrating Additive Manufacturing

The real work starts once the decision to install large-format 3D printing has been made. Additive manufacturing provides original features and a unique element to production workflow but it is not a replacement technology.

Specific processes will evolve from conventional technologies to the new 3D printer. The optimum way to integrate 3D printing is alongside, not as a replacement to, existing workflows. Specific applications are particularly well-suited to 3D printing but others do not make feasible or financial sense.

3D Printing is Another Tool in the Toolbox

Additive manufacturing will not be a replacement for every tool in the toolbox. Applications are expanding and more will develop due to increasing expertise with the new system, its design, and post-processing workflows.

The installation of a new 3D printer, for example, a new large-format machine alongside previously installed desktop units, or industrial metal 3D printers, adds a new dimension of capabilities. The real key to utilizing these new features is to discover best-fit solutions.

It will sometimes still be more effective to hand-make or mill a part. At other times, a hybrid method integrating subtractive and additive manufacturing techniques will create the best results.

There is a comparatively steep learning curve upon the initial adoption of 3D printing into operations. Employee education and training are particularly important in the first several days when courses teaching design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) ensure that parts are correctly designed to be 3D printed.

Utilizing the same designs for a new method of manufacture will not create optimum results. Design files must be customized to the particular machine they will be created on, regarding infill, supports, and orientation for example.

It is equally important to find the correct material for the required job. The majority of familiar polymers are available for large-format 3D printing. Their limitations and performance may be slightly changed from legacy production technologies as new geometries and manufacturing methods modify their characteristics.

To achieve the desired material performance, it is critical to ensure that the correct material and printer are used together, such as utilizing a high-temperature 3D printer with engineering-grade materials. When a fast mockup is required, an inexpensive commodity material is the better option compared to utilizing engineering materials.

Four Applications that Benefit from Large-Format Additive Manufacturing

Large-format 3D printing provides strengths in several areas. The majority of these will have been discovered in the first phases of research and others will surface with familiarity and time.

Real-world use cases demonstrating four application areas provides a detailed look at the particular ways in which real customers have reaped the benefits of large-format 3D printing in their companies.

Prototyping

Prototyping

Tooling

Tooling

Patterns, Molds & Castings

Patterns, Molds & Castings

End-use Parts

End-use Parts

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by BigRep.

For more information on this source, please visit BigRep.

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