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Additive manufacturing is revolutionizing the way we produce all kinds of physical goods and products in a way that is analogous to how the web revolutionized non-physical services and enabled the creation of completely novel digital products that we use today. Companies such as Slant 3D are building the world’s largest 3D printing farms to provide the manufacturing capability that this revolution needs.
Print Farm Beta
In early 2020, ground broke on the most ambitious 3D printing farm project. Slant 3D’s Print Farm Beta project will be the world’s largest 3D printing farm, with 800 independent 3D printers linked to one computer and operator brain ejecting thousands of individual parts in each week of unbroken 24-hour days.
The Print Farm Beta 3D printing farm was already partially operational just one month after ground broke on the site. Slant 3D used its technology to respond immediately to the first signs of danger from the coming COVID-19 pandemic. The company used the machines it had already installed to 3D print tens of thousands of hygienic face shields and distribute them from the unfinished facility in good time – just as PPE shortages around the world were severely damaging our ability to cope with the crisis.
Combined with Slant 3D’s other large-scale 3D printing farm projects, Print Farm Beta is capable of economies of scale that rival traditional injection molding for many smaller-scale manufacturing jobs. Slant 3D believes it can manufacture products on runs of up to 50,000 or 100,000 pieces at a lower cost to an equivalent injection molding process.
As well as quickly producing parts at large volumes – and including variations and alternative sizes in the same manufacturing run – with hundreds of printers operating independently of one another, Slant 3D is progressing 3D print farm technology with its unparalleled part ejection technology.
The company’s machines can eject complete parts without human supervision. The pieces are then collected in bins on conveyor belts and automatically delivered to quality control, warehousing and distribution.
The custom-designed fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printers in Print Farm Beta operate independently but are connected to a central computer. Slant 3D software enables a single user to manage the entire 3D printing farm, and as much supervision, organization, and maintenance as possible is performed automatically with sensors and computer processing.
3D printing farms like this can be operated very economically while at the same time generating significant economies of scale that are unavailable or unfeasible for the vast majority of potential users of 3D printing technology. Slant 3D can negotiate much better value machinery and consumables – and employ the best technicians – to ensure an efficient and profitable operation that any manufacturer can use.
In this way, Slant 3D presents its 3D printing farm as a revolution in manufacturing akin to how we trade new products and existing services that were brought on by the web.
Print Farm Beta acts like a server farm, providing independent, small-scale manufacturers with access to the professional technology that can get their physical product to consumers, in the same way that independent, small-scale software and app developers already have access to the professional servers that they need to get their digital products to our phones and laptops.
3D printing farms can also operate on a similar business model to server farms, which allow start-up digital products to only pay according to how many customers they are attracting. As each machine can be operated independently and no set-up is needed between jobs, manufacturers can order any number of pieces at a time. On-demand manufacturing helps micro-scale independent producers get their products to customers as efficiently as possible.
Print Farm Beta is by no means the only 3D printing farm seeking to disrupt the world of manufacturing. Slant 3D was a pioneer in 3D printing farm technology with the Print Farm Alpha project. Numerous others worldwide combined to make the beginnings of a manufacturing network that anybody can tap into.
The Future of 3D Printing Farms
With powerful modern computer design software that can be used without formal training – and increasingly automated logistics and distribution networks – 3D printing farms can completely change how many physical products are conceptualized, designed, manufactured, and distributed to users. Variations can be made with minimal cost, resource waste can be completely minimized, and entrepreneurs with good ideas face next to no barriers to getting their product into the hands of people who will use it.
Print Farm Beta is approaching completion in early 2021 and is growing rapidly. More printers will be added, and when it is finished, the 3D printing farm will boast 800 3D printers and take its title as the world’s largest 3D printing farm. However, Slant 3D is not stopping there, with an even larger Print Farm Gamma currently in the works. As this and other 3D printing farm projects take hold worldwide, a manufacturing revolution will soon be upon us.
References and Further Reading
Slant 3D (2019) “Slant 3D to Build World’s Largest 3D Printing Farm of 800 Machines.” Slant 3D. [Online] https://www.slant3d.com/slant3d-blog/slant-3d-to-build-worlds-largest-3d-printing-farm-of-800-machines.
Slant 3D (2020) “The World’s Largest 3D Printing Farm Takes Shape.” Slant 3D. [Online] https://www.slant3d.com/slant3d-blog/the-worlds-largest-3d-printing-farm-takes-shape#.
Stevenson, Kerry (2011) “The Anything Factory.” Fabbaloo. https://www.fabbaloo.com/blog/2011/4/5/the-anything-factory-html.
Stevenson, Kerry (2020) “The Largest 3D Printing Factory is Coming.” Fabbaloo. [Online] https://www.fabbaloo.com/blog/2020/5/26/the-largest-3d-printing-factory-is-coming.