Technology continues to develop at an ever-faster pace and educators have long realized that the best way for students to keep up, is to gain hands-on experience. 3D printing is no exception, and many schools and universities are integrating 3D printers into their curriculums. These tools give students capabilities that could only have been imagined years ago, while building skills that apply to real-world applications. The challenge for educators is sorting through the wealth of options that exist, to narrow down the best choice for their students. In this article, we will explain some of the benefits of key 3D printing technologies and the departments that could take advantage of each one.
The two prominent 3D printing technologies we will be comparing in this article are FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and PolyJet. Both are fundamentally different in how they print, but both are widely used in the additive manufacturing space and have their own set of benefits in the classroom and lab.
FDM 3D Printers
FDM printers extrude thermoplastic filament through a nozzle and build up a model layer by layer.
Benefits of FDM Printers
- Low Cost
These printers typically offer the most affordable entry for educators with lower cost printers and material. Printers like the MakerBot Sketch, are specifically designed for primary education curriculums and offer the most affordable entry to 3D printing. High schools or Universities may consider stepping up to the MakerBot METHOD, which offers additional material options. Institutions looking for a true industrial-grade 3D printer may consider the Stratasys F120, which outperforms desktop 3D printers.
FDM printers use thermoplastic materials that are commonly found in more traditional manufacturing technologies, such as injection molding. This means that parts created with FDM printers are strong enough to stand up to the rigors of functional prototype testing or use as production parts. In addition, specific materials can offer more environmental stability when used in applications that require heat or chemical resistance.
When speed is of the essence, FDM can take a slight edge over PolyJet technology. The ability to vary the build height, allows users to sacrifice fine detail or surface finish in favor of time to the final part. This can be advantageous during rapid prototyping, where iterations need to be tested and revised in a narrow time frame.
How FDM Printers are Used in the Classroom
The durability of FDM parts means that students in the Engineering department can use them in their functional prototype testing or final production parts. There is no need to wait for expensive, machined or injection-molded parts. In addition, FDM parts can be used for tooling, jigs and fixtures, providing even more flexibility to instructors. With materials ranging from ABS and Carbon infused Nylon, to ULTEM 9085 for extreme environmental conditions, it is now possible to prototype or manufacture nearly any product.
FDM printers also allow students in the Architectural department to realize their vision and translate it into a physical model. Students no longer need to cut and glue fiberboard or wood, they can simply send their models to the printer and see it in its physical form hours later.
History or Archeology departments can also use FDM printers to re-create artifacts or historical architecture. Holding a replica of an artifact can provide a higher level of sensory immersion versus simply seeing it in a photo or video.
PolyJet 3D Printers
PolyJet printers use a print head to jet layers of curable, liquid photopolymer onto a build tray and cures each layer with a UV light.
Benefits of PolyJet Printers
- Fine Detail
The microscopic layer height and resolution of PolyJet printers allow for exceptionally fine detail and smooth parts and is typically best if the aesthetic appearance of your part is a high priority.
- Wide Color Palette
Materials come in a wide variety of colors, allowing for multiple areas of a printed part to vary in color. Some higher-end PolyJet printers can even blend material colors, allowing up to 500,000 unique color combinations including Pantone Verified colors. There are even transparent materials available.
- Multiple Durometers and Textures
PolyJet printers can use materials that cure to different durometers within the same print. This allows for the simulation of over molding or flexible hinges on parts. The exceptional detail produced from these printers also allow them to simulate different texture options and materials, such as wood, fabric and leather. This helps to reduce post-processing time and communicate concepts more effectively.
How PolyJet Printers are Used in the Classroom
Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design departments can benefit from PolyJet printers just as much as with FDM printers. The astonishing detail and ability to combine multiple materials in one print allows students to create concept parts that look and feel like the final finished part.
The smooth prints that are possible with PolyJet printers, combined with a range of materials, allow students to create limited run tooling for plastic injection molded parts. This allows for rapid tooling development and issues, such as short shots or sink marks, can be identified early in the process before the final expensive tooling has been produced.
Medical and dental institutions, as well as Biology departments, are using PolyJet printers to create training models for students to work with. Printers like the J750 Digital Anatomy are designed to create human anatomy that mimics bone and tissue more realistically than ever before. This helps to minimize variation in a clinical setting and allows for highly realistic, low-risk training. Students can practice their surgical skills on the most accurate artificial representation of human body parts. This also allows for even more accurate medical device testing.
Hopefully, this information can help guide you toward a decision as to which technology might be best for your students or educational institution. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our knowledgeable team for even more information and tailored guidance. No matter which technology you choose for your students, you can rest assured that TriMech has the expertise to help you get the most out of your investment.
Want to know more? This guide breaks down all of the 3D printers and 3D printing technologies that best fit a learning environment to help narrow down your choices for consideration.