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Barely a decade ago, 3D printers were hulking, expensive machines reserved for factories and well-heeled corporations. They were all but unknown outside the small circles of professionals who built and used them. But thanks largely to the RepRap open-source 3D printing movement, these amazing devices have become viable and affordable products for use by designers, engineers, hobbyists, schools, and even curious consumers.High Precision FDM 3D Printer

If you're in the market for one, it's important to know how 3D printers differ from one another so you can choose the right model. They come in a variety of styles, and may be optimized for a particular audience or kind of printing. Preparing to take the plunge? Here's what you need to consider.
Tied into the matter of what you want to print is a more fundamental question: Why do you want to print in 3D? Are you a consumer interested in printing toys and/or household items? A trendsetter who enjoys showing the latest gadgetry to your friends? An educator seeking to install a 3D printer in a classroom, library, or community center? A hobbyist or DIYer who likes to experiment with new projects and technologies? A designer, engineer, or architect who needs to create prototypes or models of new products, parts, or structures? An artist who seeks to explore the creative potential of fabricating 3D objects? Or a manufacturer, looking to print plastic items in relatively short runs?

Your optimal 3D printer depends on how you plan to use it. Consumers and schools will want a model that's easy to set up and use, doesn't require much maintenance, and has reasonably good print quality. Hobbyists and artists may want special features, such as the ability to print objects with more than one color, or to use multiple filament types. Designers and other professionals will want outstanding print quality. Shops involved in short-run manufacturing will want a large build area to print multiple objects at once. Individuals or businesses wanting to show off the wonders of 3D printing to friends or clients will want a handsome yet reliable machine.

For this guide, we will focus on 3D printers in the sub-$4,000 range, targeted at consumers, hobbyists, schools, product designers, and other professionals, such as engineers and architects. The vast majority of printers in this range build 3D objects out of successive layers of molten plastic, a technique known as fused filament fabrication (FFF). It is also frequently called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), although that term is trademarked by Stratasys, Inc. A few use stereolithography—the first 3D printing technique to be developed—in which ultraviolet (UV) lasers trace a pattern on a photosensitive liquid resin, hardening the resin to form the object.

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