DETROIT—Open platform 3D printing can provide manufacturers with more material options and increased control over the process while maintaining part quality and performance, according to resin distributor M. Holland's Haleyanne Freedman.
Freedman, a self-proclaimed "3D printing nerd," discussed some of the most common misconceptions surrounding open platform 3D printing during a session at the recently held Rapid + TCT trade show.
Closed platform 3D printing, where the equipment, software and materials are supplied solely by the machinery maker, has been the standard until a few years ago when key patents expired that previously doused competition in the 3D printing market, she said.
"If there's just one or two single platforms that exist for 3D printing and you're a materials company, that's a very small niche for you to dedicate (research and development) resources to create materials for the platform," said Freedman, who is M. Holland's global 3D printing engineering specialist.
Now, however, materials companies are starting to tap into the 3D printing market with "interesting and advanced" materials—many of which aren't available on closed platforms, she explained.
"When you want to utilize these incredible materials that are being developed right now, you have to have access to machinery that can process those materials," Freedman said.
With closed platform 3D printing, she added, there is no other manufacturing process where you have zero choice but to buy the materials made directly by the equipment manufacturer.
"Arburg doesn't sell plastic," she said of the German machinery maker. "And that's because they want you to use whatever you want to use for the application."
Open platform 3D printing gives users more control over the process, as they're able to adjust various settings such as the processing temperature.
Though, Freedman admitted, the option to adjust hundreds of settings often leads people to believing open platform is more difficult. That level of flexibility, however, allows users to put certain metrics in place while still giving users the option to change and regulate those settings as needed.
"When you're using an open platform and you're trying to engineer a specific part or get a property out of a material or a component, the ability to manipulate your settings is incredibly important," she said.
Other common misconceptions, according to Freedman, are that open platform 3D printing is not industrial, machines are prone to breaking, processes aren't repeatable, and printed parts are lower quality.
All of which are not true, she said.
"It's actually completely the opposite," she said. "When you control things about your print, you can get so much better quality, better resolutions, better performance out of your actual components."
Material cost matters
And material costs are cheaper—a big advantage for widespread adoption of additive manufacturing, especially in the automotive industry.
"If we want to truly adopt additive manufacturing in a very large way, we can't continue to pay $350 for 1 (kilogram) of ABS," Freedman said, noting the standard cost of ABS on an open platform 3D printer is around $15 per kilogram.
Equipment costs are usually much lower, too. And having access to "a massive portfolio of materials" means the user is able to swap resins without any additional capital investment, she said.
For the automotive industry, specifically, there has to be an advantage to processing a part with additive manufacturing vs. traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding. And that advantage almost always relies on adding value at a lower cost.
"In automotive, the name of the game is getting your material costs down. Inexpensive parts in high-volume applications is all about material costs," Freedman said.
"We can't do that if we just focus on these incredibly expensive materials and continue to support that level of the industry," she added. "We have to encourage the chemical companies to continue their research and continue their development to truly get the performance that we want and get the cost down, so that these parts can actually be on the cars that you see driving around on the road, instead of just at the trade shows for example purposes."