Advantages of industrial 3D printers with a modular design

Why should an industrial 3D printer have interchangeable 3D printing modules?

We clarify this topic and see what advantages the use of 3D printing modules brings.

Modular construction of the industrial machines

The providers of used machines active in various branches of industry have been focusing on the modular machines for several years. The user is provided with a machine in the basic configuration which, depending on the application and needs of the customer, can be expanded with additional modules or special tools suitable for the respective company. An example of this is the selection of the appropriate tool used for the CNC machine, which enables the machine to be used optimally and adapted to the respective areas of application. The modular design of 3D printers is based on similar assumptions.

The modular solutions are increasingly used by machine manufacturers because they are very practical and they also fit well into the Industry 4.0 concept. For the user, this means a guarantee of flexibility and adaptability of the machine to constantly changing expectations and different applications. Possible expansion of the device throughout its life cycle as well as quick assembly of other accessories such as special tools or modules are considered as added value of every industrial machine.

Industrial 3D printer with a modular design

Manufacturing companies around the world are increasingly equipping their machine parks with industrial 3D printers. They are used in practically every industry. In the railway industry, interior elements are produced using 3D printing technology, aircraft manufacturers are replacing the previously used metal parts with components that are lighter and at the same time resistant to many external influences, and the automotive industry is creating numerous prototypes much faster, using production facilities made using additive manufacturing processes. The range of technical and high-resistance materials available on the market is very wide and constantly evolving, and the use of these materials and 3D printing in the industrial sector offer many new opportunities in all industrial sectors. Importantly, engineers in many departments, including R&D departments, want to work with all of these available engineering materials using just one 3D printer. Unfortunately, this is not always possible because additive manufacturing systems have various limitations that limit their operation, these limitations often being due to available materials.

What characteristics should a 3D printer have in order to be able to produce parts both from high-temperature materials such as PEEK, ULTEM or PC and from fiber-reinforced materials or elastic filaments? Learn more why a 3D

Printers for industrial applications should be equipped with a modular system.

Why can't most 3D printers print from different material groups?

There are quite a few 3D printers available on the market today that are only compatible with a few filaments, which means that the company must have a few different facilities. Each system is then used for the respective area of ​​application. This means higher acquisition costs and inefficient use of customer resources. How does it work in practice?

In order to print a part from ABS, ie a material with a low extrusion temperature from the group of base polymers used in 3D printing (so-called commodity), the customer has to buy a system. In order to produce parts from, for example, carbon fiber reinforced materials such as PA-CF or PC-CF, it is necessary to purchase another 3D printer, which is often much more expensive. On the other hand, if we want to produce models from high-performance materials with high mechanical properties that are temperature and chemical resistant, we need to add another 3D printing machine to our machine park. There are few devices on the market that are suitable for operation using such filaments as PEEK, PEKK or ULTEM due to the specific requirements in terms of temperature and pressure conditions.

The 3D printing process must be compatible with the material in question, and one of the basic parameters of 3D printing is the extrusion temperature of the material, which is directly related to the technical material parameters such as glass transition temperature or softening temperature. For example, PEEK needs to heat up the print head up to 360-400°C to start extrusion in 3D printing technology, while ABS is extruded at only 230-260°C. Every standard 3D printer will have the problem of feeding such different materials on one print head.

Due to the modular design, only one device is sufficient, which can be used to work from different groups of materials, whereby high-quality models can be achieved. Although the machine will be used mostly to print base materials such as ABS or PLA, there may be a need to print parts in more durable materials such as PEEK, or materials reinforced with carbon or glass fibers. Printers with a modular design do not require an additional device - it is sufficient to purchase a printing module that is suitable for printing from the respective material. In this case, the acquisition costs of a module are often several times lower than buying another 3D printer.

Why can't different material groups be printed on one print head?

Any replacement of the extruded material with material of different properties can result in clogging of the nozzle. If the printing process was carried out using PEEK and immediately afterwards an attempt is made to print from PLA, the extrusion temperature of which is much lower, the PEEK material residues in the nozzle will prevent the extrusion process. However, if the material with a low extrusion temperature is printed at higher temperatures, this will lead to its deterioration and, as a result, to a significant reduction or loss of its mechanical properties and resistance to external influences. A great convenience for the user is the purchase of a 3D printer equipped with a modular system, which solves this problem.

Interchangeable pressure modules - description, advantages

The interchangeable modular system allows the use of a wide range of materials on just one device. From basic materials widely used in the industry for rapid prototyping, through typical engineering materials to advanced materials for special applications. How does it work in practice? The design of each module is adapted to the respective material group and its characteristics for maximum optimization of the printing process. In order to obtain the best print quality and details that are characterized by the required durability and strength, the printing process must be compatible with the material in question.

To better visualize how the modular system works, let's consider the 3D printer as a machine and the module as a tool. The more available tools we have, the more functional our machine is, but at a given moment we only use that tool that gives the expected results. It's the same with 3D printers. Each module is a tool that allows to work with different groups of filaments, often extremely different from each other by plasticizing temperature.

Łukasz Lipiec, Technical Applications Engineer