Feb 16, 2016 | By Kira
Italian 3D printer manufacturer Robot Factory has recently released a series of highly informative and entirely free-to-download documents pertaining to different aspects of the 3D printing industry. Each of these documents covers a different topic, and aims to collect and share well-researched, unbiased industry knowledge to help users become more familiar with 3D printing technology, and to make more informed 3D printer purchasing decisions.
In particular, these 3D printing documents focus on Robot Factory’s specialty: SLA 3D printing. While not yet as common as desktop FDM 3D printing (due, mainly, to its higher cost, time consumption and complexity), SLA, or Stereo-lithography technology has the advantage of creating much more precise and finely detailed 3D printed objects, and is therefore becoming more sought after for both prototyping and end-use needs. Popular desktop models such as Formlabs’ Form 2 have also contributed to making SLA 3D printing more accessible to a wider market.
Robot Factory's range of SLA 3D printers
It is therefore the perfect time to create a more open dialogue about SLA 3D printing so that consumers can be more informed and confident, whether they are looking for SLA 3D printing services, or want to buy an SLA 3D printer of their own.
Although Robot Factory admits that comparing all of the different SLA 3D printers on the market is no easy task, their aim is rather to go over some of the common parameters and characteristics that could affect a product’s performance and purchase price. The result is a comprehensive, 16-page document titled “How to Evaluate a Stereo Lithographic 3D printer.”
Objects created wth SLA 3D printing technology
To begin with, Robot Factory outlines the technology behind SLA 3D printing: a light source (usually a high intensity lamp or laser) is focused into a vat of photopolymer resin. Following pre-determined patterns across the surface of the vat, the laser hardens the resin, layer by layer, building up a solid 3D object. There two common types of photoinitators used in the resins, which react to either Structured Light wavelengths, or UV light wavelengths. The process may seem simple enough, however the document goes on to explain in great detail the individual elements, materials and details that could affect the 3D printer’s functionality, purpose, quality, and price point.
The topics covered include, but are not limited to:
- Types of photosensitive resins
- Light sources (high pressure lamps, LED UV or laser diodes)
- Top vs. Bottom Projection
- Resolution of the SLA 3D printer
- Engineering solutions (such as protective covers, quality of components, and overall design)
- Warranty and EC Declaration
- Assistance and documentation
- SLA 3D printer accessories
- Open source vs. proprietary software
- Price of consumables and spare parts
Image from the document detailing Top vs Bottom projection light sources
In particular, that last point reveals an important, yet potentially overlooked consideration when buying an SLA 3D Printer: “The final price of the printer is not always the thing that differentiates one product from another,” explains Robot Factory. “For example, today you can buy inkjet printer to print documents, at a price of less than €50.00 but unfortunately we realize of the deception when we have to buy replacement cartridges which can cost up to 3 times the price of the printer itself.”
Likewise, SLA 3D printing requires resin and resin vats, which can end up costing more than the actual 3D printer. According to Robot Factory, the resin alone can reach prices above €400 /kg, while the vats, which need to be changed periodically, can cost up to €300 each time. “It is a good thing to pay much attention at the time of purchase [to] this small detail,” warns the company. Good advice, indeed.
In its conclusion, Robot Factory provides a list of ten useful questions consumers can ask themselves before they purchase a SLA 3D printer, the first and most important of which is, What will it be used for? The answer—hobby, prosumer, or professional use—can then be used to determine what costs, accessories, and features would best suit each individual’s needs.
As the 3D printing industry begins to truly enter the mainstream, there will be no shortage of companies and websites trying to tell you why their 3D printer (or 3D printing filament, accessory, or anything else,) is the one you should buy. While you could spend hours researching ‘objective’ review sites, or even perusing 3Ders’ own 3D Printer Price Compare (which we highly suggest once you’ve got an idea of your preferred brand, technology, or price range), Robot Factory’s free 3D printing documents are a good place to start for those who are feeling more than a little lost.
“Above all we hope to have given good information, so, when you access a website or visit a store, you can be able to understand if the quality and specifications are adequate to the price and especially to the use that you have to make,” said the company.
So far, Robot Factory’s free educational 3D printing documents include one about differentiating its own 3DLPrinter-HD 2.0 from other SLA 3D printers on the market, as well as a document about the direct casting of resins 3D printed with SLA systems. All are free to download, provided you have either WinZip and Acrobat Reader installed on your computer.
In the future, they intend to include even more educational documents, and are open to further edits, corrections and suggestions from the 3D printing community itself in order to make these guides as complete and useful as possible for those who could truly benefit.
Posted in 3D Printer
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