The Differences Between Industrial and Desktop 3D Printers

FDM 3D printers are mainly designed for industry and desktop. “Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a technology where the melt extrusion method is used to deposit filaments of thermal plastics according to a specific pattern” - Google.

1. Accuracy

In most cases, the precision of geometric tolerances and parts depend on printer’s calibration and model complexity.

Parts made by the industrial FDM 3D printers are more precise than those made by the desk FDM printers, as it can well control the parameters during printing.

For industrial machines, the calibration needs to be conducted first, including a heated chamber to minimize the effects of rapid cooling of molten plastic (e.g., warpage), ensuring normal operation under a high-temp condition.

Most of these machines support dual extrusion, allowing for deposition of water-soluble materials, which will be removed in post-processing to obtain a smooth model.

On the other hand, the desktop FDM 3D printers develop quickly with some supported the advanced functions including accurate calibration algorithm, heated chambers, higher printing temperatures and dual extrusion.

A desktop FDM 3D printer with a great calibration algorithm can produce parts of high precision (±0.5mm) and parts of minimum size (about 1 mm) same as those produced by the industrial FDM machines.

The precision is good enough for most of the applications. Most materials used in desktop FDM printing allow for precise machining of critical dimensions (e.g., holes) or detailed features (e.g., threads) in the post-processing step.

2. Materials

The PLA filaments are widely used in the desktop FDM 3D printer. It’s user-friendly and can produce precise parts.

The filaments ABS will be used in conditions of higher durability, ductility and thermal stability.

ABS filament is more prone to warpage (due to the shrinkage) and the geometry of the printed parts may prohibit its use, especially in machines without a heated chamber.

Another increasingly popular alternative material is PETG, which has properties comparable to ABS and is easy to print.

The three materials mentioned above is suitable for most 3D printing applications.

Industrial FDM 3D printers mainly print with engineering plastics (ABS, polycarbonate (PC) or Ultem).

These materials often contain certain additives that modify their properties and make them particularly suitable for specific industrial needs (e.g. high impact strength, thermal stability, chemical resistance and biocompatibility).

Some materials that used in industrial FDM have similar material properties to injection molded parts, which are good enough for creating functional terminal parts.
Materials’ high-temp compatibility means that they are suitable for low run injection molding.

3. Production Capacity and Cost

The main difference between desktop and industrial 3D printer is cost. The popularity of desktop 3D printers has greatly reduced the cost of FDM machines’ operation, as well as the cost and availability of filaments.

Typically, the industrial FDM 3D printers have better production capability than desktop 3D printers. In this way, the industrial FDM machines can handle large orders more easily than desktop 3D printers.

Industrial 3D printers also have a larger building space, which means they can produce larger parts at one time or print multiple models at the same time.

Industrial FDM printers are also designed to be repeatable and reliable. They can often produce the same parts over and over again. Desktop FDM printers require a high level of maintenance and regular calibration.

4. Similarities of Desktop and Industrial 3D Printers

FDM is one of the most popular 3D printing technologies because it can produce high quality parts from durable materials that maintain good mechanical properties. The accuracy of desktop and industrial FDM 3D printers is suitable for most prototyping, modeling or batch manufacturing.

The minimum feature size of the two FDM machines are limited by nozzle diameter and layer thickness. Material extrusion makes it impossible to generate vertical features (in the Z-direction) with geometries smaller than the layer height (typically 0.1 - 0.2 mm).

In addition, it is not possible to produce a flat feature (in the XY plane) smaller than the nozzle diameter (typically 0.4 - 0.5 mm) and the wall must also be at least 2 to 3 times larger than the nozzle diameter (i.e., 0.8 to 1.2 mm).

When smooth surfaces and very fine features are required, post-processing (e.g., sandblasting, machining, etc.) may be needed or other additive manufacturing techniques may be more appropriate (e.g., SLA or SLS).

5. Suggestions

Industrial FDM 3D printers are the best FDM solution for engineering materials that require designs with tolerances less than 1 mm, with specific material properties (heat or chemical resistance), or large build sizes (greater than 200 mm x 200 mm x 200 mm). The costs will be higher.

Desktop FDM 3D printers are suitable for prototyping and batch production. They can print models efficiently with a wide range of materials at low cost. A tolerance of ± 1% is usually sufficient for most fitting and molding prototyping.

The 3D printing method (SLA or SLS) should be used when printing precision models with fine details.

We hope this article will provide you with some information about industrial and desktop 3D printers. Enjoy the fun of printing.

The Differences Between Industrial and Desktop 3D Printers
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