As more industries turn to additive manufacturing to assist in operations and fill gaps in the production chain, the importance of 3D printing grows. It’s not something you can wait for your students to pick up on the job – research overwhelmingly shows that early 3D printing education is a strong indicator of future career success. So, investing in a 3D printer for your trade school provides a powerful boost to your students’ future career successes. In an ideal world, students would have access to all kinds of 3D printing technologies and materials. But, most trade school budgets aren’t infinite, and oftentimes you must choose when investing in a 3D printer. Two of the common 3D printing technology methods we specialize in are FDM or Polyjet 3D printers. But what’s the difference? To understand which 3D printer is best for your student population, it’s good to look at current applications for FDM and Polyjet 3D printers, their limitations, industry trends, and students’ career choices.
About FDM 3D Printing
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), sometimes known as Fused Filament Fabrication (try saying that five times fast..) is the most widely used type of 3D printer at the consumer level. This is typically the kind of 3D printing that your students think of when they think of 3D printing. FDM printers work similarly to a glue gun – they extrude or force out thermoplastic filaments through a heated nozzle and build up prints with layer by layer of melted material. This method is ideal for quick and low-cost prototyping of simple parts or building proof of concept models. FDM printers offer many benefits for technical schools; they are typically more durable than other types of 3D printers and able to print high-quantity runs of parts. This cost-effectiveness is perfect for students learning to perfect their CAD skills through design iteration. FDM printers are compatible with a wide range of materials, most commonly ABS & PLA plastics. FDM is also the easiest 3D printing technology to learn and operate. However, the level of detail and finishing options for FDM printers aren’t as robust as Polyjet.
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About Polyjet 3D Printing
Whereas FDM printers print onto a platform in the air, Polyjet resin printers require a build tray into which to assemble the layers of the 3D object. Polyjet printers inject photopolymers that are cured with a UV light layer by layer to create the print. This process tends to be slower than FDM 3D printing because of the curing time and the time required to set up and clean up the machine before and after the printing. However, the level of detail and precision is much higher with Polyjet printers. The trademark striation present in FDM 3D prints is eliminated with Polyjet printers. You can create a smooth, hard, shiny, or even rubbery finish for your print. You can also control the rigidity or flexibility and density of objects more easily. While the materials and 3D prints with Polyjet printers tend to be more expensive than FDM printers and materials, the amount of control you have over the material is greater. With Polyjet printers you are also able to utilize multiple materials in a single print session. Sometimes it can be beneficial to make proof of concept and early models of a project with an FDM printer and then use a Polyjet printer for the finished piece. If you are preparing your trade school students to create finished, polished products, a Polyjet printer is essential in your classrooms!
Factors to Consider When Making a Choice
Of course, in all things, we must consider the budget. By far, FDM printers are your best bet for saving money on upfront costs. The machines are more economical to own and operate, and the 3D printing materials used are also not as expensive. However, FDM printers will not give you the level of detail and accuracy that Polyjet printers will. Polyjet printers will last as long as FDM printers if taken care of properly and can create more fully-finished products rather than the rougher 3D prints from a FDM printer. Because Polyjet printers require a print bed to inject the photopolymers into, there is more to consider from a maintenance and operations perspective with a Polyjet printer, as well. The extra materials required to maintain and clean the print bed add cost and time to each print from a Polyjet 3D printer, so consider the needs of your students. Are they studying automotive repair and need to make specific, finished replacement parts for vintage automobiles? You may want to consider a Polyjet printer. Are they studying manufacturing and need to make large print runs of multiple parts? A FDM printer is your best bet.
When you understand how FDM and Polyjet printers work, you understand a little more about their upkeep and care and the investment required for both. In either case, with the right upkeep and care, your FDM or Polyjet printer will be a massive investment into your students’ futures. Trade schools need to prepare their students for the tech-centric world of the future. Additive manufacturing is set to be the primary technology that shapes the future. Therefore, it is crucial that you have 3D printing as a technology that is available to your students. Whether FDM, Polyjet or another of the many 3D technology methods, arming yourself with knowledge will make you more confident in making this investment into your students’ futures.
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