Most of us think of 3D printing as a great way to build prototype parts quickly. We then think of conventional manufacturing methods like molding or machining for final parts. But what if you could skip that step altogether?
Using 3D printing for end-use parts requires us to think of 3D printing as a manufacturing process. And like all manufacturing process it has its strengths and limitations. But once these strengths and limitations are understood, parts can be designed for 3D printing. Just like a part that is well designed for machining may not be easily injection molded, such a part won't be ideal for 3D printing. So we need to understand the process when designing.
There are two ways of designing parts for 3D printing. One is to start with parts that are already designed to be machined or molded, and convert the design for 3D printing. This can allow for reliably printed parts that are able to meet the requirements of the originals. But this approach does not take full advantage of one of the key strengths of 3D printing which is that complex parts can be made. The second way to design parts for 3D printing is to conceive of the design from the beginning with 3D printing in mind. This allows for a high integration of features onto a low part count. This allows us to simplify the overall design by adding complexity to the components.
For this wire feeder, a gear needed to be added to a timing pulley. With a conventional machining approach, two or more parts would have been made and put together as an assembly. But by printing the parts as one piece, the gear, pulley, and flanges can be integrated into a single part. This saves cost, complexity, and assembly steps.
This feeder will be used in a ISO class 6 clean room, and will be used on a medical device manufacturing line. For this reason, carbon fiber-filled nylon was chosen. It can be run without lubrication and is stiff enough to withstand the loads needed. In future posts, print orientation, material selection, other 3D printing specifics will be explored.
You may want to consider 3D printing for your next design. Or maybe you're already a 3D printing design hero. Let us know in the comments if you've made end-use parts that are printed.