A Few Words on Layer Thickness and Your 3D Prints

One thing that is unique to 3D Printing relative to other fabrication processes is the importance of layer thickness.  Since you’re building a part up “additively,” thicker layers makes for a faster build.  But if the 3D Printing software is cutting the design file into thicker slices, then you may also lose some degree of resolution in the print.  Whether or not that’s the case, the aesthetics of different layer thicknesses can be something you want to consider when getting a part 3D Printed.

In this video, I dive deeper into the topic of layer height and show you a handful of parts printed at different layer heights.  This may help provide you a sense of what the end result would look like if you were to submit an RFQ at www.3Diligent.com and specify a given layer height for the extrusion printing process.  I also review the post-process options that can be added to address the layer aesthetics, including sanding and acetone vapor smoothing.


After this four-minute video, you will be ready to make an educated decision on the layer thickness of your next additive manufacturing project. And if you have further questions, feel free to let me know in the comments below!

Providing Perspective at America Makes TRX in Austin About How the supply chain is turning into a supply web thanks to additive manufacturing

I arrived tonight in Austin, TX for the America Makes Technical Review & Exchange (TRX), starting tomorrow.  I’m honored to have been asked to present 3Diligent’s take on the additive supply chain with the America Makes membership and selected guests.  These attendees represent some of the biggest names in additive manufacturing – the thought leaders from the largest manufacturing, aerospace and medical companies in the US and a number of internationals as well – and I understand the event is sold out so really looking forward to it.


TRX events are semi-annual events where America Makes members – the leading companies in American additive manufacturing – gather to review America Makes programs and discuss key challenges facing the industry.


The topic of my presentation to the group will be key trends defining the additive supply chain today and predictions on where these trend lines will take us.  With respect a view of the future, we at 3Diligent are believers that the traditional “supply chain” will actually start to break apart and eventually reassemble into a “supply web.”  Instead of mass produced goods flowing to end consumers in a straight line sequential order, production will take place in many places, with additive serving as an input to much later stages of distribution that has been the case for more than a century.  We’ll also highlight our belief that digital natives – companies that were born with additive in mind – will be key drivers in this transformation.


Last but not least, we’ll highlight how companies like 3Diligent can play a valuable role in helping companies seeking to take full advantage of this paradigm shift brought about by additive and other CAD-driven technologies.


Look for additional thought pieces from 3Diligent on this topic in the future.  In the meantime, here’s to a great discussion at TRX…

3Diligent Speaking at Atlantic Design & Manufacturing in New York

I’m excited to be speaking today in New York City’s Javits Convention Center as part of the Atlantic Design & Manufacturing Show.

As always, it is one of the major events on the advanced manufacturing calendar, drawing attendance from across the New York metro and greater Eastern seaboard.

The session I’ll be participating in is a panel discussion entitled “Using Additive Manufacturing to Process Novel Materials & Improve Product Performance.” You can read more about the session here.

If I were to guess how it plays out, we’ll be digging into material science advances in 3D Printing and more broadly how certain materials that haven’t been readily utilized by more traditional manufacturing technologies are gaining increasing traction in the additive world due to the differences between the additive process and those techs.

It should be a great discussion and if you’re within striking distance of the west side of New York City, I’ll hope to see you there!




Challenges the US Faces in Adopting Additive Manufacturing (and how we can help)

Just as additive manufacturing/3D Printing is poised to have a dramatic impact on US manufacturing, there’s an issue. Not enough people currently have the skills to utilize the technology.

That’s the conclusion of a report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and based on our day-to-day work in the trenches of additive, I think there’s some merit to the conclusion.

I recommend reading the article in Design News which lists three reasons behind the skills gap. In this video blog, as well as in this post, I want to relay my thoughts a couple of points they make and expound on how 3Diligent can help.

First, companies may not realize that they need or want to move to additive manufacturing.  For better or worse, the industry experienced a surge of publicity and hype a few years ago.  This brought unprecedented attention to the technology and how it could take CAD design files and transition from bits to atoms in a way that many found astounding.  The downside is that much of this attention was garnered upon desktop printers and their theoretical use by consumers, something that is still a ways away due to the lack of infrastructure to support it – from intuitive CAD design to easy-to-use machines to libraries of parts that are readily printed.  All of this hype has allowed some individuals and companies to believe that 3D Printing is better aligned to fabricating tchotchkes than innovative, next generation parts, tools, and replacement spares, which is where industrial 3D Printers truly shine.

The first point may be tied to the second one: there has been so much offshoring in last few decades that companies are detached from their manufacturing. Due to this detachment from the day-to-day manufacturing operations, the inclination to learn of all the potential applications for additive and how it might be applied to a particular supply chain can be lacking.  Even if this inclination is there, building out capability internally can be a significant endeavor, requiring internal politicking for budget and a cultural commitment to coming up the curve on additive.

That being said, it is our belief that additive manufacturing – and digital manufacturing more broadly – are absolutely disruptive and are here to stay.  Companies need to overcome the hurdles spelled out by BCG and 3Diligent in this post.

3Diligent offers one such avenue to overcome these challenges.  We have been in this industry for years, building out a fabrication network with nodes of expertise across an incredible swath of 3D Printing processes and materials.  So whether you are seeking consulting support in identifying opportunities for additive, considering how to tackle the challenges additive presents for your supply chain, or in getting parts fabricated using our digital manufacturing capabilities (particularly 3D Printing), that’s what we’re able to do.

In sum, if these challenges resonate with you, take a look at our services on our website or drop me an email. We’d love to help.


The Value of Castings

Last month, we announced the formal launch of our castings service.

If you primarily know us as a 3D Printing service, you may be curious to know a bit more about castings and how our services might be useful to you and your future projects and programs.

What is casting?

For the uninitiated, casting is the process of pouring liquid material into a mold, then letting it solidify in the mold.  Once solidified, the solid part can be removed from the mold and finished as necessary.  Castings can be done with a variety of materials.  Some of the oldest examples of castings were in metal – you can see examples dating all the way back to the bronze age.

So if this is a bronze age technology, what on earth is it doing as part of a digital fabrication service?

Well what has changed the game are advancements in material science and the arrival of high fidelity 3D Printing.

Material Science

First, let’s talk about material science.  While it’s true that metals have been cast for a long time, it’s only recently that a wave of new materials have become available.  Most notable among these are polyurethane resins.  Polyurethane is castable at room temperature, which is why you will sometimes see polyurethane casting referred to as RTV Casting – for Room Temperature Vulcanization.  Two parts are mixed together and within a matter of minutes or hours, the liquid solidifies.  There is an incredible range of material properties now possible through casting.  Among these are high temperature resins, food grade resins, and clear resins.  Moreover, polyurethanes are available in a broad range of shore values from the highly pliable to very stiff.  Beyond the scope of polyurethane – which is a continually evolving technology, casting is also available for silicone and metal casting, as it has been for some time.

While material science has allowed for casting to become a viable solution for applications it previously was not, this certainly doesn’t tell the whole story as to how casting has become a key technology in the digital manufacturing space.  That is explained by 3D Printing.

3D Printing’s Role in Castings

3D Printing, as you may be aware, is the process of taking a CAD file and building a part up, layer by layer (in an additive fashion), until the geometry is complete.  Because the process is capable of processing extraordinarily complex geometries with more or less the same efficiency and ease as it does simple shapes, it is a fantastic solution for rapid iteration on complex, organic geometries.  The shortcoming of 3D Printing is that all of that layerwise fabrication can take a lot of time.  And the materials that 3D Printers consume can be quite expensive.  As a result, scaling up production with a 3D Printer can sometimes prove quite costly from a time and money standpoint.  That’s where a happy marriage with casting has been established.  There are two ways 3D Printing and casting tend to go hand in hand.

The first is in support of the “lost wax” or “investment casting” process.  In this scenario, a “master” or “pattern” part can be 3D Printed.  From there, liquid silicone rubber or a ceramic slurry is poured around the part.  Once the silicone or ceramic material sets around the part, the master pattern is removed from the mold (either by being cut out of the silicone or melted in a furnace to drip out of the ceramic mold.  Either approach leaves a perfectly defined negative space for casting.  From there, the right urethane or metal for the application can be poured into the void.

The second is in directly printing a mold.  In this approach, one of our 3D Printing technologies either fabricates a resin, plastic, or sand mold from the ground up.  By printing in these materials, additional material options are made available for pouring into the negative space of the mold.  Notable among these is silicone, which can sometimes be difficult to cast in silicone molds.  Additionally, this approach can provide a good pathway to larger scale castings in metal.

The Value of Castings

In sum, casting is an old process made new by recent advancements in material science and the remarkable capabilities of 3D Printing.  From a practical standpoint, it commonly provides a cost-effective bridge to large scale production using injection molding or die casting, for instance.  It also offers significant speed benefits.  Whereas a bulky part may prove time consuming and expensive to 3D Print, casting may provide significant savings in terms of cash and time.  In this way, it’s a fantastic technology that provides a perfect complement to our range of offerings.

As you can tell, we are very excited to be offering casting to our customers as part of our comprehensive range of digital manufacturing technologies.  If you have a project or program that you think could be a fit, please log into your 3Diligent.com account and submit an RFQ, specifying either molding/casting or “Let Vendor Choose” as your process.

We are excited to review, quote, and execute your program!

Talking Digital Manufacturing in Future Tech Podcast

Last week I was able to catch up with Juliet Lemar, host of Future Tech Podcast, to talk about 3Diligent and digital manufacturing. The podcast covers technologies that are expected to transform lives, covering a wide variety of topics from Bitcoin to blockchain to 3D Printing.

Our conversation included an overview on 3Diligent, different applications I’ve seen in 3D Printing, what our customers experience working with 3Diligent and whether 3D Printing is anything like the hit HBO show, Westworld.

Our conversation begins around the 2:20 mark and is a quick 20-minute interview. Take a listen and comment below any questions that come up.

A Digital Manufacturing Partner for Every Business

Yesterday, we made a big announcement.

After spending the better part of the last year qualifying and onboarding new fabrication centers, we are pleased to formally announce that we are now offering CNC Machining and Casting services alongside our 3D Printing service.  In doing so, we have become the “Digital Manufacturing Partner to Every Business.”

What does this mean to you, our customer?

That if you enjoyed the one-stop shopping convenience we previously offered you for additive manufacturing, you will love getting those same benefits from our comprehensive machining and casting services.  Instead of having to dial up dozens of companies in search of a solution that might call for any of those technologies, you can now submit a single RFQ and know that 99.9% of the time you’re going to get a great quote on the program that leverages the strength of 3Diligent’s thousands of fabrication options to ensure you’re getting the best solution to your fabrication need.

Beyond providing you the added convenience of one-stop shopping for your digital and rapid manufacturing needs, these expanded capabilities also enhance our ability to support your company’s needs from prototyping through to production.  At 3Diligent, we are very excited about the growing number of production 3D Printing programs we are supporting.  Advancements in 3D Printing speed, reliability and material science are making it a viable option for an increasing number of programs.  However, there are times when machining or casting are a better option for the application at hand, especially at higher volumes.

Now, for those of you who have been regular users of our service, you know that we have been quietly offering Machining and Casting for some time.  We’ve been refining these capabilities in semi-stealth mode.  Until we had all the pieces in place, we didn’t want to announce that we were ready for primetime.

But now we are.

Our service now offers several hundred CNC machines of all flavors, including milling, turning, EDM, laser cutting, and waterjet cutting.  Our casting service now services materials including an incredible range of urethanes, silicone, and metals.

And I’m pleased to report that the reviews have been outstanding.  From casting to machining, our customers have reported the highest levels of satisfaction with our world-class project management and the timeliness and workmanship of our fabrication centers.  You can read a few of them here in our press release.

If you have a program that might call for machining or casting, I strongly encourage you to submit an RFQ at www.3Diligent.com.  I think you’ll be impressed!

Taking a Closer Look at the HP Jet Fusion 300 / 500: A Breakthrough New Color 3D Printer

HP recently issued a press release about the long-awaited HP color 3D printer, the Jet Fusion 300 / 500. In this post, we take a closer look their announcement given our expertise working with every major 3D printing technology on the market to help you determine just how impactful this new product launch will be.

In the paragraphs below, we deconstruct some of the key passages of the press release to give you some perspective on what to expect…

Press Release: Palo Alto, CA, Feb. 5, 2018 — Today HP Inc. expanded its 3D printing portfolio with the introduction of its new Jet Fusion 300 / 500 series of 3D printers, the industry’s first 3D printing technology to enable manufacturers to produce engineering-grade, functional parts in full color, black or white – with voxel control – in a fraction of the time1 of other solutions. Depending on configuration and color preference, the Jet Fusion 300 / 500 series is available starting in the $50,000s, enabling small- to medium-sized product development teams and design businesses, entrepreneurs, and universities and research institutions to access HP’s industry leading Multi Jet Fusion printing technology.

Commentary: A lot in this passage.  The big takeaway, though, is engineering-grade, functional parts in full color.  To date, full color parts have been 3D Printed using paper, gypsum, or resin.  None of those materials are well equipped for functional applications.  Instead, parts are typically printed and then painted or dyed as part of a post-processing step.  So the story here is theoretically a faster way to durable multi-color parts.  Starting at $50K, it’s a fair bit more expensive than most of the gypsum and paper-based technologies, but that’s a bit less than competing multi-color resin technologies.

Press Release: HP’s unique ability to control part properties at the individual voxel level enables the design and production of previously unconceivable parts and is now available, for the first time, in full color. Whether in healthcare, automotive, consumer goods, or other industries; or for entrepreneurs, designers, or university researchers with the next great idea; the potential of new 3D printing applications is enormous. HP is already engaging in the co-development of new color applications with universities and businesses around the world including Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Yazaki Corp., and Youngstown State University, amongst others.

Commentary: HP has put emphasis on voxel-level control for some time now.  For those who aren’t as familiar with the term, a voxel is a 3-Dimensional pixel.  So, much like you can use photoshop to alter the exact color composition of each pixel of a photograph, you can do that as well to a voxel with this technology.  This promises to provide the equivalent of micro-painting – achieving a level of accuracy that cannot be conventionally achieved by traditional painting methods.  Practically speaking, the applications for micro-color applications remain to be seen.  That being said, you can see the potential value in creating models or surgical guides that provide all the color required, but did not require a human touch and the risk of human error. At the very least, it would seem to help product designers accelerate the time to a functional product vs. the current process and post-process steps.

Press Release: The HP Jet Fusion 300 / 500 3D printers will launch with a new material, HP 3D High Reusability CB PA 12. Parts using this material will have mechanical properties similar to the HP 3D High Reusability PA 12 material from HP’s industrial solutions.

Commentary: Here we see that HP is emphasizing Nylon 12 (Polyamide) as its go-to material.  HP has a significant depth of experience working with Nylon with its initially launched Jet Fusion printers, so this is no surprise.

Press Release: HP today also unveiled a new collaboration with Dassault Systèmes, a leading provider of 3D design software with millions of users in more than 140 countries, to empower a new era of product design innovation by entrepreneurs, makers, students, and businesses. The two companies intend to optimize Dassault Systèmes’ industry-leading SOLIDWORKS 3D design and engineering applications to take advantage of the unique voxel-level capabilities of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions.

Commentary: Looks like we can expect some voxel-level coloring options in Solidworks in the not too distant future.  And lastly, from the footnotes…

Press Release: Based on internal and third-party testing for HP Jet Fusion 580 and 540 3D Printers, printing time is a fraction of the time of the printing times of comparable plastic fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), and material jetting solutions from $20,000 USD to $120,000 USD on market as of June, 2017. Testing variables for the HP Jet Fusion 580 3D Printer: Part quantity: 1 full build chamber of parts from HP Jet Fusion 3D at 10% of packing density versus same number of parts on above-mentioned competitive devices; Part size: 30 cm3; Layer thickness: .08 mm/0.003 inches. Competitor testing variables are comparable.

Commentary: This is interesting in the sense that the claim is based on these conditions.  Most notably: a full build chamber, 30cc part, and 80 micron layer thickness.  Both paper- and Gypsum-based systems tend to work in a bed fashion, so this is a reasonably fair comparison for them.  Material Jetting printers do not…and in fact if the intention of this platform is quick one-off designs than a complete bed is perhaps not a reasonable comparison.  Regardless, you’d think it to be quick, but don’t assume this is inherently the fastest solution for your particular needs.

We look forward to having the HP Jet Fusion 300 / 500 series of 3D printers in our network. Until then, take a look at the other 3D printing process available to you through 3Diligent.

3Diligent CEO to Speak at Pacific Design & Manufacturing Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Next week, I’ll give my first talk of 2018 just a short distance southeast to Anaheim, Calif. at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Conference.

The Design News event will take place February 6-8, 2018 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Known as the nation’s largest advanced design and manufacturing showcase, the conference covers CAD/CAM software, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, new materials, injection molding and more.

On the first day of the conference, February 6, I will be speaking on “Metal 3D Printing Evolution: An Exploration of Trends & Emerging Tech.” As part of my presentation, I will provide an overview of the metal 3D Printing market.  Included in this will be a deep dive into the established metal 3D Printing processes, strengths, drawbacks, and applications for each technology available today, as well as some perspective on emerging metal technologies.  So for those of you wanting to learn about powder bed, metal extrusion, full sinter binder jetting and more, we’ve got you covered.

I’d like for you to attend this session on Tuesday, February 6 at 3:15 pm in 208B. If you will be attending the conference, but can’t attend the session, I’d still love to meet you. You can send an email here to set up a time.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of the great innovations at Pacific Design & Manufacturing and learning from my industry peers.

What’s Coming in 3D Printing Technology in 2018

How is it that the first month of 2018 is already coming to a close?! I hope your New Year is off to a great start – things are certainly moving along quickly here at 3Diligent!

It promises to be another exciting year in the 3D Printing industry.  With new entrants, new materials, new processes, there will be no shortage of important developments to stay on top of.  Here are a few top trends I see grabbing attention in 2018:

Extrusion metal printing. After years of there being zero metal extrusion printers, there will be two in the new year from Desktop Metal and Markforged.  These promise accessibility to new materials and a degree of user friendliness not currently offered by existing technologies.  It will be interesting to see how they deliver.

Metal printing reaches new markets. The arrival of metal extrusion technology and increasing awareness of the possibilities created by full sinter metal binder jetting will command market attention.  Because these systems should be able to deliver a lower cost alternative for certain geometries, expect to see increasing adoption of metal printing technology in industries like Energy, Automotive, and Industrial Products that couldn’t pencil a fully justified value proposition for powder bed metal printing.

Expansion of additive manufacturing as a production technology.  As more stories have found their way into market about improvements in performance offered by new designs that can only be manufactured additively, companies have been quietly investing in the technology. Expect to hear more announcements from companies that they have received approvals from government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Aviation Administration.

You can get more detail on each of these trends in my posts at mfrtech.com and at Quality Digest. I also had the chance to speak with Brad Kuvin at 3D Metal Printing in greater detail about these trends, so stay tuned for more on that discussion in the coming weeks.

What do you think will happen in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.