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Thoughts on Resin 3D Printers

I have been investigating (on the Internet) photosensitive resin 3D printers. This includes the SLA (Stereo Lithographic Apparatus) that uses a deflected UV laser beam and the DLP (Digital Light Processing) that uses a projected full frame picture exposure.

I am not going into a tutorial about these two main types. There is plenty written elsewhere to those interested enough to search it out. (That is what the Internet is good at providing.)

SLA

All of them use a liquid resin, and that is the sticking point, literally. From what I have been reading, it gets deposited everywhere. Far from its holding tank. That is because the printed piece must be removed from the printer on its build plate. Then the part must be pried off the plate while dripping resin, and cleaned of surplus resin in a vat of IPA (alcohol). There is a drippy, through-the-work-area, trip of a few feet minimum, to the after-work area.

Some of the people I observed on YouTube were complete klutzes in this process, but even for the well trained there is going to be lots of surplus resin to deal with. It is a messy process, not for the home office. Probably not good for ANY office area. Resin printers need to be located and operated in the clear, where the mess can be well managed. In a dental office it would need to be in its own private lab area.

Some of the resins are rather nasty materials for humans being around. It’s like working with epoxy resins. Some people have no issue, but others can have their flesh disintegrate and fall off. Well, almost. So, fumes and human contact need to be considered.

The process is industrial and best located nowhere near a busy office or home living area. The marketing, indicating it being suitable for such locations, is totally miss-leading and perhaps criminal.

In a proper clean, ventilated environment, with reasonable care for the hazards involved, resin based desktop (size) printing is about as good a detail quality available to a single user or small business outside of a manufacturing environment. But it doesn’t or shouldn’t imply moving the desktop computer to the floor to make room for the printer within easy reach.

I have three FDM printers here in my home office. Reasonably within reach. Depending on the filament, there can be some odor involved. I used ABS for a while, and it was the worse. I have had no detectable ill effects from FDM printing, but have been staying away from ABS.

wanhaod7red 2I am convinced any resin printing I will ever be doing, will be in the shop, out of the living area. That may never happen as the very high maintenance is a serious drawback. The liquid resin mess is bad enough. The machines themselves need constant replacement of what the makers call “consumables”. Resin tanks last “maybe” two liters of resin, if lucky. Build platforms are consumables. All these pieces need “handled”, cleaned, replaced, changed out. Resin will be everywhere.

Extensive after-work is required after each printing. Of course, the excess resin removal is a must. Additional hardening in strong UV radiation is required to prevent/remove a “gummy surface”. Some people take parts outside to set in the sun. UV resin parts should be painted to stop UV deterioration of the part. I am not sure if that applies for colored UV resins. However, keeping the colors in solution for a long print session is an issue for some printers. The list goes on.

A whole lot of effort for the reward of very detailed features and smooth surface finishes. Resin 3D printing can’t be on a one-part-per-week schedule. It must be in constant use producing worthwhile output to justify all the clean-up and maintenance.

My interest in a resin style printer is not for plastic model making, but as a part of my lost wax casting into metal. There are burn-out resins available for making casting masters. Primarily for my silver jewelry that I now machine from wax on a CNC micro milling machine. 3D casting masters (all sides detailed ) would be easy to print. But then, all the maintenance a 3D resin printer requires makes me pause my enthusiam.

I don’t see such a printer saving me any time. I think it creates a lot more work. The reward is outstanding models, equal to the effort in creating them in CAD and machining in wax. Perhaps making things that could not be made in such detail or size by machining or any other way. It is not a labor reducer / time saver. It is a creative process and tool that can help create things that cannot otherwise be made. There is the justification.

I have my eye on a low cost ($500) range hobbyist DLP printer. The cost is one attraction, but all the above I have written is the same no matter what price the machine. I am working on my 3D CAD skills first. I bought ZBrush 4R8. Extremely difficult learning curve. But if (when) I gain some skill, it will let me produce the organic models worthy of a good detail-capable 3D resin printer.

Until then I can make some great looking items for wax milling and the FDM machines. Yeah!

The Author

Ramblin' Dan Kautz

dankautzThere is no doubt one of my hobbies is writing about my hobbies. I read somewhere a long time ago, the best things to write about are the things you know very well. I have been writing and publishing long before the personal computer became the tool of choice.  My first printed and published club newsletter was created in the late 60's.

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The intention of this web site and “Ramblin’ Dan’s 3D Print Design Studio” is to promote creative design thinking and demonstrate how ideas can be changed to tangible creations through the proper application and use of Three-Dimensional Printing systems.

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