May 16, 2019

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing – Quick Starter Guide

Learn the basics of large-scale 3D printing, a great way for you to grow your small business without bankrupting yourself with startup costs.

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing What Is It?

Large-scale 3D printing is rapidly gaining traction in industrial manufacturing. Source: 3D Printing Industry

Large-scale 3D printing sounds pretty straightforward. It’s 3D printing, just bigger, right? That’s the short version, but there are a few crucial aspects that differ from normal desktop 3D printing.

First of all, size does make a difference. The expanded capacities of large-scale 3D printers mean larger up-front costs, but they also let manufacturers expand their range of 3D printed objects. Everything from whole pieces of furniture to industrial-sized machine parts can now be 3D printed on demand.

The materials available for large-scale 3D printing are specifically intriguing. While thermoplastics like PLA and ABS are still possible, filaments with more strength, like metal or carbon polymers, allow large-scale 3D printing to hold up to industrial standards.

Large-scale 3D printing is quickly becoming an easy alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques, like injection molding. 3D printing allows for a much finer level of detail since you’re basically shaping it as you go along. It’s much easier and cheaper to correct any mistakes, as well, thanks to its low-volume batches.

Because of this, large-scale 3D printing has gained a reputation for a viable alternative manufacturing process. Let’s dive into the details of why this might be the perfect manufacturing process for your budding business or endeavor.

One note before we begin: In fact, large-scale 3D printing is a bit of a vague term. While it’s normally used to refer to a category beyond desktop 3D printing, it is sometimes used to describe especially large desktop machines. In this article, we’ll focus on its default meaning, leaving out printers like the LulzBot TAZ 6 and the Creality CR-10S.

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing What You Need

Make sure you have finishing tools on hand so you can complete your large-scale 3D printed object as desired. Source: 3D Printer Review

Large-scale 3D printing requires special equipment to handle over-sized prints and other manufacturing details, but you can easily find what you need with a little help from our guide and the internet. Here are some handy steps to follow:

  1. Identify your specified needs. There are several different questions you’ll want to ask yourself to get a firm idea of what you want your large-scale 3D printer to do. These questions include: Do you want a printing bed that has a larger vertical axis for higher objects or a larger horizontal axis for wider objects? Do you want an enclosed printer bed for stability or an open one for freedom to overhang? Do you want an all-in-one machine that can do more than just 3D printing or do you want something that only prints so you can tinker with the design without needing the printer itself each time?
  2. Explore the available materials. Large-scale 3D printed objects have to hold up bigger swatches of their own architecture and keep these shapes intact. This often requires bracing against corrosive use. Carbon and metal-polymer filaments are both stronger than plastic filaments and can better resist destruction as parts that move against each other. This makes these materials more robust for large-scale 3D printing.
  3. Acquire the basic tools. One great aspect of using large-scale 3D printing is that adjustments are easy to make after you’ve printed. Invest in basic but quality shop tools that can help you find the perfection you want without the struggle. These include sandpaper of your preferred roughness for detail reshaping, drills or screwdrivers that can fix pieces together, a hammer and chisel for any extra carving, and paint designed for your object’s finish (acrylic works best on metal, for example).
  4. Take safety precautions. Because large-scale 3D printers emit fumes on an industrial level, you’ll want to invest in professional-level ventilation. A ready-made workspace is going to be much less of a hassle than you converting your own if you’re currently based in your own residence. A larger work area also means more space to move around freely, which means you have less chance of bumping into anything dangerous, cutting down on your chance of injury. Invest in a first-aid kit (or station) so your workspace will be ready for accidents.

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing How to Make It Work For You

Make sure to keep your large-scale 3D printer nozzle clean so the filament doesn't clog and clump. Source: Rigid.Ink

Large-scale 3D printing can be adapted to a huge variety of manufacturing processes. From a solo hobbyist transforming their hobby into a business to established brands making the switch in their assembly processes. No matter your reason for 3D printing on a large scale, there are a few things you should consider to make it go smoothly with few issues.

Cleanliness

We can’t emphasize enough how much you need to watch out for fumes, which can be minimized through regular cleaning of your printer’s ventilation system as well as your work stations.

Also, make sure to regularly clear out the tubes that ferry the filament from the spool to the extruder of your large-scale 3D printer. You’ll be working with polymers of materials that melt less easily than standard 3D printing materials, and they tend to clump together and clog nozzles and pipes. Keep these clear by applying standard 3D printing cleaning methods after every use.

Calibration

We recommend calibrating your large-scale 3D printer more than you technically have to. At this scale, measurements that are off can knock your work back much further than on a desktop 3D printer. Use a stiff measuring tape and a level to be sure.

Finishing

As we’ve touched on, the best-performing filaments for large-scale 3D printing won’t necessarily produce your project’s targetted look. To take advantage of those filaments’ best features while sticking to your personal aesthetic preference, we recommend learning the basics of how to sand, paint, and varnish finished objects in metal or carbon. That way, you won’t limit your possibilities. 

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing Advantages

Manufacturing companies like Ford are taking advantage of large-scale 3D printing's cost effectiveness for new parts. Source: Advanced Science News

Large-scale 3D printing has a lot of advantages for manufacturing. Not convinced? We’ve got the details. 

  • Larger scope. You can now print objects that didn’t cross your 3D printing radar before, such as furniture or large machinery pieces. Expanding your product line means more ways for you to create. 
  • Easier setup for manufacturing. Large-scale 3D printing’s additive manufacturing qualities let you take charge of your designs, from drawing to finishing. Because you’re adding materials instead of carving it out of a mold, it’s extremely easy to tweak anything you want to change, right up to the second you start printing. That’s invaluable for anyone who needs precision and flexibility throughout the manufacturing process. 
  • Easy replacement integration. Whenever you need to replace a part in an industrial machine, large-scale 3D printing is faster and much more customizable than buying the part from another manufacturer. Use your large-scale 3D printer to keep yourself supplied. 

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing Disadvantages

You may need to add an extra finishing step to your large-scale 3D printing objects. Source: Cosine Additive

Large-scale 3D printing is not without its drawbacks. If you’re looking to start, here are the cons you need to consider. 

  • High startup costs. The prices for large-scale 3D printers tend to start in the five-figure range, and if you don’t already have a workshop space appropriate for manufacturing use, you’ll have to spend even more to secure the proper environment as well. Significant cash up front is a must when starting a large-scale 3D printing operation.
  • High energy consumption. With large-scale 3D printing comes large-scale energy needs. If you’re not ready for an industrial-sized energy bill to factor into your costs, re-evaluate your manufacturing needs. 
  • High levels of plastic waste. Compared to other plastic manufacturing methods, 3D printing certainly isn’t the worst when it comes to waste. That’s because models are partially hollow, and apart from supports, only the necessary amount of material is used per part. Nevertheless, the bigger your models, the more plastic waste you’ll produce.

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing Services

Norsk Titanium is in the process of opening a US large-scale 3D printing plant. Source: 3D Printing Industry

You don’t have to go into large-scale 3D printing alone! If you’re not ready to invest in a large-scale 3D printer, you may consider getting a 3D printing service to take care of the printing and processing for you. 

Here are a few places to go for on-demand large-scale 3D printing:

  • Craftcloud: All3DP’s price comparison service. We work with several service partners to determine the best quality and price for your 3D printing needs. With an array of materials and color available, there is sure to be an option that fits your needs. 

Craftcloud – 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service by All3DP

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  • 3D Printing Colorado: These guys give you a large range of size, material, and process choices. You can send them designs up to five feet tall. Non-disclosure agreements are available, and they’ll even help you perfect your 3D design. 
  • 3D Axis Rapid Manufacturing Service: Based in Florida, this company uses their Massive Smart machine for large-scale 3D printing on demand. Take advantage of its 4 x 5 x 6.8 ft build volume for your own projects, and check out their large variety of prototype builds while you’re there.  
  • 3DBrooklyn: You can use this service from start to finish. Call them to talk through your design, then watch it come to life in their Brooklyn studios. They’re also willing to talk budget with you so you can choose the right materials and process all around. 

Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing 3D Printing On a Whole New Level

Large-scale 3D printing includes amazing sculptures like the world's largest 3D printed outdoor pavilion in Beijing. Source: Futurism

You can add great value to your manufacturing processes through large-scale 3D printing. It takes a willingness to invest and a commitment to detail, but it doesn’t require learning a completely different skill set to take your manufacturing to the next level. Use this guide as your starter kit, and you’ll be producing on a scale you’ve only dreamed of before now.

Check it out for yourself!

Related articles:

Feature image source: Russell Singer / Kickstarter

License: The text of "Large-Scale / Large-Format 3D Printing – Quick Starter Guide" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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