How to Make 3D Printing Better

Executive Summary

One of the major obstacles to the adoption of 3D printing in many markets has been the variability of its output — in terms of dimensional accuracy and material properties such as porosity, strength, temperature, and chemical resistance. But the additive manufacturing industry is launching a full-scale assault on the problem. It consists of a three-pronged effort using hardware, software, and management systems.

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With 3D-printing technologies increasingly becoming a mainstay in modern manufacturing operations, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), software houses, 3D-printing factories, and contract manufacturers are striving to fine-tune the efficiency and repeatability of these production methods. Variability in the 3D printing of products has been a major concern of management for decades. Production engineers and managers pay special attention to product consistency with respect to dimensional accuracy and material properties such as porosity, strength, temperature, and chemical resistance.

Current levels of consistency in 3D printing — also known as “additive manufacturing” — are sufficient for many products. They include molds, toys, dental devices, optical lenses, eyewear, printed circuit boards (PCBs), some antennae and sensors, and non-weight-bearing metal and plastic spare parts for locomotives, heavy industrial equipment, airplanes, and military equipment.

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However, that is still a relatively small portion of the potential market where this manufacturing technology could be applied if the consistency of its output could be raised. Understanding this, the additive manufacturing industry is launching a full-scale assault on the problem. The assault is a three-pronged effort using hardware, software, and management systems to reduce the variability of the objects printed.

Hardware. It’s hard to improve the output of 3D printing without considering the hardware of the printers themselves (e.g., motors, print heads, lasers), as well as hardware devices such as temperature sensors, humidity sensors, and X-ray cameras to monitor quality and catch errors layer by layer during the printing process. Velo3D, a Californian printer manufacturer, is one example of a company whose machines can monitor metal parts during the printing process. Through the use of sensors, its printers can be augmented with a system that monitors things such as oxygen levels, humidity, and unused powder levels. This level of visibility and control allows them to achieve higher yields and greater repeatability for many types of products without the need for post-processing (refining the product after it has come out of the 3D printer).

Efforts to improve the printing process can also involve conventional (subtractive) manufacturing tools, which are being used to improve consistency layer by layer. The machines of 3DEO, another Californian printer manufacturer, have sensors to leverage real-time data on dimensional accuracy and process parameters to optimize prints. Based on this data, 3DEO machines utilize a cutting tool (a micro end-mill) that trims edges and internal features, such as lattices and holes, to achieve the required tolerances and desired geometries. The trimming is done layer by layer.

Software and data. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also playing an important role in the drive to make 3D printed products more consistent. They are being used to optimize the configuration of materials, design features, printer settings, printing processes, and environmental conditions for making a product. These technologies can create production feedback loops that automatically eliminate defects as printing occurs and can significantly reduce inconsistencies of outputs across printers and over time.

For example, PrintSyst, a new Israeli software company, has developed artificial intelligence that synthesizes the results of thousands of print jobs. It looks for factors that can help achieve higher consistency, yield rates, cost savings, and any dimension of quality customers might prioritize. The software then suggests printing technologies, material choices, machine parameters, and even design modifications to achieve the goals selected for optimization.

Older software for orientating and stacking parts in a build chamber has advanced and now contains algorithms that do hundreds or thousands of calculations in a matter of seconds to zero in on the ideal way to make a particular geometry in a specified printer. Such solutions are offered by global 3D-printing-software giants such as Materialise (Belgium), Siemens (Germany), and Autodesk (United States). Pennsylvania-based software company ANSYS provides design-for-additive-manufacturing tools and process simulations for metal parts that allow customers to achieve “first time right” output.

New additive manufacturing platforms — e.g., 3DPrinterOS, which is made by California-based 3D Control Systems — are now capable of managing consistency for thousands of printers distributed over the globe. Such platforms can control multiple 3D-printers remotely and assign jobs based on the availability and capability of machines. In many situations, 3D Control Systems installs its own software on the printers themselves, which allows its platform to take control of the printers. This control is used to improve consistency by preventing or correcting common errors or mistakes, including the use of inadequate print files, unlevel build plates, and the inappropriate selection of nozzles for the desired output.

Management systems. This approach uses tried-and-true management techniques for improving consistency and reliability. For instance, transparent vendor-rating systems and pre-certifications encourage competition akin to a kind of Darwinian natural selection where achieving and maintaining consistency in quality is incentivized. The best firms win more business, and the others are driven to catch up fast or perish. Companies such as Xometry and Fictiv, on-demand providers of industrial parts, run tightly controlled supplier-qualification and certification programs to encourage selection of suppliers that deliver high quality and consistent parts. The best suppliers are given access to larger and higher priority jobs, which pressures other suppliers to improve their consistency.

One of the newer management methods includes “deliberate constraining,” which purposely limits the usage of printers to their optimal yield ranges. Not all technologies are equal, so knowing the intricacies of their performance within certain boundaries such as size restrictions, material choices, and batch sizes allows the producer to take full advantage of a given 3D printer’s strengths. For example, 3DEO limits its focus to small, complex metal parts that have a maximum volume of one cubic inch. This allows 3DEO to not only make the most of its printers by focusing on where they truly excel but also fill up their build chamber to achieve optimum economics.

Not all sources of variability have been fully addressed. These include how machines are brought onto the network as well as the form and structure of data and workflow in and out of nodes in the system. However, as firms develop protocols and platforms for managing their distributed manufacturing systems, these issues will eventually be solved. For example, additive platforms will eventually gather a standard set of machine-level data in systematic ways that will make it possible to reduce variability in production significantly.

In today’s world of uncertain demand, flexible digital manufacturing, pandemics, and other disruptions of global trade, there will be more need for distributed and localized manufacturing. Taking too long to shift output can cause firms to miss significant opportunities, especially if the new products are not consistent from the get-go. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect growth in the use of 3D printing, which will further increase the pressure to improve its consistency.

Best Open for Business Signs

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It’s hard to get customers through the door of your store if they don’t know you’re open for business. One easy way to let people know your doors are open to them is to hang a sign in the window. And if you’re looking for something more than a simple piece of plastic you flip over at the beginning and end of your day, you’re in luck.

Modern LED lighting technology opened a whole new world of open sign technology for businesses. Today’s signs are often fully customizable and come in all different shapes and colors. And they’re simple to operate, too. Many allow you to control them from your smartphone.

Take a look at our top picks for open signs for your business.

Best Open for Business Signs for Your Store

Element Lux LED Open Sign

open sign

Top Pick: This sign will definitely make your business stand out when you get it lit up. First, it’s got a unique design that’s going to catch the eye of people passing by your store. And because it’s got 49 different color combinations, there’s a good chance there’s one that matches your brand colors. It looks like neon but uses bright LED technology to produce its dramatic effects.

Element Lux LED Open Sign

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GLI Led Open Sign with Business Hours

open sign

Runner Up: This is a super bright sign for your business. But unlike our other choices, this gives businesses the ability to display store hours that can be constantly updated. No more clumsily arranged stickers on a piece of plastic. It’s got thousands of color combos so matching your store or brand colors won’t be an issue. You can control the hours, the colors, and the light animation from a smartphone, too.

GLI Led Open Sign with Business Hours

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Ultima LED Neon Open Sign for Business

open sign

Best Value: This offering from Ultima LED is probably hanging in the window of a small business in every community across the country. It’s probably because of its simplicity, both in style and ease of use. You can pick between two modes: steady and flashing. Installing it seems really simple, too. Just hang a pair of chains from some hooks, plug it in, pick your mode and you’re literally open for business.

Ultima LED Neon Open Sign for Business: Jumbo Lighted Sign Open with Static and Flashing Modes

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GLI Led Open Sign for Business

open sign

If you’re looking for a neon sign look without some of the hassles that come from a neon sign, this LED sign may be a good fit for your store. It’s got 64 color options to match the colors of your brand and you can turn it on and off, and even set a schedule for it, on your smartphone. And you don’t have to worry about finding someone who repairs neon light tubes.

GLI Led Open Sign for Business – Stand Out with 64 Super-Bright Color Combos to Match Your Brand

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Led Open Sign for Business

If your business is lacking the window space or you’re just going for a different style, this option is vertical intead of horizontal. It’s also got 64 color combos that can match your brand colors. This offering from the GreenLight Innovations Store also has several display modes, including Static, Scroll, Color Scroll and Flash and Phase to get the attention of people passing by.

Led Open Sign for Business – 8×19 Inches

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Pro-Lite Ultra Bright Multi-Color Open Sign

This sign from Pro-Lite offers up all the look and style of traditional neon with the modern convenience of LED lighting and a remote control. You can pick between 7 different border colors around the OPEN letters. And the sign allows users to choose different animations and speeds. It also comes with a 3-year warranty.

Pro-Lite Ultra Bright Electronic LED Neon Multi-Color Business Store Window Open Sign

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Outdoor P10 Resolution, Full LED RGB Color Sign

This sign from POLAR Light gives business owners a little more flexibility than a traditional sign. In addition to letting your customers know you’re open for business, this LED board lets you advertise specials or sales. Control the messaging with your desktop computer or a smartphone. This sign’s completely programmable and can store up to 99 messages.

Outdoor P10 Resolution, Full LED RGB Color Sign

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How to Choose an Open for Business Sign

Here are several key considerations to ponder before picking the best open sign for your business.

  • Size: Consider the space you have available at your business to hang a sign in the window. Find a sign that’ll fit your needs perfectly.
  • Visibility: A busy street will have a lot of open signs. You may need to find a bright sign to hang in your window. Conversely, you don’t want to blind passersby if the street your business resides on isn’t as populated.
  • Features: Some businesses only need to get a sign in the window. But you may need a sign to not only indicate that you’re open but also advertise specials, sales, or your operating hours.
  • Colors: LED technology gives businesses far more versatility than a traditional neon sign. You can find a sign that allows you to match your brand colors.
  • Cost: Businesses that are just starting out may want to consider a less expensive option. But if standing out is important, you may want to upgrade to a brighter, more versatile, yet slightly more expensive sign. If it brings in the customers, it’s a wise investment.

Think about these tips before picking a sign to hang in your store window.

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SELF LOVE - Best Motivational Video Speeches Compilation - Listen Every Day! MORNING MOTIVATION

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“An Enormous Amount of Evidence” (unseen footage)

"An Enormous Amount of Evidence" (unseen footage)

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This explosive documentary is hailed as the most credible and revealing film ever made about the long-standing global cover-up and mystery involving the unidentified aerial phenomenon. Including shocking never-before-seen testimony from high-ranking government and military officials, NASA Astronauts, and riveting footage, the timely film includes bombshell reveals about UAP incursions at nuclear weapon facilities and the monumental events behind the NY Times’ recent disclosure of UFO videos and The Pentagon’s classified UFO program.
Senator Harry Reid says, “The Phenomenon makes the incredible credible.”