USA & Canada
USA & Canada

Why "manufacturing ready" is more than just a buzzword.

aaron pearson
Aaron Pearson March 25, 2020
March 25, 2020

I love the 3D printing industry, but it is often a challenge to sort through the hype, wild claims, and reality of technologies growing and evolving over the past 30 years. Recently, one of the most prolific buzzwords has been “manufacturing ready” – but what does that even mean?

3D printing has three decades of use as a prototyping technology. But for roughly 20 of those 30 years, early adopters - primarily in the transportation industry – have asked more of certain 3D printing technologies with the goal of meeting demands of manufacturing. 

That “manufacturing ready” buzz is being driven by two separate factors. The first is investment. Many companies enter the space with significant backing to either deliver a new technology or a new version of an existing technology to cater to the manufacturing industry. The other is maturity. Stratasys has been hard at work refining our technologies for manufacturing users. We’ve developed the most repeatable, dependable, additive process in the industry with our Fortus 900mc Aircraft Interiors Solution (AIS), and can back that up with public data via America Makes and the National Institute of Aviation Research.

But how does it compare to all the other industry “manufacturing ready” claims?  Over the past month, has published a five-part series, “Variability of Additive Manufacturing Processes,” by Todd Grimm, answering that exact question.  The series compares six technologies, including our Fortus 900mc AIS representing FDM - along with MJF, SLA, SLS, CLIP, and an off-brand FFF process - shining the spotlight on repeatability. Mechanical properties, geometric accuracy and precision are all evaluated statistically, unlike past studies that steer toward one result or another. The testing was performed independently and based on a robust and consistent methodology.

On the mechanical properties side, FDM, MJF, and SLA all perform quite well - with Coefficients of Variability (CoV) across tensile strength and tensile modulus in the 1-4% range.  SLS, CLIP, and off-brand FFF didn’t fare as well.  In particular, the off-brand FFF z-axis tensile modulus had a staggering 54% CoV, meaning properties are essentially uncharacterizable.  Compared to the 1.8% CoV for Stratasys FDM on the same property, we can clearly see that all material extrusion processes are not created equal.

On the dimensional side, a large number of measurements were made to characterize positive and negative features, both small and large. Unfortunately, CLIP couldn’t be included in this part of the study due to its small build volume. The off-brand FFF check parts also needed to be heated post-build to reduce warping that otherwise made some measurements impossible. Exploring the data, we see different technologies performed well on different feature sets. Interestingly, SLS and off-brand FFF provide very good feature accuracy, yet wide standard deviations show that while accurate, the technologies were not precise. SLA, on the other hand, shows very high precision with consistent results, despite those features being comparatively inaccurate. Grimm summed it up this way: “MJF proved to be both inaccurate and imprecise. Meanwhile, FDM had the best combination of accuracy and precision.”

3D printing has come a long way. And while each technology continues to strive for “manufacturing readiness,” there are clear differences between newcomers and the quiet diligence as Stratasys continues to improve our products year over year with close collaboration of our customers. This is hard work, and it takes time, but we take pride in the conclusion that “this study shows that for variance in mechanical properties and geometric dimensions, FDM is the front-runner for manufacturing readiness.” 

It’s not just hype anymore. Ready to get “Manufacturing Ready” and take the next step?

Explore and download the complete “Variability of Additive Manufacturing Processes” white paper commissioned by Stratasys HERE.