Should 3D Printer Companies Develop Their Own Resins?

By on November 28th, 2016 in Ideas

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 A typical selection of 3D printer resins
A typical selection of 3D printer resins

There seems to be two kinds of resin 3D printer manufacturers: those supporting open materials and those who do not. 

The closed group tends to offer a restricted set of materials at higher cost, but often with superior results – sometimes guaranteed by the manufacturer as they’ve done extensive tests and tuning to make sure it works correctly. 

On the other hand, the open materials group encourages use of any resins in their 3D printers. This allows an operator to experiment with unusual materials and / or reduce operational costs by acquiring generic resins. But at the same time, there is less guarantee of successful 3D prints, or at least there may be some additional experimentation required to get the print profile dialed in. 

Some 3D printer manufacturers, particularly the closed materials group, tend to develop their own resins with their own chemists. 

I am now of the opinion that this is not a good strategy. 

Why? It’s because there has been an enormous rise in the demand for a much wider variety of materials. 

Consider this: a professional engineer prototyping a product would normally have at their disposal hundreds, thousands or far more types of different materials. Each material would have different properties that may or may not be best for the particular application. Part of the design work is to select the right material. 

But what if you present this engineer with a resin 3D printer that can use, say, only three materials. 

Disappointing. Not usable, perhaps. Able to perform “shape fit” testing only. 

That’s why I think there will be an explosion in demand many different materials for such machines in coming years. 

So what are the 3D printer manufacturers to do? 

In the case of open materials machines, it might be a good idea to set up a way to provide a wide variety of print profiles that match as many usable resins as possible. Make it easy for customers to make use of random materials, perhaps even with a crowdsourced submission system to build it up within a community. 

In the case of closed materials machines, it’s going to be more challenging. These companies often rely on premium materials for a good chunk of their revenue, and disturbing it might be challenging. 

However, one approach that could be used would be to partner with major chemical companies to leverage large existing libraries of resins, and instead concentrate on providing proper print profiles for such materials. 

One way or another, resin 3D printer operators will demand an increasing variety of materials for their machines – and they will get them.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!