Is it possible to use 3D printers with quality or features suitable for professional use? (prosumer). 

A new term, "Digiproneurship", is being used by Gibson, Rosen, and Stucker [16] to identify entrepreneurs who start a business using digital manufacturing methods such as 3D printing. According to Managing Director and Principal Consultant Dr. Phil Reeves, “In 2012, there were 70,000 consumer 3D printers sold at an average price of USD1,500 each (a USD105million industry in two years). Without considering the value of materials, software and the products that come out of it” [37].

There is a tremendous movement of manufacturing and selling personal 3D printers among retail stores, software, and hardware companies. Nanowerk News [34] reported that UPS and Stratasys already started a partnership to offer 3D printing in UPS stores in the United States. In a similar way, some huge retail stores such Staples and giant corporations like Microsoft started selling 3D printers directly to customers in the United States.

Also, as an option for many research groups that do not have Additive Manufacturing equipment, there are organizations and institutions that provide resources and facilities to help with the 3D printing of parts in different materials and techniques along with post-processing and finishing.

The “America Make” is one of these institutions that put a number of resources available to the public related to AM. The “Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing Techology” is another example (also offers certificates to students in 3D printing).  Without doubt “FabLab” is an interesting and important resource for public 3D Printing. You can find your closest FabLab near you and explore what kind of AM equipment they have. Finally, there is now the possibility to send your CAD models to companies that can make the part for you using 3D Printers of different types and with different materials, an example of this is “Shapeways”.

Companies like "Shapeways", work on printer hubs that are available for consumers and prosumers. Using internet, consumers and prosumers will be able to transfer their design files and print their desired objects. In this business model, Shapeways printed nearly 750,000 parts in various materials to its customers [36]. Petrick & Simpson [36] also note that entry-level 3D printers are at the same price as laser printers were when they became desktop fixtures.



Prosumer 3D Printers ($2,500 and up).
The prosumer class of 3D printers are generally considered a step between a desktop 3D printer and high-priced, industrial 3D printers. However, there are several prosumer 3D printers that are highly sought after by smaller-scale companies looking for industrial quality prints and customer service, and some makers are braving the higher price tags to bring them into their workshops. Prosumer 3D printers are also ideal additions to makerspaces and educational facilities due to their high build quality, long life and service contracts. But the high price tag also brings with it features, and all of these 3D printers offer some of the best functionality on the market. You really do get what you pay for, and if you need 3D printers capable of dependable, high-volume output then it may be worth going beyond desktop 3D printers and looking into purchasing a prosumer model.

Some examples are:


Form 2 from FormLab.

While there have been a lot of advancements in resin 3D printing, there are still drawbacks that make it illisuited for use in most homes or smaller offices, however the Form 2 is a rare exception. The Form 2 was designed to be incredibly easy to use and has an extremely high build quality. The printing resolution is virtually unmatched, and it has a respectable printing envelope for its class. If you really need a resin 3D printer, then you absolutely cannot go wrong with the Form 2.

Printer Type: SLA (Stereolithography)
Material: Resin
Resolution: 25 Microns
Build Area: 145 x 145 x 175 mm (5.7 x 5.7 x 6.8 inch)

Pros: Very high-quality construction, high-quality prints, high-detail prints, easy to use, WiFi enabled, software, customer support, resin material variety

Cons: Proprietary resin materials (can be used also with 3rd party resins), messy, high cost of materials

Figure 1. Form 2 High Resolution SLA 3D Printer from FormLabs.


Fusion 3 F400

The F400 is the newest model of the fantastic line of industrial quality FDM 3D printers made by Fusion3. The enclosed printing bed helps reduce any smells associated with certain materials, and there are HEPA filter options for use in low-ventilation areas. The F400 can use a wide range of materials, and the customer service is top notch. If you need an industrial quality FDM 3D printer, this is the machine for you.

Printer Type: FDM
Material: PLA, ABS, PETG, PMMA, Nylon, HIPS, Woodfill, Polycarbonate
Resolution: 50 Microns
Build Area: 360 x 365 x 320 mm (14.2 × 14.4 × 12.6 inch)

Pros: Fast print speed, print quality, large build area, enclosed build area, automatic bed leveling, easy maintenance, lifetime customer support, free Simplfy3D software, WiFi enabled with adaptor add-on, material selection, dual extruder option

Cons: Large footprint, cost, dual extruder option reduces print quality

Figure 2. Fusion3 F400 FDM 3D Printer from Fusion3Design.


Markforged Mark Two

The Mark Two by markforged is a solid and dependable industrial prototyping 3D printer that has been designed to exclusively 3D print high-strength parts. It uses a two 3D extruder system to combine Nylon materials with Carbon Fiber or other materials typically not associated with 3D printability, like Kevlar. This is a powerful industrial quality 3D printer that was made to be used almost exclusively for prototyping or the construction of lightweight but durable parts. This probably won’t find much use in a typical maker’s workshop, but there is no other 3D printer like it on the market.

Printer Type: CFF (Composite/FDM)
Material: Nylon combined with Carbon Fiber, Kevlar or Fiberglass
Resolution: 100 Microns
Build Area: 320 x 132 x 160 mm (12.5 x 5.2 x 6.3 inch)

Pros: Prints super strong objects, easy to use, excellent software, dual independent heads print composite materials, high-quality construction, fast printing speed, WiFi enabled

Cons: Cost, material cost, limited use beyond prototyping, large foot print, limited material colors

Figure 3. Mark Two FDM 3D Printer from Markforged.

The next figure shows a comparative analysis made by TranPham company of several 3D Printers in 2013:

Figure 4. Comparative analysis of 3D Printer of 2013, TramPham.