Industrial 3D printers are increasingly replacing injection molding and other processes like CNC milling as the go-to option in areas of small production runs and rapid prototyping. The ability of 3D printers to create incredibly detailed and intricate small pieces as well as full-size models makes them perfect for prototypes and high-quality part production.
Unlike an entry level 3D printer aimed at makers at home, an industrial 3D printer is aimed at businesses who wish to either develop new prototypes, or reduce manufacturing costs via 3D printing.
3D printers are increasingly being used by businesses for rapid prototyping to cut new product development time significantly by allowing companies to 3D print in-house, with no time lag from having manufacturers send them prototypes. Multiple prototypes can be tested and iterated on daily or even hourly, allowing for much faster and better products.
Rapid prototyping involves 3D CAD software for the product design, and usually a 3D printer (although occasionally CNC machines are used). 3D printing is used to quickly print off small-scale versions of the final product to test the design or functionality of the product, with any mistakes able to be instantly changed by editing the 3D model and re-printing the next iteration. Rapid prototyping is frequently used in the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors.
Since 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing, there is no waste from cut out materials such as with CNC machines. This makes industrial 3D printing very valuable in industries where saving on expensive materials is important, such as metal 3D printing. 3D printers can also create parts with differing infill percentages, leading to lighter yet still very strong metal parts — extremely valuable in the automotive and aerospace sectors where cutting weight can noticeably increase profit margins.
How much does an industrial 3D printer cost?
Industrial 3D printing covers a wide variety of printers – there are resin 3D printers such as the Formlabs 3 that sell for $3,499 that can print industrial quality pieces in sectors such as dentistry, education, medical and jewelry, and other printers such as the Ultimaker S3 and S5, Makerbot Method, Intamsys Funmat HT, and others that cover the prosumer 3D printer market.
Beyond this, there are machines costing between $10,000 to $100,000, such as FDM 3D printers like the BigRep Studio, and Markforged’s Metal X metal 3D printer, and premium industrial 3D printers such as those sold by EOS, Carbon 3D and Desktop Metal that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How to decide which industrial 3D printer to buy?
There are several factors to consider, most notably:
Size: consider both the industrial 3D printer’s size in terms of build volume (maximum size of parts you can print), and the total area the printer encompasses. You may not have the space to store the printer, or need the extra build volume.
3D printing technology: there are a range of technologies within 3D printing, which we explain in our free 3D printing eBook. Do you prioritize cheap part printing, or extremely detailed surface quality? These will determine which technology you need, and therefore which industrial 3D printer to buy.
Materials to print: are you looking to 3D print polymers like PLA, ABS or Nylon? If so, you have options between FDM (all 3), or SLS (Nylon). If you’re looking to 3D print metal materials such as aluminium or titanium, you’ll have to buy a DMLS, EBM, Binder Jetting or other type of metal 3D printer.
Does it require a trained operator: expensive, complex and high-quality industrial 3D printers often require a skilled operator to ensure the printing process goes smoothly and the correct temperatures are maintained. This adds to costs but may be necessary for your prototyping, and is something to keep in mind.
Resolution: different 3D printers have different levels of accuracy, precision and resolution. Resin 3D printers are more accurate than FDM 3D printers, and material jetting printers have some of the highest resolutions of any industrial 3D printer available on the market today.
Ability to print full color: some 3D printing technologies are limited to a single color based on the metal / polymer powder, filament or resin, whereas some can print in full color such as Binder Jetting and Multi Jet Fusion.
The best industrial 3D printers we recommend
Based on our advice and criteria, here are some of the industrial 3D printers we recommend. Where possible we have provided options that are affordable to small and medium sized businesses that do not run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
3D Systems have dipped into the entry-level industrial 3D printer market with the FabPro 1000, one of the most affordable industrial resin 3D printers ever produced, at $2,495. The FabPro 1000 is designed to print accurate plastic prototypes to test for functionality and shape, and has extensive applications in the jewelry sector for investment casting, as well as in dental models and orthodontic splits.
3D Systems claim the FabPro 1000 can print parts with 22% lower costs than its competitors, as well as 45% faster. They also highlight the DLP 3D printer‘s consistency and precision — up to an astonishing 30 microns.
Since resin 3D printing involves post-curing, 3D Systems also sell their own LC-3D Print curing box for your resin parts which you can buy separately, linked above. If you have any problems, the printer comes with a year’s warranty and you can also contact 3D Systems’ support if you do have any problems and they’ll try to find a solution.
Raise3D offer both the Pro2 and the Pro2 as industrial FDM 3D printers offering fantastic reliability, accuracy and versatility – with the Pro2 Plus offering a larger 605 mm Z axis for tall parts.
FDM printers will always struggle to match the accuracy and surface area of an SLA 3D printer, but the Pro2 Plus can still print very intricate parts. The printer can print with 100 micron resolution, has an industrial build plate to prevent part warping, and a fully enclosed chamber to keep printing conditions consistent. The dual extruder allows for multi material printing, such as for supports or for any rapid prototyping that requires two different colors.
The 7-inch touchscreen features a very ergonomic UI and provides useful on-screen visualizations during printing. Moreover, if you do have any problems Raise3D have US-based tech support to provide solutions.
The maximum temperature of 300C creates a lot of opportunities for filament printing; the Raise3D Pro2 Plus can print not only standard 3D printer filaments like ABS, PLA, PETG, Nylon, but also carbon fiber infused, metal-filled and glass infused filaments. You can connect wirelessly using IdeaMaker – Raise3D’s 3D slicer software – to control and monitor printing remotely.
Ultimaker S5 & S5 Pro Bundle
Industrial 3D printer build volume: 330 x 240 x 300 mm
Ultimaker staked their claim as kings of the prosumer 3D printer market with the Ultimaker 3, winning awards and reaching new heights of success. The S5 was a step up into a higher price bracket, featuring a number of key upgrades and even better print quality.
Costing $5,499, the Ultimaker S5 moves up into the industrial FDM 3D printer price range, but for that money you get up to 20-micron layer resolution. Incredibly accurate and intricate prototypes and parts can be printed to test functionality and shape, with partners including VW, Siemens, L’Oreal and Ford clearly seeing benefits to their production by using Ultimaker 3D printers. It can even print high strength glass and carbon fiber filaments, with the latter especially having key applications in strong prototype and part production.
The 4.7 inch touchscreen is easy to use and has won design awards, and you can print with Ultimaker filaments or any third party 2.85mm filament — the S5 features an open filament system.
Ultimaker also sell the Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle, featuring an S5 as well as an Air Manager that goes on top of the printer that captures 95% of ultra-fine particles, and a Material Station that goes underneath the printer. The Material Station can hold up to six filament spools and can automatically switch between each one dependent on what material or color you need to use. This allows for far more scalable and continuous printing — Ultimaker sell it as a 24/7 productivity feature. The S5 Pro Bundle costs around $9,000, and is one of the most highly regarded industrial FDM 3D printers around.
The Form 2 was already a mainstay in dental 3D printing, medical device printing and in 3D printed jewelry, and the Form 3 expands on this further with several key upgrades.
The Form 3 uses Low Force Stereolithography (LFS) to provide extremely high quality, precise (up to 25-micron XY resolution) and crisp surface finish prints that are clear and accurate. And for those looking for a resin 3D printer with a larger build volume, Formlabs also sell the Form 3L, featuring a far larger 335 x 200 x 300 mm build volume.
No FDM 3D printer will be able to match the smooth surface area of a Formlabs resin print, making the Form 3 ideal for really precise prototypes – Formlabs show an example of a pair of glasses prototype on their site – as well as for intricate pieces like jewelry and dental parts, or custom pieces like hearing aids.
The Sinterit Lisa is one of the lowest cost industrial SLS 3D printers around, bringing all the main advantages of selective laser sintering but without the price tag. Made in Poland, every machine passes a “precisely designed calibration and testing procedure” according to Sinterit.
The main advantage of SLS 3D printing is that you don’t need to print supports, saving time and money on powder. You can also print multiple parts concurrently in the build platform, and so is perfect for businesses printing multiple parts at once, or printing many similar parts that are slightly different to test which prototype is best. The Sinterit Lisa can perform all these functions with ease with its 0.05mm X and Y axis accuracy, and up to 0.075mm Z axis precision.
Sinterit have designed their own dedicated software, and sell accessories including the Sandblaster as well as specialized SLS powder materials. You can control and print via the Sinterit Lisa’s 4-inch touchscreen, as well as by WiFi or USB.
The Intamsys Funmat HT Enhanced is designed especially for 3D printing PEEK material, a notoriously difficult 3D printer filament to print. To effectively 3D print PEEK, the Intamsys Funmat HT has a high quality closed heated chamber, heated be, high temperature extruder and an all-metal hot end, also making it suitable for PEI and ULTEM materials.
The Intamsys Funmat HT has two interchangeable hot ends depending on whether you want to print standard filaments like PLA and ABS, or industrial 3D printer filaments like PEEK and ULTEM. This makes it versatile not just as an industrial or abrasive filament 3D printer, but also as an accurate 3D printer for more standard filaments for everyday rapid prototyping.
With a 50-micron minimum layer thickness, small businesses and industrial clients will have no problem printing accurate PEEK, Nylon, or other material parts. The Intamsys Funmat HT offers a great alternative to using 3D printing services to 3D print PEEK and other industrial filaments, costing around $6,000, far less than previous industrial PEEK 3D printers.
The Funmat HT’s low price and effectiveness has seen it used to 3D print aerospace, automotive, engineering, and medical sector parts. It is also used in general R&D, and overall is considered a great 3D printer, offering industrial 3D printing on a smaller scale and the 3D printing of the toughest filaments around, at far more affordable prices.