Additive manufacturing or "3D Printing" is proving to be one of the most disruptive technologies that the industrial world has seen in the past few decades.
Some believe that additive manufacturing signals the beginning of the third industrial revolution. Since its inception, Helix Linear Technologies has supported the leaders in this revolution by supplying precision lead screws, stepper motor linear actuators, and linear guidance systems.
3D printers have become a fixture for the rapid prototyping of parts and products for many of today's manufacturing organizations. With a 3D printer, product developers can quickly and cost-effectively create physical product components directly from product design data. Just as a desktop printer produces type on a 2D page, a 3D printer builds a physical object in 3D space, layer by layer. The majority of 3D prints are used for design interrogation and evaluation purposes. However, due to advances in 3D printing materials, some parts are now produced production-ready. Others serve as the basis for creating part molds and casings.
Not all 3D printers are created equal. Many 3D printers utilize belt-drive technology, which results in inferior performance characteristics compared to precision-engineered screws. When using belt-drive technology, accuracy and repeatability issues are common because belt drives simply have more play in them.
Due to the play in belt drive 3D printers, output results are less-than-optimal, causing undesirable surface patterns and less resolution on features like holes and cavities. Lead screws, on the other hand, provide higher levels of accuracy, repeatability, and performance resulting in high-quality printed parts.
Within a 3D printing application, lead screws are typically driven by a stepper motor and guided by profile rails on the X and Y axes. Precision-engineered acme nuts are connected to the carriage mechanism. All axes are actuated with a stepper motor-driven screw with an anti-backlash nut and move along linear guides. An additional advantage of the screw-rail configuration for controlling linear motion in 3D printers is that it requires a fraction of the necessary components for belt-driven printers, resulting in less assembly time. Belt-drive 3D printers deliver linear motion with repeatability of ±0.1 mm/m and a layer height of 100 microns. In contrast, precision lead screws offer repeatability of ±0.02 mm/m and a layer height of 50 microns.