Maybe it was the promise of cost reduction or you recently saw a 3D printer at a trade fair; whatever technology has brought to your attention, you are thinking about the integration of 3D printing within your company. Before integrating 3D printing, you need to know what to take into account. This new technology offers a lot of advantages for many companies, but as a new user you want to know more about it before you start applying it.
Implementing 3D printing is a process that needs to be well thought out before any investments are made. Identifying the best technology to meet your company’s needs is crucial to the successful strategic integration of 3D printing into an existing company. The workflow will change, the tasks of the employees will be affected and the total operational costs must be taken into account.
Asking the right questions is an important first step before investing in 3D printing for your company. We have described the most important questions for you.
The first question you need to ask yourself before you proceed with additive manufacturing is why you want to use this technology? What new advantages does 3D printing add that you don’t have with the existing methods? What additional possibilities do you want to have? 3D printing can deliver countless savings in terms of cost, time, materials and weight. However, in certain applications, such as high-volume series production, injection moulding remains a more cost-effective and proven method. So first think about whether 3D printing really fits in well with your company and do research. What exactly is it that you want to achieve? Learn more about the benefits of 3D printing here.
When you come to the conclusion that 3D printing offers sufficient advantages, think about exactly what you want to produce with it. Do you make prototypes? Structural components? Art or advertising material?
In order to find the best system for your needs, full understanding is needed of what you expect as the end result and what this involves. If you want to create highly visual architectural models, you get the best result with full-color sandstone 3D printing. For functional mold making, an FDM desktop printer that can print with reinforced plastics will suit you better.
We have written a number of articles on current 3D printing technologies. Here you can read more about the difference between FDM and SLA. Here you can read more about the difference between the Delta and Cartesian technology. You can learn how to compare 3D printers here.
Other than investing in a 3D printing system, many companies choose to outsource the 3D printing jobs to a service bureau. These companies often offer a variety of production options and have different systems and materials. Sometimes they offer a free or cheap sample so that you can decide for yourself whether the quality is satisfactory. Service bureaus employ experienced designers and technicians who are already familiar with the 3D printing work, providing direct access to expertise.
Service bureaus are in many cases a starting point for a lot of companies to test 3D printing. Small quantities can be ordered and specific parts can be produced quickly and easily. If you are only going to use 3D printing occasionally, then it may be wise to work with them. If you are going to use 3D printing more often, it will be cheaper in the long run to invest in your own system. If you want to know how to calculate the ROI of 3D printing, read this article.
Which materials do you want to use? The two largest material segments are polymers (plastics) and metals. Other materials are also possible, including food, biomaterials and cement, but they require specific systems. If you choose polymers, which particular material do you want to use? Do you need the strength of a thermoplastic filament such as PEEK or do you want the more environmentally friendly benefits of cheap PLA?
If you plan to use one material then you can opt for a basic Industrial 3D printer, which means that you can opt for a less expensive printer. If you want to print with a number of different materials then you will need to look at a printer with more functionalities, affecting the price.
The used materials that are being used, mostly determine the costs of 3D printing. A lot of professional 3D printers can only print with their own brand of materials, forcing you to buy a particular brand. Check this carefully when you are doing your 3D printer comparison. With ‘open filament systems’ you have more freedom and can choose your own preferred filament supplier.
Insight into the material needs will provide you with information about the type of system you need. You can read more about the different materials here.
It is not always easy to integrate 3D printing production in a traditional production environment. In addition to the fact that different types of materials and operations are usually required, design files need to be re-examined. Aside from simply updating the output type for a CAD file (usually .stl), often the designs themselves also need to be re-adjusted.
However, there are very good software systems with advanced features on the market that can support you in this. Some 3D printers also work with their own software. A training course is required so you’ll have the knowledge to use this software in the best possible way. The popular software systems come with instructional videos and support.
Do you receive updates after the printer installation and how do you receive them? Through the cloud? Some systems that are connected to the cloud receive updates every few weeks. Or will someone visit you or send you parts? When a printer is modularly built, new technologies can easily be implemented.
In some cases the purchase of a 3D printer can also include a Service Level Agreement. Besides the warranty this will provide extra services and other benefits during a certain period of time.
Be aware of updates to the latest operating systems, bug fixes and more and how they will be implemented.
Once a system has been selected, the terms and conditions of purchase have to be reviewed. Do you get the system directly from the manufacturer or from a certified distribution partner? Maybe even buy it second hand?
Buying through a manufacturer-approved channel provides the best support in terms of installation, training, system warranty and continuous updates. These distributors are often certified and maintain close relationships with the manufacturer. Integrating 3D printing into business operations is an investment which is more than a one-time purchase and building a strong relationship is a key factor in the ultimate success of this investment.
What should your team know about 3D printing? Who in the team needs to know? How are they trained? Online training courses – from introductions to 3D printing to design – are more and more available online. These are often in webinar format for on-demand viewing. Many instructors are open to direct communication so that all answers can be obtained quickly. Also, some suppliers provide on-site training when a product is purchased.
Paying for a higher level of support could be worth it if you are relatively new to 3D printing, but if you are comfortable to deal with any problems yourself, then you could make savings.
3D printers come in a number of different sizes depending on the needs.
The industrial 3D printer price can vary considerably based on build volume. This means, when you want to get most out of your budget, you first have to consider your requirements regarding the build volume.
Desktop systems often literally fit on the desk or on a workbench but industrial systems need much more space and will have to be placed on the floor.
In addition to the 3D printer, space is also needed for finishing. Some industrial systems require a specific finish, such as breaking out the objects from powder, cleaning them, curing resin in UV chambers, removing supports, smoothing and polishing, painting, etc.
3D printing and all associated activities are best carried out in a well-ventilated area. More and more systems are safe to use in office environments but precautions still need to be taken. The industry is still young and the long-term effects of various technologies on health are not yet fully known. Powder-based systems in particular, especially metals, require additional measures.