Is it better to implement 3D printing in-house or to outsource?
3D Printing Analysis
Almost every business that needs 3D printed parts or prototypes is at a crossroads in terms of deciding how to best adapt to the technologies and new production possibilities. Businesses today are evaluating 3D printing for R&D, product development and manufacturing.
These companies are testing the waters by hiring designers and engineers specifically for 3D printing applications as well as hiring new employees with experience in additive manufacturing to be able to properly determine their course of action for the future.
The scale and complexity of each company’s 3D printing and additive manufacturing needs will definitely vary but the question that applies to everyone is whether to implement In-house 3D printing, which is a substantial investment in machines and training; or outsourcing the 3D printing to a third party.
What applications have you identified for 3D printing?
The applications you plan to 3D print should be your number one decision driver. If you only plan to 3D print scaled models early in the design process to check look and feel and to sell new concepts, a small desktop printer could be a great solution. If you need full-size functional prototypes, a larger, more robust machine may be a better fit, like the Fortus 450mc.
If you’ve identified a complex production part to be fabricated with 3D printing, a service bureau with design for additive manufacturing expertise and a large capacity of machines to handle the production volume would be your best bet. Another dead ringer application for a service bureau is large parts or parts larger than any 3D printer build platform because service providers like Proto3000 have expert finishers who can assemble multiple sections without sacrificing strength or integrity.
How many 3D printed parts do you need per year and what mix?
Businesses should also consider the volume and variety of parts. At a basic level, if they think they’re going to need high mix of part designs, at generally a low volume – which could usually indicate a lot of concept and prototype applications – it may make sense to invest in a machine because you don’t need multiple systems working at once.
If they’re planning on printing a high volume of a low mix of part designs, that’s when you would want to turn to a service bureau that has capacity and an extensive quality team to ensure consistency and repeatability.
Additionally, if you think you’ll need a wide variety of 3D printing processes and materials, Proto3000 is able to provide the gamut – from rigid and elastomeric plastics to metals and alloys parts – all under one roof.
How familiar is your team with design for additive manufacturing?
While additive manufacturing frees designers from a lot of traditional constraints and allows engineers to create parts solely for desired form, fit and function, there is a learning curve when it comes to designing for each 3D printing job. 3D printing is quickly becoming a part of mechanical engineering education, but it’s still not fully established.
Bringing a 3D printer in-house still means training or even hiring new talent. If you do not have the resources to dedicate to fully understanding the system and designing for it, outsourcing part production is a way to minimize risk and compensate for resources or expertise that doesn’t exist internally before making a larger investment.
What is your budget and timeline for implementing 3D printing?
Do you need parts immediately? Or do you have time and budget to make adjustments to your engineering and manufacturing operations to accommodate a new process? If you need parts immediately, is it a functional part or a model?
Working with a service provider is the best option for immediate, functional parts whereas a desktop 3D printer, like a Stratasys Mojo or uPrint, is easy to use right out of the box for small concept models. Alternatively, investing in larger, more sophisticated 3D printing equipment isn’t just a matter of buying a machine, plugging it in and pressing print. It involves investments in training staff, setting up software, maintenance, purchasing consumables (meaning material, print heads, etc.) and even disruptions in overall operations.
With such a big investment, you may want to try 3D printing out first and take meditative steps – that’s where 3D printing service providers come in.
What type of working environment do you have?
It’s important to consider your physical work environment and if 3D printing equipment would be compatible. Some systems are more office friendly than others. For example, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) systems, including desktop 3D printers up to the Fortus 900mc and PolyJet systems, are clean and safe for an office environment. Laser Sintering processes that use powder materials involve careful handling and much higher processing temperatures that require a controlled environment and additional space for powder collection and recycling equipment.
There are many avenues to realizing the full benefits of 3D printing. Some of Proto3000’s most AM-knowledgeable customers have equipment in-house for concept modeling, functional prototyping and one-off end-use parts, and then turn to Proto3000 for:
• 3D printing higher volume of production parts
• Trying new technologies, they don’t have in-house
• Building large parts
• Producing smooth or coated parts with finishing services
Understanding the challenges and needs of companies looking to make the move to 3D printing can better help them decide whether an in-house solution makes more sense than outsourcing.