As additive manufacturing technologies continue to improve and evolve more and more companies are finding more and more ways to utilize the benefits of having an in-house 3D printer. You may be aware of the benefits of having an in-house 3D printer but how do you know if a 3D printer is the right fit for your company or at least if it is worth looking into to? 3D printers have sort of a sweet spot within the manufacturing realm, that is:

  • Where part complexity is high
  • Expensive tooling is required, but
  • not justified by expected part volume

Where part complexity is high:  3D printers offer design freedom because you no longer have to design with manufacturing constraints in mind when printing your end use parts.  You can design with the end goal.  Let’s use NASA as an example.  Using their FDM 3D printer they were able to quickly & simply produce very complex parts in production grade thermoplastics, such as ABSplus, poly-carbonate, and Ultem for their Mar’s test rover. 3D-printed parts on NASA’s rover include flame-retardant vents and housings, camera mounts, large pod doors, a large part that functions as a front bumper, and many custom fixtures. 3D printers offer the design flexibility and quick turnaround to build tailored and complex parts. For example, one ear-shaped exterior housing is deep and contorted, and would be impossible — or at least prohibitively expensive — to machine.  Read more about how NASA is using 3D printers >>

Expensive tooling is required: Depending on the number of parts you produce 3D printing has the ability to replace your metal tooling with less expensive plastic tooling to give you the exact same parts. This allows you to produce a short run of your parts quicker and at a reduced cost.  Diversified Plastics, a custom injection molder, has experienced significant time savings using their PolyJet 3D printer to produce molds with fine details and smooth surfaces.  By being able to 3D print the mold components, Diversified Plastics can supply their customers with prototypes in a matter of days rather than weeks – and it’s actually less expensive. Their customers are then able to use these parts to test out their design concept early in the product development process and determine if the design is going to work all without cutting any metal. Read more about Diversified Plastics >>

Lower expected part volume: It can be hard to justify the creation of an expensive metal tool if you only need 1 or a handful of parts. However, what is the absence of that part costing you? Hours spent on design analysis, manufacturing inefficiencies, missing potential design flaws early on, delays getting a new product to market, lost business?  This is where 3D printing really shines.  It allows you to easily justify the cost of a few prototypes to validate and test designs, a mold to produce a prototype in the same process and materials that you will use for the final product.  How about that custom fixture(s) that would speed up the manufacturing process or that scale model(s) of a new product needed for an upcoming tradeshow.  All these parts can quickly and cost effectively be produced on a 3D printer.

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Ready to explore if 3D printing is right for your company?  Contact us and we will walk you through the process and help you decide if and what 3D printer is best suited for your unique needs and applications.

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