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3D Printing – Invest or Outsource?

One of the biggest benefits when it comes to 3D printing in creating production free parts is that it can free one from the ties of conventional part manufacture.

When it comes to 3D printing, it’s a much more rapid and effective method due to the lack of a specification for specialised production tooling. In fact, 3D printers are becoming faster than ever due to new and innovative processes such as the Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology which has claimed to be able to print objects 25-100 times faster than traditional 3D printers.

A BBC article published at the end of 2015, reported how the 3D printing industry is a vastly growing market worth an estimated £3.4bn this year. While 3D printing is booming in popularity, there are also talks of when this phenomenon will also be available for use within the home.

When it comes to your project, you will be presented with two options. Do I consider investing in my own in-house 3D printing, or is it more effective to have it outsourced?

To help make this decision a little bit clearer, here are some fundamental considerations to think about when it comes to investing in or outsourcing your 3D printing.

Cost

The price involved is clearly an important factor if you’re contemplating whether to invest in 3D printing and bring it into your organisation.

The recent decline in the cost of 3D printing machines has meant that desktop machines can be bought for roughly £1,000. By deciding to invest, you may be saving money in the long run, and with only the additional costs of maintenance and supplies, this could be a much more financially viable option.

On the downside, while these machines may not appear expensive, they are somewhat limited in their proficiencies. An industrial 3D printing machine would be a much more competent and functional choice, but could end up costing you up to £100,000.

3D Printing - Invest or Outsource?

Operation

The process of contemporary professional 3D printing and the complexities involved which would require rigorous and in-depth training for the equipment to be used efficiently is another point that you must be aware of.

Further to this, as prototype development in product design projects is extremely time-sensitive, this can often mean that more than one machinist will be required to cover the operator if for example, they were away. Consequently, this means that the cost for training could be even higher.

Space

While a desktop 3D printer wouldn’t provide too much of problem in terms of locating additional space, this can’t be said for all 3D printing equipment.

An industrial 3D printer required for creating professional level presentation parts, for example, can be extremely heavy, or a series of machines, in order to produce a variety of printing technologies could also take up a significant amount of space.

As such, it’s important that you look at whether or not your premises is suitably sized to accommodate for potentially very large 3D printing equipment.

Speed

Time constraints are a common problem in product development projects.

Prototype Projects highlight that the advantage with outsourcing your 3D printing as opposed to bringing it in in-house is that “Many 3D printing bureaus have multiple machines running round the clock – meaning that a CAD file delivered by close of play on one day can likely be delivered the next.”

This level of speed and turn around is not always something which you can guarantee with in-house printing, especially when the demand is greater.

Materials

Not only do professional prototyping bureaus often have range of 3D printing equipment which can help to achieve a higher level of detail for your project, however, they also have the capabilities to run a wider variety of materials.

Again, the high level of specialised equipment is something that your organisation might not be able to offer to the same extent as a professional bureau.

There are certainly a number of advantages and disadvantages associated with both options of either investing or outsourcing your 3D printing. Cost is obviously a big factor, and the type of projects that you will be looking to carry out means that it really does depend on the individual organisation. That said, in terms of quality, reliability and speed, there are definitely a number of benefits to outsourcing which could make it the more favourable option to go for.

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