Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is a growing business. In fact, Deloitte's analysis shows a 12.5% growth year over year from 2017, with projected revenue at $3.1 billion by 2020. This growth is driven by commercial printers, which are capable of printing and finishing a wide variety of parts and products using virtually any material.
Not only are the materials getting better, but 3D printing is faster and capable of larger build volumes (and even larger prints of up to 27 cubic liters) than ever before. It’s leading many companies to consider joining the revolution and purchase a 3D printer.
With most 3D printing equipment costing a minimum of $1,000, along with replacement parts and print materials, it’s difficult to determine the costs of additive manufacturing. That’s just one piece of the puzzle, though.
The real question is – can 3D printing really save you money in manufacturing & bring added value to your process?
What Is 3D Printing?
Traditional manufacturing is a subtractive process, meaning raw material (i.e. wood, metal) is carved, cut, chipped, and sanded to form the final shape. This form of manufacturing wastes raw materials and requires shipping and storage of a variety of materials.
When you use 3D printers, materials are added to the final product on an as-needed basis. This is done by printing small layers (measured in microns, or one-millionth of a millimeter) one at a time to create the finished product. Each 3D printer supports different materials, which boil down to either filament or resin/powder.
Filament 3D Printing
Filament 3D printers, like the Ultimaker S5, use spools of solid, string-like filaments which are heated in the protruder to print materials. This is how consumer 3D printers work, but it’s capable of using much more than just PLA, the most common print material used in FDM 3D printing . The Ultimaker S5 is a fused-filament fabrication (FFF) printer capable of printing a variety of 2.85mm composite materials, including carbon fiber and high-strength glass, at 20-micron resolution.
Resin/Powder 3D Printing
Resin and powder 3D printers, like the HP Jet Fusion 500/300 series, use UV lights and lasers to fuse and “cure” liquid and powder materials into solids with a variety of properties. HP’s 3D printers can mix a variety of plastic types, from soft and flexible to strong and rigid, while also dying prints to produce a finished product with intricate detail.
Benefits of 3D Printing Over Traditional Manufacturing
Companies using 3D printers are successfully creating a mixed-manufacturing model, which integrates 3D printing with existing manufacturing equipment. This is creating new opportunities by reducing the cost-per-unit over traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding.
1. Decentralizing Supply Chain
Manufacturing was responsible for 11.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, yet overseas production is still popular. This means finished products must be bulk shipped through a chartering company that increases overhead costs. Additive manufacturing decentralizes the supply chain by allowing more localized manufacturing that reduces the need for shipping and warehousing of finished goods.
2. Rapid Tooling, Prototyping, and Testing
Tooling is the single most cost-prohibitive step of traditional manufacturing, costing upwards of $80,000 or more. Today’s 3D printers can handle more materials than ever, and print more than one structure at a time without the need for retooling. This means fully functional products can be created, giving an in-house platform for prototyping and product testing that wasn’t available before without exposing valuable IP to third-party manufacturers and paying a hefty premium.
3. Personalization and Customization
AutoCAD (or similar 3D modeling software) gives companies the ability to create customized and personalized products like never before seen. When combined with a 3D scanner, like the Artec Leo, it’s even possible to scan real-world 3D objects in the field for printing at home base. These highly detailed images can recreate highly detailed 3D imagery of car parts, human or animal faces, famous landmarks, and other details to provide a unique branded experience.
4. Repair Broken Equipment
With a 3D printer, workers can create spare parts for office equipment, including the 3D printer itself. The ability for remote workers to replace broken equipment on the spot, without the need for purchasing and storing spare parts, makes companies more agile and able to respond to changing market conditions.
Using 3D printing, it’s possible to reduce waste and other overhead costs, while enabling fast prototyping, tooling, and repairs. More one-off designs can be created, leading to more options for personalization and customization.
3D Print Services for 3D Printers
Like traditional 2D printing, 3D printers need print services to fully optimize resource usage, reduce print errors, and increase equipment longevity. ImageNet’s 3D printing services provide filament refill assistance, training on the best use of the your machines, and equipment management and upkeep support. With the proper technology and our trained professional staff, you can easily integrate additive manufacturing into any size business.
Contact ImageNet today to have one of our professional 3D printing consultants walk you through how to get started with commercial 3D printing.