Do you need an in-house 3D printer? You may think your prototyping volume does not justify one. But there are a number of good reasons to consider buying a desktop 3D printer, besides the fact that prices for many of these units are $20,000 or less. Plus, these units deliver good accuracy and tolerance for form and fit, and sometimes function.
One key benefit to consider is how an in-house printer can help you get your designs to market faster. Depending on the service bureau, turnaround time for outsourcing prototypes can take as few as 2 to 3 days. While fast, this time does not include the time involved in design; and in-house 3D printers can help shrink that design time.*
Even though the other tasks involved in design (internal review meetings, approvals, and so on) can be done in parallel, you still must wait for a model to return from an outsource provider. With an in‐house 3D printer, however, you can have your prototype model within hours. Not to mention additional time saved by printing during the night or over the weekend when no one is at the office. This can effectively save weeks off the entire development cycle – and dramatically accelerate time to market of new products and new features for existing products.
Development tends to continue while a design is at the service bureau. Features often change, which can put you in a development time lag. But with the ability to quickly print 3D models in just hours, decisions can be based on accurate prototypes and data.
When prototyping is readily available and can be done inexpensively in multiple iterations, the potential for errors is significantly reduced. You can test out different ideas to find the optimal design. Small variations can be modeled and checked for function. Details can be fine-tuned and potential manufacturing errors can be caught before molds and die casts are made.
While you may spend $20,000 up front for a 3D printer, the return on investment is often quick. An outsourced prototype can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars for a simple design, up to thousands of dollars for a more complex model. Even if printing only two models per month on average, an onsite 3D printer can produce major cost savings. In addition, you will find that you use an in-house printer more often because of its convenience, which will shorten payback time even more.
Another advantage of in‐house 3D printing—it can help ensure intellectual property confidentiality. Whenever detailed designs are sent beyond the company network and outside the company’s physical premises, a potential risk is involved.
Keeping rapid prototyping in‐house with a 3D printer eliminates the need to transmit design files to any external network. It ensures that designs never leave the company premises, and intellectual property is better safeguarded.
Today’s desktop 3D printers can print ultra‐thin layers that deliver functional and visual accuracy that match and even outperform other prototyping technologies. They can print the smallest features and finest details, smooth surfaces, and even moving parts, in a single build process. And, with a choice of model materials and varied post‐processing options, it’s possible to create models with a look and feel that closely resemble the end product.
Objet Geometries Ltd.
*In a survey of over 1000 Objet 3D printer owners, for example, almost one‐third reported experiencing a 25% or more improvement in product launch times, with more than half of respondents reporting a product launch time improvement of at least 10% or more.
Material for this article is courtesy of Objet Geometries Ltd.