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Buying A 3D Printer For Your Small Business? Here’s What You’ll Need To Know

In recent years, three-dimensional printing has gone from being an interesting yet rare and expensive idea to an increasingly ubiquitous form of technology. The ability to create actual 3D representations of a wide variety of items has opened the door to a vast array of opportunities, not just for home hobbyists and 3D printing enthusiasts, but for businesses, as well.

As you search for the best 3D printer for your business, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

What to Look for in a 3D Printer?

There’s plenty to look for when it comes to finding the right 3D printer, but these considerations should be right at the top of your list as you shop around:

  • Price – The most basic of 3D printers usually range from $350 to $1,500, according to Tom’s Guide. Higher-end printers top out at around $3,000, while commercial-grade 3D printers cost $11,000 or more.
  • Type Filament printing, based on ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PLA (polylactic acid) plastic, is the most common and least expensive form of 3D printing. Resin-based stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers are a bit more expensive, while printers that use fine powder and laser sintering techniques to create 3D prints are the most expensive types of 3D printers.  
  • Key Features – there are plenty of key features that you want to be aware of. These features include additional extruders, increased resolution and large build areas for the printed product.
  • Limitations – As with any burgeoning technology, 3D printing offers its fair share of limitations. For instance, some machines can only handle a single color or material at the time. Others may not have their own 3D printing software available, prompting you to search for open-source equivalents.

Where 3D Printing Works Best

3D printing is ideal for quickly creating mockups and prototypes of newly developed parts and products. Instead of relying on a third party to create prototypes from complicated and often times expensive molds, prototypes that would normally exist only as a 3D representation on a computer screen can be brought into reality with the help of an on-site 3D printer.

3D printing is also ideal for creating highly customized end-use components for wide variety of implementations. For instance, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can print customized hearing aid components to suit a patient’s specific needs.

What You Shouldn’t Expect from 3D Printing

If your business involves small-scale manufacturing, then you’re probably thinking of all the things you could mass-produce with your new 3D printer. However, you might want to scale back your dreams of using additive manufacturing technology as a convenient substitute for existing manufacturing processes.

While 3D printing may be ideal for producing highly-customized and highly-specific parts, mass production using 3D printer technology doesn’t look as promising. For starters, 3D printing doesn’t offer the same economy of scale as mass production using other methods. Currently, the cost of printing 3D objects outweighs any potential savings that could be had when it comes to mass production.

In addition, printing costs are highly reliant on how well the space within the 3D printer can be used. As Matthias Holweg notes, contract manufacturers that do perform 3D printing on a large scale generally wait for large batches that can utilize the entire space within the 3D build room in an attempt to keep costs low.

Then there’s the actual process of printing the part. The long wait times associated with 3D printing are largely due to the technology’s layer-by-layer process. When compared to the relatively quick processes of injection molding and subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing winds up being left in the dust when it comes to mass production. 

Keep in mind that there are just as many price points and options for normal printers as well, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with a professional.