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  • Writer's pictureTim Best

In-House vs Outsource 3d Printing

Cost is one of the most important metrics for any business. 3D printing has a broad number of cost saving applications. It is great for one-off parts, getting a physical prototype earlier in the design process or small run manufacturing. However, purchasing the wrong printer can be a costly mistake for a business.

In this guide we will overview of the options you have for improving your workflow with 3D printing. We will compare Purchasing a commercial grade 3d printer, purchasing a desktop 3d printer, and outsourcing with an on-demand service. We will explain the use cases for each option and give some helpful questions you should ask when deciding.

Comparison Grid

many of the same  square tan part on the bed of a commercial 3D printer

Purchasing a Commercial 3D printers

Commercial 3D printers can be serious investments. They are usually only worth the money when they are being into production manufacturing or when advanced materials are needed for specialty prototypes.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the infrastructure requirements for the machine and cleaning area? HVAC? Power Requirements? Square footage?

  • Are there any Environmental Health Services (EHS) requirements? Cleaning chemicals? Large moving equipment? Harmful resins?

  • How much does the printing medium cost? Is the printer compatible with third party materials?

  • How are parts cleaned? Are there other materials or accessories necessary for printing? Support medium? Cleaning tools?

  • What are the shelf life of the consumables?

  • Whats included in the warranty/service contract? Will they replace broken parts or is replacement done by in house staff?

A maker bot replicator 2 on a table in a workshop

Purchasing a Desktop 3D printers

Desktop printers are great for organization that want to start building in-house 3D printing knowledge. With low space requirements and low initial costs they allow for employees to start learning the ecosystem. Having some in-house knowledge also allow you to easily find and work with a On-Demand service for parts that are too large or complex for your machine.

Questions to ask:

  • Does the printer ship pre-assembled or Is it a DIY kit?

  • What kind of materials does the printer use?

  • What machine accessories are needed?

  • What software will need to be purchased to use the printer?

  • How much post processing is needed? What is the process of removing support material?

  • What online resources are available for printing and servicing?

  • How big is the community for when issues inevitably arise?

Package marked "Titanic Design: Large scale 3d printing" on the door step

Using an On-Demand Service

Outsourcing is great for teams that want to minimize risk and investment cost. By using an on-demand service you get access to a variety of the latest printers and trained experts on those machines. Allowing you to optimize each part for its needs (size, cost, time, or quality).

Questions to ask:

  • Are they based in the USA or will your model and IP be sent to another country? NDA concerns.

  • What technologies do they have available? FDM? SLS?

  • What are their file requirements? Do they provide modeling or optimization on files?

  • What is their average turn around?

  • Has the representative asked enough questions of you? Do you feel that they understand your vision and needs? A good on demand printing service will typically have more questions for you than you will for them.

Still have Questions? Contact us to talk with a 3D printing expert.


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