As additive manufacturing (including 3D printing) becomes increasingly popular among businesses as a quick and easy solution to creating and evaluating prototypes and end-use products, the debate about whether to outsource production or to purchase equipment for in-house use is at the forefront of industry discussions. For businesses, big and small, choosing to outsource 3D printing services to professional suppliers is often the best option. Among the top reasons are:
Cost of printers
Although the cost of entry-level machines is decreasing, making them more affordable for small business owners, these machines remain limited in their capabilities, often offering fewer material types and a restricted build volume. If a business is going to print using in-house 3D printers, it is left with two options:
- Investing a lot of time figuring out what materials will be used in new products prior to purchase
- Investing money in several 3D printers that use different materials and/or processes.
Both of these methods are costly and inefficient. The cost of 3D printers adds up if a business purchases several machines, as does the cost of the base materials and iterations to get the desired results. Time spent investigating materials and printers also costs a business money, since it takes time away from creating, selling, and shipping products.
Outsourcing to professional 3D printing suppliers solves this problem. Most suppliers have between five and 10 machines on hand (although many have dozens of machines) and can match the business’ project to the correct printer and material. Thus -- even though outsourcing may seem more expensive -- in the long run businesses can save time and money by going to the experts with the best equipment and right materials for each job.
The technologies used in today’s commercial 3D printers are relatively new, and most small businesses aren’t familiar with what’s required to operate these machines for best results. This means employee training for in-house use and maintenance will not only be required, but may also involve unforeseen training costs and time commitments. Hiring experts to train employees can also come with a hefty price tag, particularly as staff put their usual duties on hold to take part in training courses and deal with the inevitable periods of trial and error that accompany any manufacturing process.
Professional suppliers, on the other hand, already know how to use, setup, and maintain their equipment. Their hands-on experience with the manufacturing process enables them to master the tweaks and tricks necessary to properly and efficiently make -- and remake -- products and prototypes.
The cost of entry-level commercial 3D printers may be decreasing, but the associated costs of operating them are not. Maintenance fees, and unexpected costs associated with fixing or replacing broken parts, can add up quickly. Moreover, as the technology powering these machines advances, it will also mean equipment is becoming obsolete more quickly (think about your inkjet printers or home PCs). For many companies, a pay-per-project fee will be less costly in the long run than owning a quickly depreciating asset that could soon become out of date.
RP Marketplace is an online platform that allows businesses to source professional suppliers for rapid prototyping services.