3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that allows businesses to turn a digital model into an actual product with the push of a button. In the past, these printers were expensive enough that only companies and dedicated hobbyists used them.
Now, however, improved 3D printing tech has made these machines accessible to tech businesses wanting to move their production or prototyping in-house. These printers can offer serious advantages for the companies that adopt them. Here are a few of the biggest benefits a tech company can expect from a 3D printer.
1. Reduced Prototyping Costs
Prototyping in-house with a 3D printer can be significantly cheaper than outsourcing the job to a manufacturer.
With a 3D printer, all you’ll need to pay for is the cost of designing a model and the material. If you or a staff member is familiar with CAD, which can offer some serious advantages for any tech business, you may even be able to design your model in-house.
You can expect to pay anywhere between a few dollars and up to $50 for a 3D-printed part. With traditional CNC machining, even a single component can be much more expensive. In one example, a prototype ordered from an on-demand industrial parts marketplace would have cost nearly $400, while the 3D-printed prototype only cost about $18 to print.
2. Wide Range Of Materials
3D printer tech has advanced rapidly in the past few years, and for just about every material, there is a 3D printing filament available. Those made from wood, metal and heat-resistant plastic, as well as materials reinforced with carbon nanotubes, are all available online.
There are some limitations. You can’t really print fabric, and specialty materials will typically be more expensive than industry-standard PLA or ABS plastic. However, for the most part, 3D printing is one of the most flexible manufacturing options available.
Printing metal, rather than sending it to a manufacturer, can also give you more control over how your product is finished. Not all methods provide the same result. Tumble and vibratory finishing, for example, both yield different looks and will work best for certain projects.
3. Rapid Prototyping
Typically, the wait time between prototypes means you can’t rapidly iterate on them, and you needed to be a lot more careful in how you approached design. This limited the creativity of engineers and product designers — and also made simple errors or design oversights much more costly than they needed to be.
With a 3D printer, your tech company can do its prototyping on-site. You won’t need to work with a manufacturer to build prototypes or spend time sending designs and waiting for them to be made.
This enables the rapid prototyping of new products. With this strategy, you can iterate quickly on new designs. You can catch more errors, create ergonomic designs, and generally give your business some extra time to experiment with product look and feel.
The reduced costs of 3D printing also make multiple prototypes much more practical. If you’re spending several hundred dollars on every prototype, experimental design isn’t really possible. When something costs $10 or $20, however, you have a lot more room to try unique ideas.
4. Quicker Time To Market
If you have an innovative product or are trying to take advantage of a new niche, getting your item to market as quickly as possible can provide your business with some serious operational superiority. You also won’t need to wait for a full order to be completed if you’re manufacturing your product on-site. As soon as the first item is done printing, you can start shipping orders.
5. Lower Costs On Small-Scale Orders
Most manufacturing methods are built to accommodate large-scale orders. As a result, they’ll be most cost-effective when manufacturing massive numbers of products and quickly become much more expensive in smaller batches.
Limited-run items can often be less practical for this reason. High per-unit manufacturing costs can thin out margins to the point where the risk on a new product just isn’t worth it.
The unique nature of 3D printing and the low cost of materials means it’s often more cost-effective than conventional manufacturing at smaller scales.
Potential savings can be massive. For example, an NIST review of additive manufacturing methods found that it consistently cost around €1.5 ($1.63) to manufacture a single lamp holder with 3D printing. With injection molding (IM), manufacturing costs varied based on the number of lamp holders made. At large scales, manufacturing was slightly cheaper. At smaller levels, however, it was much more expensive — an IM run of 5,000 lamp holders cost more than €6 ($6.53) per holder.
If you wanted to manufacture just 5,000 lamp holders, you could save as much as $25,000 with 3D printing.
6. Improved Operational Security
With an on-site 3D printer, you can keep 100% of your design specs in-house during prototyping — reducing the risk that information sent to your manufacturer is intercepted or leaked to the public. If your team is regularly working with designs you want to keep secret — or you just want to keep your plans safe — bringing a 3D printer on-site can be a great way to ensure security.
3D Printers Offer Major Benefits for Tech Companies
If your tech company wants to speed up its product prototyping, 3D printing could be a great investment. With an in-house printer, it will be both easier and cheaper to rapidly iterate on product designs, giving you more room to fix errors and experiment with product ergonomics. You’ll also be able to move from conception to market much more quickly than with conventional manufacturing methods.
Lexie is a freelance web designer and UX strategist. She loves all things design and spending time with her goldendoodle. Check out her design blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.