Are 3D Printers Worth It?
Well, in case you have a huge workload of parts to be prototyped out of plastic, a 3D printer is absolutely worth buying. However, the in-depth answer is not that simple.
You should fully determine if you are fine with 3D printing or another manufacturing process suits you better. Additionally, you may consider ordering 3D printing services instead of buying. Let’s review all the situations and weigh the pros and cons.
Advantages of Owning a 3D Printer
1. Rapid prototyping
The top feature, most 3D printers are purchased to exploit which. The thing is, printing a component with an innovative design is probably the most affordable and quick way to give a new part a try. You do not have to transfer your CAD files into G-coded files or anything like this, wasting your time. You are good to go with raw CAD models and any 3D printers.
You may not have an exact part with all the final properties required, but you would not believe how many designs disapproved themselves once being printed.
2. High production rates
The pro deriving from the previous point is the speed of 3D printing. Even large-scale manufacturers are usually fine with advanced 3D printers’ production rates.
The complementary advantage is that you do not have to use several printers to make a single part, unlike CNC machining or sheet metal machining. It also makes 3D printers superior to other manufacturing centers.
The kicker is that printed parts are affordable. And in contrast to other manufacturing techniques, they do not tend to lose their cost-effectiveness. The cost of 3D printing does not depend on how small or how big an ordered batch of components is (discounts are not taken into consideration).
4. Environment-friendly and labor-friendly
Another good thing about 3D printing is that it is considered “green” manufacturing. 3D filaments are bare plastic that can be recycled many times, limiting wastage. The printed parts are also not considered pollutants if approached in a proper way.
Additionally, employees that work with 3D printers are not subject to any health hazards. Although, some safety concerns are still associated with inhalation of particles of melted filaments and ingestion of filaments. Long-term exposure of printed parts to UV light is also highly not recommended, as it leads to the release of toxic substances out of plastic.
Finally, 3D printers can potentially make any design you can create a 3D model of. In case required shapes cannot be performed for any reason but malfunctioning of a particular printer, you can be sure that it is the design itself to blame.
3D printers enable you to create and test the viability of any model, which can potentially become a new manufacturing product.
Disadvantages of Owning a 3D Printer
3D printing is mostly done using plastic filaments with varying properties. Of course, there are techniques such as metal 3D printing, but still, your choice is rather strictly limited than vast.
The other problem is the maximal size of a part that can be printed. Typically, supported dimensions of parts are not that big, especially when it comes to large 3D printers for use in the manufacturing process.
In most cases, you have to print distinct parts to combine them later on, instead of making solid pieces. General users and manufacturers of relatively small parts do not face this issue regularly.
It was stated previously that 3D printers are versatile and can support nearly any design. The downside is that printing is not as accurate as any other manufacturing technique.
Additive manufacturing, especially fused deposition modeling (regular layer-by-layer printing), has a huge variance. It means that the dimensions of parts may be far from the intended ones.
Other difficulties using 3D printers are not specific and rather attributed to technical problems that can be resolved. Examples of such are detailed further in the text.
Myths About 3D Printing
- Printed plastic parts cannot be used in a manufacturing environment. Plastic is not a durable material and cannot sustain high stresses and pressure. However, some enhanced filaments, such as ones reinforced with carbon fiber, are as strong as 6061 aluminum.
- 3D printers are difficult to operate. Although printers are somewhat different from regular manufacturing equipment, they are still rather simple in operating and maintenance than complicated. They are less demanding to operator expertise and do not require specialized software and digital files but CAD to work with.
- 3D printers that are suitable for manufacture are expensive.The cost of the most advanced printers does not typically exceed $100,000 or so, while average CNC machines may cost about $200,000..
Technical Difficulties of 3D Printing
The thing is, after printing, labor still has to treat finished parts manually. Each component is to be removed from the build on which it was printed. with a scrapper and exposed to UV light. Additionally, manual treating may include water jetting, cleaning with a vacuum, sanding, heat drying, applying chemical solutions and rinsing, etc.
After the completion of 3D printing, components may require extra finishing using other equipment units but 3D printers themselves.
- Part structure.
Another problem is the structure of components. The issue is raised because of the principle of additive manufacturing. Printers deposit filaments layer-by-layer. Eventually, such structures can delaminate under stress and pressure.
You should pay attention to the strength of your printed parts to prevent their malfunctioning in some situations.
- A vast array of operating problems arise during printing.
It is difficult even to list all the potential challenges an owner of a 3D printer may face. In most cases, they raise when an equipment unit is inappropriately operated.
One of such difficulties is that prints are sticking too much or not sticking at all. Another is inconsistent extrusion. You may also face problems with your 3D printer’s feeder that does not push filament properly.
Your extruder may grind filament or completely crush it. Nozzles through which filament is pushed can become clogged easily. All these issues are great concerns of general users, while the technical service department of manufacture can address them quickly and without much effort.
Costs of 3D Printing
How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?
The simple answer to this question would be “the cost of a 3D printer may fall anywhere between $300 and $100,000.” Let’s delve into the topic and review some categories of printers for complete insight.
- Entry-level/hobbyist 3D printers. The most affordable of them may be offered at $300. At the same time, advanced hobbyist versions may cost up to $1500.
- High end / enthusiasts / professional 3D printers. Such models are priced from a couple of thousand to $20,000, depending on integrated features and capabilities offered.
- Industrial 3D printers. These are personalized offers. Prices for them typically start from $20,000 and do not have a defined upper limit. But, they usually do not exceed $100,000.
How Much Do 3D Printing Materials Cost?
Let’s start by specifying the price range one more time. 3D printer filaments may cost somewhere between $20 to $400 per kilogram/liter. The exact costs depend on what particular material you require.
- Everyday plastic filaments such as PLA or PETG. They are the most affordable options and cost about $20-50 per kilogram.
- Entry-level SLA resins.They are liquid and therefore measured in liters. They cost about $50 per liter.
- Engineering or support filaments.Such options are enhanced with various additives, such as carbon fiber and so on. They may cost from $60 to $120.
- SLS powders. Such compatible 3D printers materials may cost $100-200 per kilogram.
- Professional SLA resins.It is the most expensive type of material for 3D printing. They may cost from $150 to $400.
3D Printing Service Costs
Once again, you may be offered a price from $3 to $1000 per printed part, depending on numerous factors detailed further:
- A 3D model according to which a part is to be printed.
In a broad sense, it is not that important how intricate a design is. But, the dimensions of a part are always crucial. They determine the material and electricity usage per part.
- Material used.
It is the major constituent of a final price. The choice of a material specified in the previous section, significantly affects the cost per printed part.
- Location where a service provider is located.
It is the least 3D printing dependent point. Basically, a location where a company offering you services is located affects the final price for numerous reasons. The hourly pay significantly varies from region to region.
Moreover, transportation costs may be included in the final price. Additionally, some types of material may be more or less available in a particular region.
Should You Buy a Printer or Use 3D Printing Service?
In the first scenario, the cost-effectiveness of the process is ensured only if future orders will justify the initial investment. In case the necessity for printed components is occasional, it is better to apply for professional services.
At the same time, users that like to print 3D parts may be offered to purchase an affordable equipment unit for entertainment purposes.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Investing Into a 3D Printer
Also, make sure that a printer is designed to work with the intended, by you, materials. Sometimes, even modifications cannot enhance an equipment unit with additional capabilities.
Finally, pay attention to such characteristics as print resolution and print speed. They both significantly affect the quality of printing, which may be crucial to you.
Do Your Other Hobbies and Interests Relate to 3D Printing?
You may be surprised how many applications even a most affordable 3D printer may have, so consider buying one yourself.
However, if you do not have a huge workload of ordered parts to be manufactured, you are warned from purchasing expensive equipment units.