3D Printing is truly starting to scale up. It is often a comparable process to injection molding both in volume of parts it can produce and the cost of producing those parts. Currently, based on Data from projects done at Slant 3D, 3D printing is on average less expensive than injection molding up 50,000 parts and we are working to push it to 100,000. But that is an average. What are the factors that make 3D printing more or less expensive than injection molding?
If you make more parts they cost less per part. This is true for injection molding and for production FDM 3D Printing at large volumes.
Many people have seen the graph below. The graph that shows that 3D printing costs remain constant regardless of volume. Nothing is more incorrect, those graphs are created by services with just a few machines.
Large scale 3D printing scales much the same as injection molding. The larger the job the better economics on materials.
Below is a chart of a part that could be produced with Injection Molding or 3D printing. The part requires 40g of material. The Mold would cost $10,000 upfront. The vertical axxis is on the logarithmic scale.
As you can see 3D printing follows a very similar curve to injection molding. And is in fact about 20% less expense up to 20000 parts and breaks even at about 45000 parts.
Warehousing and Inventory
While the graph above shows a situation where 3D printing and injection-molding eventually even out and have a mild price difference there is still the a cost that is not accounted for. Warehousing and lost inventory.
It is estimated that 15-25% of inventory is scrapped each year because it is not sold. There are also the warehousing costs of that inventory which can add another 5-15% to the cost of a product.
Even though 3D printing is higher cost than injection molding at very large quantities, its just in time capabilities ensure that almost no inventory is lost and very little of it every spends time in warehouses. Additive manufacturing allows a part to exist only in cyberspace until it is needed.
Design to minimize surface area, not the volume. This the general rule for FDM additive manufacturing. Volume is not really relevant to the cost of the parts. Surface area is. Surface area requires the most printing time and the most material. Internal volumes we are able to filling with internal lattices that maintain strength but do not add much material to the print.
The clearest depiction of this is with a simple cubic shape. With injection molding it would likely need to be design with ribs of some kind. But printing that design is expensive because it requires that the whole part be solid infill plastic. Which uses a lot of plastic increasing the print time and cost of the part.
If the part is to be optimially designed for affordable additive manufacturing it should be designed solid. We will then use our various softwares to design an internal lattice that matches the strength of the injection molded ribbed part. But since the walls can be thinner it will often use less material is an more efficient to print. Saving cost
LittleBots is an excellent example of good design for additive manufacturing. Each part is simplified and monolithic. Allowing internal lattices to provide strength and light-weighting. For this reason they will never have to transfer to molds because the cost of 3D printing is always equivalent on a per part basis.
There are about 20 large design conisderations that can affect price of 3D printed parts. Including overall complexity, need for support, part size. But minimizing material and print time are the largest the best way to do that is to minimize surface area.
Now let us invalidate all this with a giant "it depends." The cost of a part, with either process, depends on the size, design, tolerances, and materials of that part. Some pieces will never be economical with 3D Printing. Some pieces will be impossible with injection molding.
But there is an easy way to find out. Get a quote. We have qualified sales engineers who are ready to help you with the design and the quoting process to make sure that you are getting your product made correctly.
Many startups and small businesses are using 3D printer farms to test and scale products. The problem is that they don't have the experience to scale production to really large volumes.
Trainlab, Slate Robotics, Ohmnilabs, and others are all startups and small businesses that are using 3D printing to produce their final products. All of them have been faced with the choice of whether to bring production in-house or outsource it to services such as Slant 3D, Carbon, or Voodoo Manufacturing. But what are the benefits or dangers of both methods of mass producing 3D printed parts.
In-House 3D Printing
Many startups attempt to build a 3D printing pipeline in house. While this allows them to have more vertical integration, it is a process that has very high risk and high-long term cost.
Answer this question. If you are making an injection molded part why don't you buy an injection molding Press. Because it is expensive? Because you don't have the experience to operate it? Exactly. So why does 3D printing seem easier.
Desktop 3D printing has created the myth that anyone can use the process to make parts. But creating a few good pieces to test is very different from producing thousands of production quality parts consistently. Supply-chain, servicing, and part optimization all become factors. This requires that the startup essentially dedicate personnel to managing printers, and recreating the infrastructure that already exists in companies dedicated to production 3D printing.
There is also the problem of the machines themselves. A startup becomes dependent upon the company that manufactures the machines that they use. If that company should go out of business (which 3D printing companies have been very prone to doing) or just abandon support of the machine that the startup uses, then they are left up the creek without a paddle. Or with dozens of 3D printers that will have to be replaced.
Building a 3D Printing farm in-house does have the advantage of slightly faster turn-around, a bit more control. It also can decrease startup financial costs. But operationally it is expensive and risky because printer farms require skill, maintenance, and personnel to operate. These farms are also very inefficient because the startup has to create operational processes from scratch and source at low volumes.
Production 3D Printing Service
Services solve the problems of in-house 3D printing. Companies like Slant 3D, are able to dedicate all of their time, resources, and personnel to creating high quality plastic parts at scale. A scale that often makes the 3D printed parts more affordable than in-house versions with high overhead.
Slant 3D, itself manufactures its own machines. Ensuring that the factory is always supported and ready to produce. So if you make a part with us this year. You will be able to make the same part 5 years from now. It also ensures that Slant 3D is able to scale rapidly to implement new demand from clients as they grow.
Services are also able to take advantage of scale. Through strategic partnerships, and in-house filament production, the material costs of parts are less than if a startup were to source materials for their small projects.
The last advantage of services are the processes. 3D Printing is all these companies do. They are not creating a product and creating a smaller company inside the company to create that product. Since services are so focused they can implement the best in the industry hardware and automation, and ensure it is all operating at peak capacity.
This is what Slant 3D does. We produce 3D printed parts at scale so that companies don't have to. The same way injection molding services produce injection molded parts so that companies don't have to.
High Volume, Production 3D Printing is able to produce thousands of parts per week, eliminating warehousing and providing more flexibility in the design and production of parts. But there are several misconceptions and great abilities that people overlook.
3D Printing is often considered a slow process for making parts. 1 part at a time that is true. That is why we deploy hundreds of 3D printers, in our printing farm, all working in parallel so that even though a single part might take an hour to print, we are still producing hundreds of parts per hour.
Capacity constraints can sometimes slow down production of orders, just as with any process. But we are constantly building out more capacity so that is mitigated as much as possible.
FDM 3D printing has a decided advantage over all other 3D printing processes. We are able to to create any pantone required by the client in our plastics. Other processes are generally limited to black, gray, or white. If you want a specific color it is exorbitantly expensive. FDM printing allows us to create a part in any color of the rainbow, and everything in between.
FDM is one of the most versatile 3D printing processes created. If a material can be put into a thermoplastic filament then it can be printed with our machines. For this reason we are able to manufacture parts with materials ranging from simple Bio-plastics and ABS up to Carbon Fiber Nylons. We have even started work with metal printing which will allow us to print parts and then sinter them to create complex metal parts.
Out own material production capabilities also allow us to continue to experiment and develop new materials and mixes. So if you need a plastic we can make that plastic
3D Printed parts are often considered to be weaker than injection molded or machined parts. It is true that the properties of a part vary based on the direction of loading, based on the orientation during printing. This property is refereed to as anisotropic.
But this issue is vastly over-stated and often just wrong. The reason it is so prevalent is that designers have been attempting to apply traditional design principles to the 3D printing process. That is the equivalent of trying to make an aluminum plane the way you would make a wooden one. Similar end goal, very different details.
If an additive part is appropriately designed for the process then it can meet or exceed the performance of traditionally manufactured parts. And we have a team of engineers who are standing by to help you optimize your designs for the process.
Slant 3D has also developed new methods of 3D printing parts which reduces the anisotropic nature of the pieces. In many cases we can achieve 90-95% the strength of an injection molded part the part in the Z direction using additive processes.
This is another common misconception. The idea that 3D printing is 5-10x more expensive than other methods at scale.
Large scale 3D printing is generally less expensive than injection molding up to 20-50000 units just on the savings of tooling. Long term, the on demand nature of additive can make production cheaper than other large volume processes because warehousing costs are reduced which can constitute 10-25% of the cost of a part over its production lifetime.
Then there is the traditional understanding that 3D printing is cheaper than molding at low volumes just because of the savings in tooling. In this situation 3D printing can be 5-10x less expensive than molding.
Hopefully we have cleared up an fogginess about the capabilities of 3D printing and the parts that is creates. Is it a perfect process for everything? No. No process is. But it does offer a lot of advantages in cost and supply flexibility.
If you are interested in getting a quote for your project with production 3D printing please contact us and one of our engineers will get in contact with you immediatly.