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Building a 3D Printer Farm vs Using a Production 3D Printing Service

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

An in-house 3D printer farm capable of producing <500 parts per week.

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.

A Single Node of the Slant 3D Printing farm capable of producing 10,000's of parts per week.

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