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Jumping Into 3D Printing?
Expert Says to Proceed with Care

Additive Manufacturing (AM)—more commonly known as 3D Printing—has revolutionized the design and production of parts. Curtis Ingleton from GeniusIE shares some tips for anyone thinking about the benefits of 3D Printing for their next project.


3 D Printing has been called the solution without a problem, the birth of the fourth industrial revolution & the future of manufacturing.  It allows us to create designs with increasing complexity, incorporate more key aspects of user experience and even produce the first end-use units of a given part.

But with so many positive things to say about the technology, it is important to recognize that with such powerful new tools comes a great many obstacles in successful adoption. This article is aimed at helping anyone considering picking up 3D Printing for use in a small business or at home.

 

The Chicken or The Egg? Design for Manufacturing & the 3D Printer

The design freedom enabled by additive manufacturing can be as great a curse as it is a benefit. Whereas before our design paradigm was limited by our production technology, now the challenge has become pushing our conceptual notions of what it actually means to design.

Engineers have demands beyond functionality. Convenience, durability & elements of customization have taken the lead as key indicators of design effectiveness. In a world where designs can be accessed freely — and often produced freely — companies need a sophisticated battery of tools to create impressive work for their clients.

If you’re considering setting up a 3D Printing business, before investing in equipment to produce parts, it is supremely important to ensure you have the facilities to ethically and effectively do so. Start by identifying the precise industries you intend to support, choosing software that serves them in-design, and truly listening to your clients to understand their needs.

If you are 3D Printing for yourself, remember that a part printed from design is infinitely more rewarding than a part downloaded from the web.
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Cost Benefit Analysis of 3D Printing

If you attend any of the hundreds of Additive Manufacturing meetings, conferences, expos and other events, one thing becomes very clear: different machines are capable of different things.

There are many different processes and innovations in 3D Printing that lend themselves well to specific applications. Like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two models of 3D Printer are equally capable in all circumstances.

Buying a cheap printer often means making cheap parts, and cheap parts mean lower profits, reduced client confidence & limited repeat business.

Of course, if you are just getting into 3D Printing, your budget might make your decision for you. But as important as machine price might be, remember that it isn’t the actual equipment you are investing in, but rather the parts that come off of the machine.  Buying a cheap printer often means making cheap parts, and any business operator of 3D technology will tell you that cheap parts mean lower profits, reduced client confidence and limited repeat business.

If you’re a home user, consider every failed part to be a coffee you won’t buy, time and sweat spent trying to reconfigure your process, and another piece of waste plastic to add to the trillions which litter our planet.

 

For the Love of the Game!

Generally speaking, if you don’t want to think about each facet of each model – 3D Printing might not be for you. Companies venturing into additive manufacturing have risen and fallen in the span of a few months having thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars away for one simple reason: disinterest in their craft.

3D Printing is not for the weak willed. Having an attachment to the “coolness factor” or other perceived benefits of additive manufacturing can open the door, but patience and dedication to the details of the craft are going to determine your success with a 3D printing venture.  A refined mastery of the intricacies and details in additive manufacturing processes is necessary for success and will require a significant investment of your time and resources.

If you either don’t have the time or the desire to learn hundreds of new concepts, 3D Printing will quickly become the bane of your existence.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; Michelangelo wasn’t a bandwagoneer. Passion and willingness to learn are huge barriers in picking up this technology. If you either don’t have the time or the desire to learn hundreds of new concepts, 3D Printing will quickly become the bane of your existence. Consider that you will need to either take formal training or spend hundreds of hours trolling the web, scouring blogs, forums and articles to learn how to get what you want out of your machine.

If that seems like too much work, take heed: there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses worldwide that will print your designs as a service. In the same way that SaaS offerings are great for those who can’t code, 3D Printing as a service is a great way to avoid the highly technical, often troublesome pitfalls of additive manufacturing.

 

Garbage In, Garbage Out

This one is easy: racecars don’t take low-grade gas from the pump. The better the material you use, the greater the likelihood that your part will turn out.

This doesn’t necessarily mean spending $165 USD per spool, but it does mean you get what you pay for. If your part pricing is on par with the big producers in your community, you should be willing to spend on materials. Those in the know are aware of the margins associated with 3D Printing and you can definitely afford it.

If you are a home user who appreciates quality you should also be willing to shell out on feedstock. There’s nothing worse than beholding your newest gadget, gizmo or pretty thing and staring at the flaw as it glares right back at you.

 

It Takes A Village: The 3D Printing Community Is Growing

One way or another, you will need to reach out to the 3D Printing world to help you get your parts produced. Like in any business, it helps to have paid work in the pipeline before investment in equipment is justified.

A network of clients and like-minded technicians is crucial to success in the AM realm. Having all the knowledge in the world won’t bring business in alone and having a bunch of clients won’t keep you working long if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Home users will find themselves relying on the recommendations and advice of their 3D Gurus to yield the parts they want, as they want them.  Find the networks that appeal to the type of work you are doing and contribute to them as much as you can. The more you are out there with your ideas and theories, the more others will share with you.

Having explored all of this, if you put in the required time and resources, you will find that 3D Printing can be a most rewarding practice on every level. Careful planning, building a network and finding the right pricing models will lead to success nine times out of ten. Do your homework, make friends and keep your brain turned on – you’ll do just fine!

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Curtis Ingleton

Curtis is the founder and President of Genius IE: an engineering consortium focused on Additive Manufacturing (AM) Technology. He is a trained Additive Manufacturing Specialist and experienced 3D Print technician. When he isn’t designing or writing curriculum he’s likely found in the bush or on a boat.
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