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22 August 2018 14:03
6 Ways to Reduce the Cost of 3D Printing
One of the main benefits of 3D printing is that it offers a fast and cost-effective way to produce prototypes and one-off end parts. But when it comes to the 3D printing process itself, there are always a few ways to reduce the cost of production. From considering material costs to the design of your part, some aspects of the production process may end up costing more than expected.
Today, we’ll share a few tips on how to optimise these factors and keep the overall cost of your 3D printing production to a minimum.
1. Optimise your design
With 3D printing, a successful print always starts with the design. A well-conceptualised design will not only help reduce production costs, but it’ll also significantly help avoid printing failures, maximising the chances of success.
One way to cut down on production costs in the design stage is by eliminating any support structures and rafts where possible. While certain projects will require support structures, eliminating them where they are not needed will allow you to save valuable printing and post-processing time as well as on material. Experimenting with the orientation of your part is the best way to minimise the amount of supports needed, while splitting a part into two or more parts to be assembled later is another option. Rafts, which are typically used in Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) to prevent warping, can also be reduced or replaced with skirts and brims to reduce the amount of material used.
It is also important to avoid sharp corners and long flat surfaces as they can lead to residual stress, resulting in defective parts, particularly when 3D printing with metal. Most 3D printing design software also allow you to explore complex organic shapes like honeycombs, all of which will help cut material costs of 3D printing.
2. Choose the right materials
The choice of materials for 3D printing is expanding rapidly, including unique materials developed specifically for additive manufacturing. However, along with the wide range of choice and material suppliers comes a huge variation in the price of materials for 3D printing. Some materials will be more costly due to their strong mechanical, physical or chemical properties, for example. To save on material costs, it’s therefore important to consider the application of your project to determine which material to choose.
Currently, some of the most cost-effective materials for prototyping and some end parts are plastics (photopolymers and thermoplastic filaments). However, when using 3D printing for demanding applications, such as aircraft components, high-performance thermoplastics and metals should be considered. Some high-performance thermoplastics, like PEEK, can even be used instead of metals, providing offering a cost-effective alternative.
3. Consider outsourcing or 3D printing in-house
Whether you choose to outsource your 3D printing projects or develop your own, internal 3D printing system will have a major impact on your bottom line. In some cases, you may need to spend in order to save: for example, if your business requires frequent prototyping or will produce small batches of end parts, it may be more cost-effective in the long run to invest in your own 3D printing operation. While industrial AM machines do require an initial upfront investment, the costs should be mediated in the long term — and there are a lot of budget-friendly options on the market, depending on your requirements.
Alternatively, when outsourcing to a 3D printing bureau, you can take advantage of the high level of expertise, avoid upfront investment and save on the costs of ongoing maintenance.
To decide which is the best option for you, check out our guide to 3D Printing: In-House vs Outsourcing.
4. Explore lightweighting
There are other ways to optimise the amount of material used during production. For example, for FDM, changing the percentage infill rate is a great way to both lower the material costs and speed up the printing process. If your part doesn’t need to be completely solid, you can try using different infill patterns like zig-zag or cross-hatch patterns.
For most 3D printing processes, lightweighting can also be achieved with advanced tools like topology optimisation and generative design. Based on mathematical algorithms and iterative design solutions, these tools automatically optimise the distribution of material, enabling you to create lightweight parts that retain their strength.
5. Hollow your parts
The cost of 3D printing parts is significantly impacted by the amount of material required. If you don’t require your parts to be completely solid, hollowing your parts is one way to reduce the amount of material used, and therefore the cost of production.
Hollowing means that the inside of your part will be empty, and can be done using dedicated STL or 3D modelling software. When choosing this option, don’t forget you’ll need to add holes to your design to be sure that the sintered material can be easily removed. You’ll also need to retain the required minimum wall thickness to ensure the structure of your part.
6. Automate your production
For 3D printing production to be truly cost-effective, you’ll need to ensure the reliability and repeatability of your process. Automation is the ideal solution for this, as key tasks along the 3D printing process, from file preparation to post-processing steps, can be automated. For example, workflow management software, like AMFG, can reduce production costs by minimising the need for manual labour and increasing efficiency along the process. In addition to this, automation software offers printability analysis tools, which easily spot and repair any issues in STL files, thereby optimising them for production.
Reducing the cost of 3D printing
Technological and material advancements are making 3D printing more accessible than ever, enabling manufacturers to achieve more flexibility and agility in their production. Using one or all of the tips above will help you get the most out of the technology — and achieve profitable 3D printing results along the way.