5+ Strategic Considerations to Maximize Your 3D Printer Investment

| The Essentium Team

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white and blue machines in factory.

For the fourth year in a row, Essentium sponsored a third-party study to get industry feedback on the present and future use of industrial additive manufacturing (AM.) One of the biggest takeaways from the latest report was the strong confidence in the financial potential for 3D printing. Ninety six percent of manufacturing managers and executives surveyed agreed that the 3D printer investment could save billions in production costs once the technology matures. This number is up from 90% reported in 2020 and 2019 and 88% in 2018.  

This upward trend suggests that 3D printing at scale has the potential for enormous financial value. However, many companies have not seen a significant reduction in cost as they  incorporate this technology into their operations. In fact, when asked to identify obstacles to adoption, the top challenge cited was the high cost of incorporating AM technology (45%,) followed by various other reasons mentioned in the 2021 Trends in 3D Printing at Scale Report. In this time of innovation and growth for AM, how can manufacturers protect their investment in this vital technology? 

Future Proofing Your 3D Printer Investment 
graph comparing 2021 and 2020 responses for maximizing 3d printer investment

When manufacturing stakeholders described what considerations are required to future-proof their investment in 3D printing at scale, the primary strategy mentioned was confirming integration with existing machinery and work in practices on the factory floor (50%.) Other considerations were making sure employees acquire specific design knowledge and techniques (39%), helping finance teams develop a deeper understanding of cost and value (38%), re-educating procurement teams on buying materials for 3D printing rather than assets of components (35%), affirming the long-term availability of materials (33%), and more. 

1. Ensure 3D printing integrates with existing machinery and work practices

The primary strategic consideration listed was ensuring that new technology integrates with existing systems. Though advances in 3D printing technology have reduced costs for many manufacturers, there are still countless applications where traditional manufacturing techniques like injection molding, machining, and others are still best. Additionally, replacing machinery and work practices increases cost and often requires downtime for equipment set up and worker training. The sweet spot for future-proofing your 3D printer investment is adopting it into existing workflows and using it to innovate. 

2. Ensure designers and engineers acquire specific DFAM knowledge and techniques 

The second highest consideration was to make sure that designers and engineers understand design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) and how to apply it to applications. One of the mistakes designers and engineers make is printing parts designed for traditional manufacturing. This can result in wasted material, failed prints, and long print times. Using DfAM techniques allows manufacturers to print more complex geometries, use less material, and reduce print time. 

3. Help finance teams develop a deeper understanding of cost and value implications 

graph of business drivers for 3d printer investment

When stakeholders listed the main business drivers for the adoption of 3D printing for large-scale production, 24% listed lower production costs. The financial impact of 3D printing can be more than just reducing lead time for jigs and fixtures. The impact can also: 

  • Reduce molding costs 
  • Speed prototyping 
  • Allow rapid iteration 
  • Reduce inventory of raw materials and finished goods 
  • Eliminate waste 
  • Reduce shipping expenses and delivery windows 

 When finance teams grasp the true impact that 3D printing can have, companies can start to move the needle. 

4. Educate procurement teams on the cost comparison of buying 3D printing materials vs.  manufacturers assets

As procurement teams look at the cost comparison of buying 3D printing materials vs. manufactured assets, many make the mistake of looking only at operational expenses (OpEx). When comparing OpEx expenses like wages, material, and repair, the cost of material vs. assets might not be different. When procurement teams consider both OpEx and capital expenses (CapEx) like asset storage, tool creation, etc., AM starts to move the cost curve. 

5. Ensure long-term availability of 3D printing materials 

In this evolving industry, vendor lock-in is the enemy of progress. When manufacturers are locked in to specific materials, they are at the mercy of their vendor’s supply chain. If material is out of stock or discontinued, manufacturers may not be able to print specific applications. 

Essentium intentionally built an open ecosystem for the HSE 3D Printing Platform. This system gives customers control over their innovations regardless of supply chain issues or material offerings. 

6. Mitigate supply chain risks with local production 

The ability to deliver at scale from a single AM site gives manufacturing the power to mitigate supply chain risks. Essentium benefitted from this consideration in 2020 when COVID-19 turned the global supply chain on its head. Using local production, the HSE 3D Printing Platform, and industrial-grade materials, Essentium designed, prototyped, produced, and distributed direct-manufactured masks in a matter of weeks.  

When comparing responses year over year, there was an increase this year in efforts to educate finance and procurement teams. As more professionals in each part of the manufacturing industry see the business case for 3D printing at scale, AM will continue to grow into a revolutionizing technology for industry 4.0. 

For a closer look at these findings, download Essentium’s 2021 Trends in 3D Printing at Scale report. 

 

Essentium, Inc. provides industrial 3D printing solutions that are disrupting traditional manufacturing processes by bringing product strength and production speed together, at scale, with a no-compromise engineering material set. Essentium manufactures and delivers innovative industrial 3D printers and materials enabling the world’s top manufacturers to bridge the gap between 3D printing and machining and embrace the future of additive manufacturing. 

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