You’ve probably heard all the reasons why companies are increasingly relying on additive manufacturing.
For starters, there’s the ability to build high-performance parts with complex geometries that were previously impossible. From a strategic standpoint, additive manufacturing offers safer, simpler supply chains with faster lead times. However, one of the main reasons why 3D printing continues growing is quite simple: cost.
The different additive manufacturing technologies for polymers, such as Multi Jet Fusion, Fused Deposition Modeling, and Selective Laser Sintering, offer enormous cost benefits in everything to end-use parts. That’s because there are no costs from tooling. Also, you can print complex parts at no additional cost compared to simple designs.
Even with additive manufacturing’s cost benefits, there are still ways to further reduce costs without sacrificing quality. This article gives four tips, techniques, and strategies to cut costs when 3D printing with polymers.
1. Reduce Volume By Choosing the Right Infills
The main cost driver in 3D printing is volume.
The more materials your design requires, the more you can expect to pay. While polymers are significantly cheaper than metal, costs can still add up quickly. That’s why designing to reduce volume is so important.
One way to do this is to design using the best-suited infill pattern. These patterns affect the strength and amount of material used for the part. For example, a honeycomb or diagonal pattern might use only about 10% of the material as a solid infill while still offering the strength your part needs. However, the structural integrity of your part is always critical, so keep that in mind when considering infills.
2. Select the Perfect Material
A wide range of materials offer significantly different properties – and costs.
Some of these materials are known for their toughness, rigidity, or high resolution. Other key properties include flexibility, biocompatibility, and much more. Once you know exactly what materials are best for your project, you can choose between the most cost-efficient options.
Knowing which material to use can be a challenge, as the number of polymer materials for additive manufacturing has exploded in the past years. The MakerVerse platform offers more than a dozen polymers across several 3D printing technologies.
With so many material options, it’s important to find the specific material with the best compromise between the required properties and costs. To help you choose, check out our tech material advisor. Here, you can filter between all the materials based on the required properties you need. You can find a detailed data sheet for each material in the results. Feel also free to ask our experts if you are not sure about the best material.
Below is a quick snapshot comparing the prices of the different materials on the MakerVerse platform.
3. Understand Quanity
With additive manufacturing, producing smaller batches of units is significantly cheaper than conventional manufacturing. That’s because additive manufacturing eliminates the need for tooling.
With the cost of tool design and tool production out of the equation, manufacturing costs per unit remain almost constant – as seen in the below graph. With the lower upfront costs and fast lead times, additive manufacturing has become especially popular for prototyping, tooling, jigs, fixtures, and on-demand end-use parts.
This graph also shows that as expensive as conventional manufacturing can initially be, the cost per unit drops when more units are produced. Maybe your lower production numbers ensure that additive manufacturing is always the ideal technology. However, this chart shows it’s essential to know when that cost curve might shift in the other direction. When that’s about to happen, it’s best to be prepared and rethink the ideal production method for your project.
4. Get Near-Real-Time Prices on Iterations
Costs shouldn’t be a black box in additive manufacturing. Transparency is key.
With MakerVerse, it’s possible to upload a design and get an instant quote. When you change the different options related to materials, finishes, and more, prices are immediately updated. If you change the design, it can easily be re-uploaded for a new instant quote.
All this makes it easy to optimize your project’s costs.
5. Fully Adapt Your Designs for 3D Printing
The best designs are often the most efficient.
If you can minimize printing time, only use supports when needed, and print the maximum amount of parts per print job, you’ll be able to reduce costs significantly. This is particularly useful for powder bed technologies, such as Selective Laser Sintering and Multi Jet Fusion.
When designing, try minimizing the bounding boxes of individual parts and maximizing the packing density in the build volume. This way, you can print more parts per job and reduce costs.
If you have a hollow part with a lot of dead volume, it’s possible in some cases to nest other parts within the design Or, you can split up some parts and join them after to make the space needed to nest components inside each other during the print.
Additive manufacturing is rapidly innovating, with new technologies, materials, and developments to consider. To control your costs completely, stay on top of all the trends and take advantage of any relevant innovations.
In the meantime, we invite you to use the MakerVerse platform to get instant cost insights.