Industrial 3D Printers: Ten Keys to a Successful Purchase

3D printers, accessories, and software can cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Yet, many buyers do not conduct a thorough pre-purchase evaluation. Our ten keys minimize the risk and maximize the profitability of your next 3D printer purchase. 

The answer to your next 3D printer purchase sounds simple: Begin with the End in Mind. But, of course, knowing your market and what your customers want is a must and provides directional insight.

Identify the 3D printing technology and manufacturers that may meet your needs after you know what you will be making. From there, identifying the 3D printer model that suits your needs should be simple. 

But it is not, far from it. 

Too many buyers fail to conduct a thorough pre-purchase evaluation of what is often a mission-critical piece of equipment that does not have a backup. Unfortunately, I find this to be when the buyer has not invested in the proposed 3D print technology before, although experienced 3D printing professionals can fall into the same trap.

I use an extensive process to ensure clients purchasing industrial 3D printers make the right choice for their business and customers. In a nutshell, the process involves ten keys to success:

User Expectations

  • Customers: Understand what the customer, whether for-pay or in-house, expects in terms of performance, durability, and price. Are they expecting an exact duplicate of a conventionally manufactured part? Or are they open to improvements made with design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) techniques?
  • Production, design, and sales staff: Consider the changes your personnel will experience as they transition from existing manufacturing equipment to 3D printing. Do salespeople know how to sell the output, designers to create printable files, operators to run the 3D printer? Is it easy to use, has a straightforward operator interface, and integrated workflow tools?

30 Years of 3D Printing at BMW Group – DfAM Water Pump Impeller

3D Printers, DfAM and Racing
Photo Source: Press.BMWGroup.com

Capabilities

  • Are other users successfully producing parts similar to your typical customers’ applications such as aerospace or automotive parts, consumer goods, medical implants and prosthetics, or military components?

Specifications & Features

  • Build volume: Do the width, depth, and height dimensions meet your needs while providing adequate strength and durability?
  • Materials: Does the range meet your present and projected requirements?
  • Speed: How does your current manufacturing time compare to the 3D printer’s projected throughput, including set-up and clean-up, cool down, and post-processing time?
  • Part detail: Can the 3D printer make parts with the resolution, detail size and depth, hole and thread precision, dimensional accuracy, wall thickness and other features that your customers require?

Practicality

  • Ease of use: How involved is the 3D printer’s preparation, operation, cleaning, and changeover? Do you have staff who can quickly learn a new production process and, if not, what training will be provided by the manufacturer?
  • Automation: Are the material loading, part off-loading, and cleaning processes industrialized and to what degree? For example, does automation include transfer from the 3D printer to subsequent treatment or machining operations?

Software

  • Design and operation: Does the 3D printer work with the AMF, OBJ, STL and 3MF formats?
  • Workflow: Does the vendor enable integration of its 3D printer into your digital order processing, design, and production workflow, including supply chain integration, spare part production, and costs?

Facility Requirements

  • Space and utilities: Do you have the space needed to safely and efficiently produce 3D printed and post-processed parts in current and expected volumes? What will the fire marshal say about your facility? Or, as I put it, Is A Bomb Shelter Really Necessary?

Quality

  • Comparison: Does the 3D printed part meet or exceed the quality of your conventionally manufactured parts and products? Given their intended use, do they have to? 
  • Measured results: Do the parts shrink or warp? Is surface roughness adequate or require post-processing? Are there thermally induced stresses? Do the results measure up to your proprietary quality assurance standards?

Vendor Expertise

  • History: Has the vendor been providing 3D print hardware, software, or materials for long? How large is their customer base? Is their equipment used by 3D print service bureaus? Have they produced manufacturing machinery and intellectual property in a related field that translates into productive and profitable 3D printers?
  • Distribution: How does the provider sell and service its products? Are the 3D printers, spare parts, and service personnel readily available near your manufacturing location(s)?
  • Pre-sales support: Is the vendor open to producing your parts, including post-processing, to your quality expectations with your personnel present? Does it offer a comprehensive price estimation tool that you can customize with your internal production and overhead costs?

Customer Service 

  • Design: Does the vendor provide tips that improve printability, reduce production time, enhance finished part (cosmetic) appearance and minimize total cost? Do they offer DfAM design ideas that enhance your conventionally manufactured parts?
  • Marketing: Are comprehensive, multi-media marketing and sales materials available for you to use with your customers and prospects?

Affordability

  • Price: Is the list price for equipment and software comparable to other vendor’s 3D printers? Are discounts available? Will the 3D printer ship “FOB Your Dock” (ownership transfers after you receive the device)?
  • TCO: More important than price, what is the total cost of ownership, including facility modifications, post-processing equipment, special personal protective equipment, and negotiated hardware, software, and material purchase prices?

Advice

I have evaluated, justified, implemented, and consulted on numerous capital equipment purchases over the years, including ones that cost several hundred thousand dollars. Regardless of size, every one of them put my career – and my employer’s business – on the line. 

There is no greater satisfaction for people like you and me, who work on big, important purchases, than to have the equipment up and running successfully from Day One. So let me know how I can help. 

Feel free to ask – there is no obligation. Really.

Let us help you look outside the box – Whether you are a user who is learning about 3D printing, someone evaluating an investment in additive manufacturing or a vendor developing new products and services, we are here to assist you. Schedule an insight inquiry call now at

https://calendly.com/pete-basiliere.