Both companies and individual users, deciding to involve additive technology in production processes, must answer one important question – buy your own 3D printer or use the services of external companies? Of course, it’s impossible to look for one universal solution that will be suitable for all companies. Such a decision is conditioned by a number of factors that should be taken into account, so before making it, it is worth asking yourself some key questions about the specifics of our needs.

We often emphasize that additive technologies save time and money. For enterprises, the implementation of 3D printing methods is associated with a real revolution in production processes and logistics in the company. However, before a company decides to introduce additive technologies, it is worth checking what solutions are possible to apply. Currently, the company can choose:

  • offer of a service company – the advantage of such a solution is the possibility of using various, also industrial, 3D printing technologies, without having to buy the device; an external service provider is a good option if you need to test or run small lots; it is worth noting that in the case of a service company, logistics time and costs should be added to the implementation time, which do not occur in the case of on-site production; the solution is estimated to be cost effective when considering producing less than 10 pieces per month (especially in custom 3D printing technologies)
  • own desktop 3D printer – an ideal solution for companies that need a device for rapid prototype production or the production of custom components; the device works well for creating new iterations of new products and production batches (the farm of several 3D printers allows production of up to 200 pieces per week); the purchase of your own device, however, largely determines the specifics of production in the organization and gives access to only one manufacturing technology
  • own industrial-grade 3D printer – it is a choice when precision and highest quality of produced elements are the priority; these devices give the opportunity to work with engineering materials that require stable working conditions; own device can significantly reduce the cost of implementing projects requiring unit production or low-serial non-standard components, despite the fact that it requires an initial, quite high investment.

When choosing between the above options, consider the following:

Costs

For your own device, you must have an initial investment in the device and consumables. Equipment prices may vary – often it is also necessary to purchase peripheral devices, e.g. washers for flushing support material or a chamber with HEPA filter, which is recommended for devices working in the office environment. In addition, industrial 3D printers often require professional service of people with technical knowledge, so when buying your own device, remember also about the necessary training.

If you outsource the service, no initial investment. Using the services of a custom 3D printing company is a solution suitable for users who evaluate the possibility of implementing 3D printing technology to assess their effectiveness for their applications. It is worth noting, however, that by paying for the 3D printing service we can be almost sure of the quality of the elements. It also saves us the frustration that sometimes goes hand in hand with independent support for 3D printers and 3D printing from particularly demanding materials.

Lead time

For 3D printers in the company, both desktop and professional, production times are comparable. For professional devices, you can use the high-performance print modes available, among others in double-head 3D printers, which have the possibility of 3D printing from two independent heads.

When it comes to deadlines for the execution of third-party orders, they are sometimes distant in time, which depends, among others on the number of orders currently carried out by the service office or logistics issues. If the project requires quick implementation or it is necessary to perform many iterations of the solution, you should think about buying your own device.

Availability

Having your own device, you can use it at any time of your choice, 3D printing any number of elements. Operation of desktop 3D printers is usually simple and intuitive – plug & play devices are usually user-friendly enough that they can also be used by people without technical knowledge. In the case of industrial 3D printers, a person with technical knowledge trained in the use of the device is usually required to operate them.

Summary:

Service companyOwn desktop 3D printerOwn industrial 3D printer
Lead timedays – up to weeks24-48h24-48h
The cost of entry0,00 $2000 – 2500 $40000 $ and more
Maintenance costsnonebasic repairs to keep the machine workingdevice inspections, costs resulting from repairs
Accessibilitydepends on the number of orders carried out by the company and the number of elements to be madethe possibility of quick production of elements inside the organization, no need to wait for other orders or logisticsthe ability to quickly produce components – most often requires the involvement of a person with technical knowledge about the device

Questions that will help in making the right decision for a particular user regarding the choice of a solution variant:

  • what budget can you spend on implementing 3D printing technology?
  • does the company have specialized equipment necessary for the proper operation of the 3D printer?
  • what type of details will be produced as part of ongoing projects?
  • is the versatility of design and application important for the specifics of the implemented project?
  • specificity of implemented elements – is more than one 3D printing technology required
  • what quantity and how often do 3D prints have to be made?
  • is the lead time important? Is the short time of additive production a priority?

The article was created on the basis of a report developed by BCN3D “3D Printing In-house or Outsource? The Definitive Guide. ” Its full version can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.

Magdalena Przychodniak
Editor-in-Chief of the 3D Printing Center. A biomedical engineer following the latest reports on bioprinting and 3D printing in modern medicine.

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