Does the claim such as “additive manufacturing is always profitable” is entirely correct? The answer to this question should be easy to establish, but it isn’t. As we know, production depends on many factors, not directly related to the process but affected the final cost. While determining the projected budget for separate projects, we always use an individual approach. Based on many years of industry observations though, we can recognise particular regularities and precisely determine what and in which case is noticeably cheaper.

Let’s see in which cases the additive manufacturing is competitive to conventional production processes (e.g. plastic injection). The very first analyse shows that marginal costs (variable unit costs without acquisition/depreciation costs) in additive manufacturing remain on a low level and mostly independent of the number of units. On the other hand, marginal costs in conventional production are incredibly high for low-volume production and decrease while the number of units increases.

In the above example, we covered only the costs of production, and as we know, there is an area of ​​activities associated with the production as well, which has a significant influence on the arising costs. This area includes all the costs that usually are higher in traditional methods, e.g. preparation costs, depreciation and production line changes.

The total costs of additive manufacturing, from very low at the beginning, increase linearly with the number of pieces produced. While in conventional production unit costs from relatively high decrease with the increasing quantity of units.

Is this the only point of view, the entrepreneur should be conscious? Shouldn’t the serial production company be interested in 3d print technology implementation? What kind of development perspective should the entrepreneur take? The conclusions from the above considerations regarding the competitiveness of 3D printing are that additive 3D production is more beneficial, the smaller the series of produced elements is less competitive only when mass production is involved.

There are different advantages for them that we have to point out.

The space for 3d printing technology for unit production differs from the scope of areas dedicated to serial production – while maintaining the priority of competitiveness, of course. What perspective should the entrepreneur take? First of all, having manufacturing technology in 3D printing technology opens up new possibilities. We can launch any new idea without unnecessary acceptance or preparation processes. It is enough that the concept is developed, reflected in the technical drawing and submitted for printing. It is not necessary to prepare production lines, create new forms, run decision-making processes any more. None of these very time-consuming and usually involving the management staff, and thus expensive procedures are needed.

Besides, when creating new products that are still at the concept stage and require prototype preparation and later their modification, the costs are even incomparably lower. Enough to say the process of achieving the final product shorten several times.

In the case of small-lot production, 3D additive manufacturing is also much more time and cost-optimal than traditional methods.

We shouldn’t forget about the possibilities of the 3d printing technology to support production processes by creating spare parts or other tools as elements of production lines, e.g. handles, guides, measures or mechanism elements. We talk about initially plastic elements and metal ones, which can be replaced with plastic printed counterparts, thus gaining lightness. Having a wide range of materials at our disposal, we can accurately adjust the properties of the printed part to meet the requirements of the original one.

As we have shown, by investing in 3D additive technology, besides meeting your primary needs, you can use it in many different fields of enterprise production.

On taking the first decision of additive technologies investment, one of the above areas (prototyping, low-volume production or support for production processes) underlies. Companies consider all pros and cons in the context of this goal. However, it is worth taking the opportunity to expand the fields of 3D technology usage. It can turn out that applying this technology among our company will not only reduce the time and costs of performing projects. It can also enable the implementation of it on additional tasks, perhaps not yet implemented within the enterprise.

The article was prepared by our partner – VSHAPER

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