Additive manufacturing costs Why 3D printed components can be very expensive

From Johannes Lutz

At one time or another, everyone has been shocked by how expensive 3D-printed components can be. Hopes were high that the 'new' technology would also halve the cost of the requested parts. Find out how the high prices come about and how you can reduce them.

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Anyone who wants to use 3D printing for existing components should remain flexible in their choice of materials and processes.
Anyone who wants to use 3D printing for existing components should remain flexible in their choice of materials and processes.
(Source: 3D Industrie GmbH)

This 3D printing article was created in cooperation with our author Johannes Lutz from 3D Industrie. Are you interested in more topics from the world of 3D printing? Then listen to the German-language 3D printing podcast by Johannes Lutz.

From consulting for 3D printing I know the often long faces when the component exceeds the price expectation. People thought 3D printing was the one bright idea that would suddenly make everything cheaper. This is because the additive manufacturing industry naturally advertises fast delivery times, which, depending on the technology, can actually be achieved. In addition, cost savings are propagated that are so high that one can hardly believe it.

The error in thinking, however, is that the component is not simply copied using the new technology and thus becomes cheaper, faster and more innovative. Below you will find the underlying 'homework' that needs to be done if the component is really to be available faster, cheaper and more innovative.

  • 1. Inflexible geometry: 3D printing thrives on weight savings, avoidance of material accumulation as well as functional design, suitable interfaces and the idea of leaving out everything that is not necessary. Printing time and costs can be more than halved by redesigning the component. That often means going back to the CAD programme to reduce costs further.
  • 2. Incorrect 3D printing manufacturing process:Anyone who tries to copy the component exactly with 3D printing will also try to use the same material as in the original part. The material then determines the type of printing process. This should be avoided at all costs. Show more flexibility in the choice of material. This increases the possibilities of finding a 'cheaper' 3D printing manufacturing process.
  • 3. Wrong material:If an existing component made of steel, which serves simple functions such as positioning, can be printed with engineering plastic, a material change should be made. So why 3D print the metal component? The component should be designed with the appropriate material for the application in mind.
  • 4. Post-processing: Just about every 3D-printed component that is removed from the machine has to be reworked in some way. Powder, liquids or support structures have to be removed from the component. Blasting, compacting or prior cooling of the entire print build space are also part of the process. After this, the component has still not been finished with ink, varnish or sandpaper. The rule here is, if you cut down on post-processing through clever design and material selection, the cost will be lower.
  • 5. Bossiness and lack of mental flexibility: There are enough components in our industry that could be made of plastic instead of metal. And this without 'weak point construction', i.e. that no breakage or failure of the component occurs due to the choice of material and the construction for handling. However, people still cling to old hardened patterns of thinking. They prefer to try to be right instead of asking themselves, what do I have to do to make it work?

High prices aren't a necessity

High prices for 3D printed components do not have to occur if the right measures are taken in advance. Talk to your trusted 3D printing service provider. It could save you a lot of money and time. A 3D printing service provider would never print a part and then have to print it again because of a wrong recommendation.