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Is 3D Printing a Good Investment?

Is 3D Printing a Good Investment?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has made a huge impact on a number of major industries over the past few years. This technology has made it easier for manufacturing companies to produce custom parts, build prototypes quickly, and promote innovations. 

The applications for 3D printing are numerous, from creating affordable custom prosthetics to generating face shields and respiratory masks when there is a shortage. Not only that, this technology has reduced operational costs and turnaround times

However, despite the huge benefits brought about by adopting this technology, a lot of companies are still hesitant about investing capital in 3D printing. The chief reasons are the cost of purchasing a 3D printer and the cost of maintaining it. It's a valid concern. 

Industrial 3D printers aren't cheap. 3D printing materials can be costly too. That's not all. Preventative maintenance is another expense. It also requires some technical know-how which, of course, has its own cost. It's easy to see why investing in 3D printing can seem intimidating to companies.

Is 3D Printing Worth It for Your Business?

As we've already mentioned, 3D printing is a process that has a lot of useful applications. It can be a huge asset for any business, big or small. But it also comes with a great deal of expense. If you want to determine whether that expense is worth it, you'll need to answer several questions first.

The first question you need to ask yourself is: Why do you want a 3D printer?

  • to lower the cost of prototyping and tooling?
  • to manufacture spare parts on-demand?
  • to make your overall production process more efficient?
  • to speed up your product design phase?
  • to keep your design developments and intellectual property production away from the eyes of your competitors?
  • to produce unique parts that have attributes that are difficult to manufacture any other way?
  • to build custom parts and/or products for your customers?

In short, you need to clarify what problem or opportunity is being addressed by the adoption of 3D printing. 

The next question is: What are the short- and long-term benefits that the business will gain by investing in 3D printing? 

  • faster time-to-market for new products? 
  • Improve the design performance of your current products?
  • increase customer satisfaction?
  • streamline your supply chain? 
  • lower operational costs?

The third question to ask is: What are the total costs of adopting 3D printing?

  • how much is the 3D printer that you will need?
  • how much is the cost of training for your staff?
  • how much is the cost of the software?
  • how much is the cost of maintenance? This may include travel expenses if the reseller is not located nearby.
  • how much is the cost of materials? Take note that this will need to include the amount of material that you will be using in order to achieve a satisfactory print.
  • how much is the cost of other required equipment such as a furnace or personal protective gear?
  • how much is the cost of creating a production space which may require the installation of vents, sinks, tables, etc.?

Last but not the least, you need to ask yourself how long will it take for you to get the expected return on investment. 

The answers to all of these questions will help determine whether you have a business case for adopting 3D printing technology. And if the evaluation shows that the cost weighs more than the potential ROI, then your business might be better off availing the services of online 3D printing companies and/or sticking to traditional manufacturing. But if you can make your business more profitable in the long run, then go ahead and take advantage of this technology and the benefits it brings.

Is 3D Printing Worth It for Hobbyists?

While the cost of a basic model has gone down a lot since 3D printers first came out, it still costs quite a bit of money. That's not counting the cost of materials. But does that mean the average Joe or Jane should not fork over the cash? It depends.

If you're planning to only make a couple of things using a 3D printer, then spending hundreds of dollars on the equipment isn't practical. There are a number of online 3D printing services available that would allow you to do the same at a fraction of the cost. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that there's no sufficient reason for any individual to get a 3D printer. To help you evaluate whether the expense is worth the trouble, keep in mind the following questions:

  • Do you have other hobbies and interests related to 3D printing such as education, toys, board games, airplane models, etc.?
  • Do you have maker skills such as laser cutting, engineering, circuitry, product design, and other trade type skills?
  • Does your company have a 3D printer? If you're a product designer or engineer for your company, having one of your own could help advance your career. The same thing applies if you're an entrepreneur.

The Bottomline

There’s absolutely no doubt that 3D printing is a disruptive technology. It has transformed companies, helped create new business models, and pushed radical change and innovations in various industries. That being said, not every company and individual should invest their money in obtaining a 3D printer. In some cases, the costs will outweigh the returns. And in some, the profit and benefits of 3D printing will make the costs worthwhile. It’s up to you to determine whether you should put your money on this disruptive technology. And now, you’ve got the tools to just that.

About the author: Louisa is a content marketing professional and editor creating her successful career past 2 years at D3D Printing. She is a goal-oriented, creative individual with a unique voice in writing, editing, and optimizing content for various projects. She's a devoted mom and an excellent piano player.

Previous article A Guide to Starting a 3D Printing or Laser Engraving Business, by Vanessa Holwell
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