Whether It is Cost-Effective to 3D Print a Particular Part?

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Jul 15, 2021

Metal additive manufacturing is extremely expensive, as some parts produced using existing technologies such as laser sintering and binder jetting can cost thousands of dollars. If you do your research, you will quickly discover this. The most important lesson Matt Sand, a Los Angeles-based metal additive manufacturing parts supplier, has learned over the last few years is that when it comes to serial production, the lowest possible cost is essential.

Because there is no way to get into 3D printing production without being cost competitive with conventional manufacturing techniques,” Sand says, if you are not in the ballpark on cost, you might as well not even play the game.“If you are not cost competitive, you are not invited to the table,” says the CEO. Consequently, to reduce the overall cost structure, the company developed an end-to-end manufacturing process based on Intelligent Layering, a very low-cost metal additive manufacturing technology that the company's founders developed. Intelligent Layering, which is based on binder jetting technology, uses a proprietary spray system to bind the entire layer before cutting the perimeter of the part and any internal features with a CNC end mill.

Whether It is Cost-Effective to 3D Print a Particular Part?

​Three key factors are taken into consideration by him when determining whether it will be cost-effective to 3D print a particular part:
1. The Dimensions of the Part
Is it larger or smaller in size than a golf ball? Sand has discovered over the last few years that as the size of a part increases, the cost of the part increases on an exponential curve. Smaller (golf ball-sized) parts that have traditionally been manufactured are competitively priced. However, as the part size increases to softball size and beyond, the cost of the part increases dramatically. In the field of laser sintering, it is not uncommon for very large parts to cost $20,000 or more.

2. Putting it all together
If a consolidated part is printed, does the cost of assembly outweigh the cost of printing the part? When it comes to parts consolidation, Sand believes that there is a disconnect between expectations and reality. Suppose a customer wants a five-piece automotive assembly printed as a single piece, as opposed to five separate pieces. However, what they frequently fail to realize is that the cost of the individual components and the assembly is still extremely low,” he explains. According to the manufacturer, "the total cost of the metal 3D-printed part must be less than that of the entire assembly."Given the large size of consolidated assemblies, it is usually much more expensive to print than it is to assemble.”

3. Difficulty of the task
Is the part complex, with features such as conformal cooling, and is it likely to necessitate a significant amount of postprocessing? Conformal cooling is a popular trend in additive manufacturing, but it is important to be realistic when communicating with potential customers. It's a fact that high-value tools are the best fit because laser sintering (the most common method used to create conformal cooling channels) is expensive and requires additional postprocessing to achieve a satisfactory finish after printing.

The 3D strategy is not to provide the near-net shape component, but rather to provide the block with the channels that have already been established. They concentrate on the areas where CNC adds value and the areas where 3D printing adds value. Attempting to achieve extremely tight tooling tolerances is pointless if you are going to be finishing the block in the first place.

To give you an example, Sand says, “if the part needs to be a hemisphere, we'll print the block with internal channels so that the customer can benefit from conformal cooling, but we'll ship it to them in an unfinished state because they'll have to machine it anyway.”As a result, the cost of the tool is reduced from thousands of dollars to a few hundred dollars. If you don't need to achieve extremely tight tolerances, it will be significantly less expensive. These tooling inserts, which are created by creating internal channels, can be very low in cost while still allowing the customer to reap the benefits of 3D printing.”

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