3D printing is a hot topic on TV and in the media these days, and it can be very exciting for an organization to want to jump in headfirst. This article provides a guide to what you should consider before you make that initial investment into additive manufacturing. Keep in mind, and the investment is not just buying a piece of equipment; you will have to potentially modify your facility and will have to dedicate time to train your staff.

What type of materials do you want to be 3D printing?

As you are getting into 3D printing, you will have to know which material you want to start with. In general, will you be working with polymers or metals? I suggest that you start with polymers for your first machine. It is important to learn the basics of 3D print. For example, how to create a solid 3D model and how to create the slices and code required by the 3D printer.

Internal or Customer use?

Are the 3D-printed components intended to be shipped as final products to your customers, or are they intended to stay within your own organization? If the parts are for internal use, then you have a wide range of lower-cost to higher-cost 3D machines that you can choose from. If your aim is to ship 3d printed parts to your customer, than you should invest in a higher-grade 3D printer.

What requirements do your customers have?

If you are planning to ship 3D printed components to your customers, you will need to understand what the requirements are. For example, are they common industrial components for fixturing or are they used in a fixture or product that is safety-critical and has a fatigue sensitive design with a low safety margin? Once you are fully aware of the requirements that will position you well on your next steps to fully satisfy your customer requirements.

Does your company have the commitment you need to implement 3D printing?

A general rule-of-thumb I typically use is to take the cost of the 3D printer and multiply it by 1.5 to figure the typical cost for facilities and ancillary software and hardware needed. As someone who will be purchasing the equipment, you need to make sure that your organization is willing to support the additional costs required beyond just the machine cost. I have seen many cases where the machine was purchased, but the organization did not support the ancillary equipment, and the deployment of 3D printing within the organization failed to live up to expectations.

Is the timing right in general for you?

Roll-out of 3D printing within an organization will require the leader to be a strong advocate and internal salesman to get company designers to begin using the equipment. The initial roll-out typically has a barrage of inquiries and requests, so you need to build in extra capacity to handle the initial demand. A 3D roll-out frequently becomes a full-time job for several months. You need to be ready and prepare the internal support required to foster and grow your internal 3D program.