Generally when small business owners think of the term “3D Printing” they think of the higher-end machines, many of which are outside the budget of the average job shop. However experts in the field are seeing the future of 3D printing being a move towards low-cost devices that will be in every part-making shop. The 3D printer will become the tool of choice to prevent wasted time on more valuable machines. A desktop 3D printer will be seen as a necessary complement to its CNC machine tools and will be used as routinely as a desktop printer is today.
When small business owners are asked about their experience owning a 3D printer the most common feedback is that they were surprised by how useful the device turned out to be. It has proven to be the perfect partner for the machine tool. Often machine tools have to be pulled off of production jobs to run one off parts – most of which are not even billable as they are used for internal needs, proof of concepts for customers, etc. This is an incredibly inefficient use of the machine tool but is the ideal use for the 3D printer but today most shops have no other choice. Ultimately a 3D printer can save time from the most valuable resources, people and machine tools.
Most shops take a loss on prototypes and tooling. Customers bring in rough sketches that require a prototype be made, often more than one. This takes man power as well as machine time both of which could be spent on better uses. In this instance a 3D printer could run through the night and result in a completed prototype part in the morning with very minimal cost investment. Custom tooling is another area that the 3D printer will become standard use. Many jobs require unique fixtures or inspection tools so most shops make the investment before starting into production. However they often have to go outside to purchase this tooling and wait on substantial lead times. In the future these custom tools will be made immediately in the very shop that intends to run the production job.
One final area of incredible value for the 3D printer is the unique, let’s be honest pain in the tail, projects. No one is interested in devoting CNC machine time to these jobs and often they get passed on but if the 3D printer could make it possible to come up with an inventive solution with minimal time and money invested these jobs would be worth the effort. There’s certainly money to be made on this type of work but not if the only option is the use of high-end expensive CNC machinery. Shops face seemingly small, annoying problems every day and many business owners say they use their 3D printer as the quick fix for these.
Certainly no one would advocate just buying any cheap 3D printer out there. Some research should be done to find a low cost option that is still adequate to meet the needs described above. One such machine that should be considered is the Markforged 3D printer. Its low price point makes it accessible which its ability to produce incredible strong, rigid parts makes it more than capable of solving these regular shop problems.