With the recent growth of home and hobby 3D printers, we sometimes hear companies say, “We’re thinking of getting into 3D printing, but we're going to start with a consumer printer because it won't be as big of an investment.”
While we’re engineers and tinkerers at heart ourselves, and we appreciate the attempt to reduce risk, our experience is companies always wind up disappointed by this approach—and wish they had used the time to get productive with a commercial solution.
So is a consumer 3D printer a good stepping-stone to a commercial solution? Let’s look at the top 3 challenges that a company trying to rely on a hobby printer faces.
Challenge #1: Repeatability
When you hit Print, how often will you get a completed part? If you haven't experienced a hobby-level printer, this might seem like an odd question, but the reality is that these printers don’t have anywhere near the reliability you need in a commercial setting.
Depending on your perspective, waking up to see how your print did overnight and finding a bird’s nest of plastic instead of your 3D printed design can either be disappointing or exciting. If you’re a hobbyist, you now get to troubleshoot what happened and learn to fix it. But if you’re a business, you probably just lost a day of time-to-market and lost productivity as you labor to troubleshoot the problem.
Another repeatability component is that a consumer printer, even when fed an identical source CAD file, will have slight print variations, such as varying layer thickness. In a commercial setting, variations make parts unsuitable for applications where accuracy is required. On the other hand, commercial printers have the combination of precision and accuracy to the extent that companies like Oreck are using 3D printed parts to calibrate their CMM for First Article Inspection—that simply wouldn’t be possible with a hobby printer.
Challenge #2: System Maintenance
Home printers need constant maintenance and repairs, such as dealing with print head clogs and calibration. Who is the technician? You are, of course! However, for a commercial printer there are some simple maintenance tasks per run, but they are quite simple and will greatly reduce unexpected machine downtime.
What the commercial side offers is comprehensive maintenance. CADD Edge customers receive regular preventative maintenance visits and support help—including the rare case where a machine is down for a critical part where we can print on our systems for you. Our support team is highly regarded in the region, with hundreds of 3D printing customers and thousands on the CAD side.
Challenge #3: Calibration
Ask a consumer printer owner about their method of calibration—it’s probably something they’ve spent a lot of time perfecting, because it is challenging. Commercial printers have heated build chambers (for FDM printers), and all of them perform self-calibration for each run. Simple, accurate and best of all—no one at your company has the unofficial job title “3D printing babysitter.”
Each of these three challenges may seem small on their own but, when you add them up—it’s no way to help your business become faster to market, save costs by eliminating outsourcing and speed up the design process by offering up numerous iterations, all in-house.
Yes, we appreciate the concept of reducing initial investment risk through trying a hobby printer. Yet companies who have tried this tell us that in short order they’re frustrated by repeatability, calibration and maintenance issues—not to mention the lack of meeting their business needs. Wasn’t that the reason for getting into 3D printing in the first place?
There are better ways to reduce risk. If you’re doing manufacturing, one of those is through using an entry-level commercial printer for jigs and fixtures. This is simple, easy application lets you ease into 3D printing and opens the options for other departments to get involved.
We find companies who take this approach are soon so productive with the printer they’re ready to add on, instead of feeling burned out from maintaining a consumer-grade system.
Ready to learn more? Watch one of our on-demand webinars.