The costs of 3D printing?
In general there are three steps in the 3D printing process: planning, printing and post processing. The amount of work required to complete these steps determines the price per part. Pricing is also affected by material, weight, dimensions and the space required inside the printers build chamber.
We check each design file sent to us before printing. If needed we’ll fix/optimise the design to achieve better results. Depending on the case this fixing/optimising task is usually done free of charge. In some cases multiple fixes are required to reach printable 3D model. This happens often with scale models which usually have many details and components that require optimisation to match the print machine’s requirements. We use different tools and softwares designed for 3D modeling and optimisation.
After optimisation the parts are digitally placed and oriented (“nesting”) into the print machine’s build chamber. A single production run can include all kinds of parts and components with various shapes and sizes so the nesting phase needs careful planning. Specific requests for orientations are possible but we always aim to go for full production runs.
For plastic parts the post process includes removing and recycling the extra print material and improving the surface quality with glass bead blasting. There are also different coating options, paint works, dyeing and vibratory polishing for smoother surface quality. For resin and metal parts post processing includes removing the support structures from each part and polishing the supported surface.
The volume of a part determines how much raw material goes into production. This is why the optimisation process is important especially with large parts: with proper optimisation the volume can be reduced without losing mechanical properties. Also, less raw material, cheaper price.
With powder-based SLS (Selective Laser Sintering for plastics) technique the efficient stacking and nesting of parts inside the build chamber reduces costs significantly. The more parts are nested and printed in a single run, the cheaper the cost per part. (read more about design guidelines for plastic parts)
With UV-curable resins (3SP) the aim is to fill the build platform area to reach cost-effective runs. Parts cannot be stacked on top of each other without connecting the support structures between parts. Stacking increases post process workload which increases the costs. Again the importance of optimisation comes into play. Designing parts that require less supports results in less time in post processing.
Support structures are also needed in the powder-based SLM (Selective Laser Melting for metals) technique. When the planning is done right, the less supports required, the less raw material needed and the quicker the post processing. Also evaluating the parts mass and trimming down the extra weight can lead to more cost-effective result and faster production time. (Read more about design guidelines for metal parts)
Nesting the parts for production
A production run should have parts with varying geometries so that the build chamber/platform space can be filled efficiently. Another option is to have a run with a single part that stacks really well. Regarding cost-effectiveness avoiding runs with only one or few parts is advisable.
To put in simple terms: the bigger the part, the more space it takes resulting in higher costs. Smaller parts can be printed inside a large hollow object if they can be removed in post processing. We help our customers to reach cost-effective designs and production runs without compromising quality or end-use purposes.
Surface treatments: dyeing, polishing, painting works and coating
There are various options for extra post processing. Paint works and coating are manual processes and usually applied only with special applications such as high-end scale models. Dyeing and vibratory polishing are automated processes and can be done more cost-effectively.
Example metal & plastic products with pricing
Materflow designs and produces 3D printed metal and plastic parts for industrial use. We also help our customers develop and implement 3D printing into their design and engineering processes. Contact for more info: