The Not So Obvious Considerations of Buying a 3D Printer
So you have decided to buy an industrial 3D printer to help drive innovation and capabilities in your business……
There are plenty of things that need to be considered when you are looking at an industrial 3D printer. You’ll need answers to questions like: what materials do you need for your application, what technology works best for your application, and what is your budget? These are the obvious considerations but let’s look at 7 aspects that you need to consider that you maybe haven’t thought about yet.
1. Manufacturer of the equipment – Look into the company that manufactures the machine you are considering. What is their reputation in the industry? Are they stable enough to back-up their products if you have a problem? Is the company growing and investing in technology? Do they have investment partners and growth goals that align with your company and industry?
2. Proven History – Does the manufacturer you are considering have a proven track record of delivering quality products when promised and as-advertised? For example, when a new material or feature is released is it delivered when they say it is, or is it always late? Can they deliver that product to you in the first place or is their Marketing more complete than their hardware? Believe it or not there are companies selling machines that aren’t ready to ship and shipping products that aren’t ready to use.
3. Proven Quality – Many companies build printers that “can” build parts, but that require a full-time person to babysit the machine and deal with the eccentricities that come with it. Look up online reviews and talk to existing owners of the machines you are considering. A diverse feature set is only useful if you can reliably build the parts you need yourself. Even price isn’t a reliable indicator of hardware quality and reliability.
4. Updates & Upgrades – When was the last time the technology you are considering was upgraded? Is it upgraded often or is it still running Windows 97 OS? Firmware upgrades early on in the release of a product can be an indication of a product that wasn’t mature enough to release, but routine firmware releases of a mature product can be an indicator of a manufacture that is always trying to improve the product that is already in the field.
5. Current & Future Material Availability – Lets face it, 3D printing technology hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years, but what has is the materials. We see materials with better quality, longer shelf life, increased durability, and most importantly enhanced strength. So you should look to see if the manufacturer still innovating & adding materials for the machine. Is there a road map for the availability of plastics and metals?
6. Ecosystem – How integrated is the total solution? If you are considering metal, does all the equipment integrate in the included slicing software? When you add equipment in the future will it still be compatible with the entire ecosystem or will you have to revamp the entire ecosystem?
7. Support – Whether you purchase from a reseller or direct from the manufacturer, make sure you are getting the support you need to get up and running and also the support you need to keep running trouble free. Typically you will want to buy from a local reseller because they are close to you and can visit faster than the manufacturer could. Quite often machine manufacturers don’t sell direct. If that is the case, you’ll want to evaluate resellers in your area and in your industry. Do they have a good track record of customer service and satisfaction? Do they sell different lines of 3D printers? Be cautious of resellers selling many different machines as they typically know some things about a lot of machines instead of everything about your machine.
About the author
Kyle has spent 20+ years working as an engineer in industries like firearms, sporting goods, aviation, and oil & gas. Kyle became well versed in Solidworks, fabrication, injection molding, thermo forming, machining and designing. Kyle is now the additive manufacturing guru at MLC CAD systems and enjoys assisting customers through the process of deciding what additive manufacturing method is best for their business.