Not all manufacturers can build everything in-house. Even some of the largest Fortune 500 companies outsource 3D printing projects for both prototypes and production runs.
Why do they do this? Despite having a variety of resources at their disposal ‒ including sometimes their own 3D printing labs ‒ outsourcing for these firms can be a faster, less expensive and easier route.
Below are the top five reasons why.
Even for large companies that have their own 3D printers, resource constraints can cause bottlenecks in production. If a firm’s 3D printers are tied up on other projects, teams can’t get parts built fast enough. As a solution, outsourcing this production allows them to harness additional capacity.
To help reduce lead times, we utilize multiple machines that run the same technology, as well as 3D printers with some of the largest build volumes on the market (like the FDM one at left). This combination allows us to maximize the number of parts we can print at once, and help eliminate production bottlenecks.
A Fortune 500 firm may outsource production, because they don’t have the right equipment. For example, they may own a SLA machine, but don’t have a metal 3D printer in-house.
Given the high upfront costs of professional 3D printers and the rapid pace of 3D printing innovation, many firms don’t want to pay for a new 3D technology, only to have it be outmoded by something better in a few years.
At Xometry, we’re constantly evaluating the latest 3D printing technologies, and adding more processes and materials, so customers can build exactly what they need.
Owning a high-end 3D printer can be expensive. On top of the machine costs, firms also need raw materials, special infrastructure (e.g., lots of electric), and skilled labor to operate them. Despite advances in technology, much of professional 3D printing is still a manual process, which is why labor is critical.
Even if a firm has the right equipment in-house, it may actually be less expensive to outsource a project than to build it themselves. At Xometry, we order raw material in bulk and build multiple orders at once (similar to the SLS parts at left), generating economies of scale and driving down costs.
Like other manufacturing technologies, the professional 3D printing learning curve can be steep. Given that the sector that is still relatively new, expertise is a key component to 3D printing operations.
Firms need the right knowledge and experience to not only operate the machine, but also to set up the parts in an ideal manner. Small changes in equipment, build orientation, mix of materials, and support material (if applicable) can all impact results.
Additionally, complementary processes to 3D printing, such as achieving the right finish through CNC machining, or adding custom features, also plays large role here.
Production lead times often go hand-in-hand with the earlier section on available capacity. If constrained by time, and it can be faster for firms to outsource 3D printing.
But another major advantage for outsourcing production is reducing the lead time that it takes to get a specific kind of of material.
For example, we stock dozens of PolyJet 3D printing materials — including Rigid Opaque, Rubber-Like, Simulated Polypro, and Translucent/Clear — in-house. This way, orders can be fulfilled and shipped out as quickly as possible.