With the benefits of 3D printing now firmly established, many businesses are considering how best to use the technology.

The big question seems to be, ‘should we invest in the equipment and bring 3D printing in house or use a bureau as when the need arises?’

The answer, of course, depends on the specific demands of your business. So, in the next four blogs, we’re going to help you decide. First up, we look at four key benefits of bringing 3D printing in house. Next week, we’ll offer guidance on choosing the equipment. Coming up after that, we’ll explain when a bureau service makes better commercial sense. We’ll conclude the mini-series with a list of questions to ask your prospective bureau.

Four reasons to bring 3D printing in house

1 Cost

By volume, using your own 3D printing equipment costs less than outsourcing to a bureau. The raw material is cheaper and you won’t incur courier charges to get the product into your hand. Here’s a simple illustration:

Prices of 3D printers start at around £3,000, so you could finance a machine from £99 per month. To create a product requiring five cubic inches of material would cost a further £17 at today’s average material costs. If this were your monthly output, your costs would be £116 per month. (And they would drop dramatically if you owned the machine outright.)

The same five cubic inch product would cost around £107 to have made at a bureau. If you were unable to collect the item in person, you would pay courier fees on top.

From these figures then, once your 3D print requirement exceeds just one of our figurative five cubic inch products, it’s cheaper to print in house than use a bureau.

2 Time

3D printing is so fast compared traditional model making that even using a bureau saves you time. Even faster still though, is having the product made right on your desktop. The speed advantage of 3D printing can’t be overstressed. Faster prototyping means quicker customer acceptance, a faster route to market and the chance to outmanoeuvre the competition.

3 Last minute tweaks

Just like a Word document, you may cast your eye over a 3D print design file and want to change something at the very last minute. You may spot an error, have a late flash of inspiration that improves the product or get a request from a colleague to tweak the design. With the equipment in house, you can tinker with the file at the eleventh hour. Once you’ve sent the file to a bureau, it may be too late.

4 Data security

Once you email a 3D print design file to an external organisation, it’s subject to the same risk as any other external transmission. While there’s nothing to suggest your 3D print bureau is anything other than honourable, your company may have strict security policies governing the sharing of sensitive data. Having your 3D print function in house gets round the problem.