In part 1 of this mini-series, we considered the case for bringing your 3D printing function in house. If we convinced you that this is the right option for your business, read on. Here in part 2, we’re going to help you choose your machine.

As the market for 3D printers expands, the choice of machines increases. Stratasys and 3D Systems, for example, offer nearly 70 machines between them. There are also varying methods of 3D printing – all with their own advantages and disadvantages.

To narrow the options down, consider these four factors.

What will you be making?

From proof of concept to functional parts and end products, 3D printers can produce almost anything. While strength may be key for some products, colour, resolution or smoothness may be more important for others. And while build bases of most 3D printers are similar in size, you can get wide format models for larger products.

What materials are your products manufactured in?

Materials are a major driver in 3D printer choice. Weight, flexibility, rigidity and durability specifications, for example, will influence your decision. Factor in your temperature and vibration resistance requirements, too. You may also need a machine capable of printing in more than one material.

Who will use the 3D printer?

Every method of 3D printing requires post processing. This stage is necessary to clean the end product and get rid of temporary structures that act as scaffolding during the build. Post processing can involve resin or acid dips and processes to blast away powders or glue-like substances. If non-factory staff will be using your 3D printer, you’ll be best off with a machine that needs minimal, post processing. Bear in mind that some machines will contain toxic materials and should only be used in well-ventilated areas.

How will you finance and service your 3D print equipment?

Discuss finance options with your 3D print systems supplier. Ask them about maintenance contracts and what services you will receive.

Some resellers offer guaranteed buy back prices and technology refresh options. These can allow you to replace up to one third of your fleet of machines every year without necessarily incurring extra costs.

Finally, consult your supplier about the cost of consumables. This will help you project the running costs of your 3D printing equipment.