Novelty Rapid.Tech 3D 2024

The Agony of Choice - In-House Production or 3D Printing Service Provider?

Many companies in the 3D printing industry are facing this question. While having your own 3D printer offers independence, flexibility, and cost savings, service providers excel in expertise, consultation, and lower initial costs. Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of both options.

Here you will find the answer to whether owning your own 3D printer is worthwhile for you or if utilizing a service provider for 3D-printed parts is more sensible!

In a variety of industries, 3D printing has now established itself as an ideal substitute for traditional manufacturing methods. The rapid printing speeds, significantly higher design freedom, the ability to create highly complex components, and many other advantages have enabled 3D printing to enter the production processes of many companies, from small to large.

However, not all of these companies own one or more 3D printers. Service providers producing custom 3D-printed parts have gained significant traction and have made the benefits of 3D printing more accessible to a wider range of companies.

To determine which of these two alternatives is most profitable for you, the five most important advantages of both options will be listed below, followed by the key company-specific decision-making factors. Let's start with the advantages of acquiring your own 3D printer.

Advantages of In-house Production

The most significant advantage of owning your own 3D printer is undoubtedly the much higher independence from suppliers and supply chains. Particularly since the early 2020s, we should all realize, whether as businesses or consumers, how essential independent production can be. It doesn't take much - a virus is enough - to bring down our entire globalized value chains. Those who can maintain their production in such a scenario not only secure survival but also increase market share due to weakening competitors.

For internal emergencies, having your own 3D printer is also a treasure trove. For instance, if an essential component of a machine breaks down, any waiting time, no matter how short, always results in losses. To quickly get the machine back in operation and prevent extended downtimes without incurring high inventory costs for spare parts, having your own 3D printer is ideal. Replacement parts, even highly complex ones, can be printed on-demand within a short period, while service providers may have waiting times due to capacity constraints, delivery times, transportation, and other reasons.

Even under normal circumstances, owning a 3D printer offers significant advantages - one of them being lower costs per component. Naturally, a service provider operates not only on air, love, and material costs - a good service comes at a price. Especially for companies with high production volumes, the acquisition costs are quickly balanced out by the saved part costs.

Another important advantage of acquiring your own 3D printer is having complete control over all process parameters. While service providers rely on customer satisfaction and usually have excellent expertise in 3D printing, very specific or complex requirements may not be implemented or may involve an additional cost. Having your own 3D printer allows for precise customization to meet your own needs and requirements, and also encourages experimentation to challenge parameters considered perfect for a long time and potentially improve certain properties.

Lastly, the increased security regarding product designs must also be mentioned. Naturally, a confidentiality agreement can be established between a service provider and a customer, but the risk of a leak increases slightly with each additional person who has access to sensitive product data. For companies developing their own products, the heightened security factor of in-house production is usually essential.

Advantages of a Service Provider

3D printing service providers boast many advantages - one of the most important being high expertise. Even though 3D printing might sound simple, just press a button and done, there is a bit more to it. Processing the digital model, material handling, printer maintenance and cleaning, post-processing, and several other processes must be mastered to obtain 3D-printed parts of maximum quality. 3D printing service providers can, unless there is already a significant internal 3D printing expertise, extract more potential from your parts - in terms of mechanical, thermal, and weight-specific properties.

The consultancy aspect of 3D printing service providers should also not be overlooked. The best service providers not only offer a printing service but also provide design validation, material consultation, and commercial validation. Even if not all the details and parameters of a project are determined, the advice of a professional service provider can be invaluable.

If products are intended for sale, some 3D printing service providers also offer dropshipping. In this case, the service provider not only acts as the producer but also as the distributor, shipping the finished parts directly to the end customer instead of first to the seller. This service eliminates the disadvantage of double transportation routes and reduces the work for the service user.

A simple yet economically significant reason, despite its simplicity, is the much lower entry costs combined with a lower investment risk. Industrial-grade 3D printers can easily cost over 100,000 euros, which may not be feasible for many companies, especially SMEs. Therefore, a service provider can be the ideal way to leverage the benefits of industrial 3D printing without having to invest large sums of money upfront.

Lastly, the lower personnel and time commitment also support delegating printing jobs to a suitable service provider. This applies not only to smaller companies where there may be a lack of personnel and new hires may be required but also to large companies - even those already working with 3D printers. 3D printing service providers are also ideal for handling demand peaks without burdening employees with overtime.

What works best for whom?

Although the reasons of acquisition costs and personnel effort may sound like only large companies can achieve in-house production using 3D printing, the widespread availability of high-quality desktop printing solutions in recent years has made it possible for SMEs to also benefit from the advantages of 3D printing. Therefore, the size of the company generally plays a smaller role in the decision.

The truly important factors are experience, situation, and effort-oriented. For many companies with little experience in 3D printing, a service provider is always the first step towards additive manufacturing. This way, the benefits of 3D printing can be evaluated based on specific requirements without making significant investments.

Even companies with extensive experience in 3D printing now often turn to service providers to better reflect the rapidly changing market conditions in their portfolio. With the help of service providers, adapting and customizing production is easier than ever.

And, as is often the case in life, it is also about effort. Some companies may have the capacity to print all their parts themselves but prefer to hire service providers to allocate their personnel elsewhere.

A personal 3D printer remains particularly interesting for companies looking to safeguard their production against supply chain failures, respond quickly to potential internal emergencies, and are not averse to a major investment as long as the ROI is quickly achieved - which is undoubtedly achievable with 3D printing.

At the end of the day, the decision between in-house production and outsourcing is highly individual. Different companies have different priorities and objectives that require different approaches.

We at ProductionToGo, together with our colleagues at PartsToGo, can cover all these approaches. With ProductionToGo, you can find your ideal reseller of high-quality industrial and desktop printing solutions, while with PartsToGo, you can find the trusted service provider for the precise, customer-oriented, and expert production of your parts.

You can meet experts from both business units at the Rapid.Tech 3D 2024 from May 14th to 16th at booth 2-113. Visit us, and together we will determine the best solution for your individual case!