Manufacturing and Prototyping: In-House 3D Printing vs. Outsourcing
3D printing is changing the way we design and prototype products. As such, companies have been known to integrate this technology into their manufacturing processes.
However, whenever businesses start thinking about prototyping, they are faced with the challenge of either 3D printing in-house or outsourcing it. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all type of approach.
Your decision on whether to prototype in-house or externally depends on your product and your project goals. You must consider the pros and cons related to both approaches and make a decision.
In the post, we’ll explore the different factors that will influence your final decision.
How Complex Is Your Prototype?
A vital factor to consider is the complexity and function of your part. For example, if you plan to produce simple, functional prototypes or scaled models that demand multiple design iterations, it might be cheaper to prototype it in-house.
If your part is highly complex and demands an expert team of engineers, it’s better to partner with a component manufacturer to build it. In this scenario, they will have all the necessary technical prowess to bring your product designs to life.
Whenever you need to scale, it will also be a seamless process with an established outsourcing partner. So, production volume is also an important factor to consider before committing. The same is true if you’re planning to use additive manufacturing for low-run or one-off projects.
But if 3D printing and prototyping are going to be the norm in future projects, it would justify your investment in an industrial 3D printing system in the long term.
What’s Your 3D Printing Knowledge?
When it comes to 3D printing, how knowledgeable is your team? Additive manufacturing differs significantly from traditional manufacturing approaches. This means that you must have team members with the necessary skills and knowledge to print parts internally.
If 3D design knowledge and operating skills are limited, it’s best to take an external approach. This is because you can eliminate risks that arise from a lack of experience by partnering with an experienced manufacturer.
What’s Your Budget?
Although 3D printing has become considerably cheaper in recent years, it still requires a significant upfront investment to make viable parts in-house. You would have to consider the costs of purchasing industrial-scale 3D printing systems and the cost of material procurement, employee training, ongoing maintenance expenses, and much more.
This is an important consideration as these upfront expenses must be justified by the frequency of projects and overall production volume.
What Are the Key Advantages of In-House 3D Printing?
Low operational costs: If you have many simple projects lined up, 3D printing might be a cost-effective prototyping solution. This is because you also eliminate overheads like shipping and logistics expenses.
Production on-demand: If there is an urgent need to put a part together for a presentation quickly, 3D printing will be a perfect solution. Because you have your own 3D printing setup, you can keep iterating swiftly and tweak the design until everyone is satisfied with the outcome. You also don’t need to wait for the part to come to you between iterations.
However, this is only true for design and manufacturing teams with the necessary technical knowledge and expertise.
What Are the Key Disadvantages of In-House 3D Printing?
High upfront investment: The cost of industrial-scale 3D printing technology will quickly run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, if it’s not part of your long-term strategy, it’s best to stick to outsourcing.
Hiring and training costs: Additive manufacturing is significantly different from traditional manufacturing models. So, you’ll have to invest in hiring 3D printing professionals. You also have to train operators to run and maintain the system.
What Are the Key Advantages of Outsourcing?
Access to expert engineers: As your manufacturing partner is highly experienced in building components and prototypes, you can expect to receive quality parts quickly.
Low costs: As there’s no need to make a significant investment in hardware and expertise upfront, outsourcing to a manufacturing partner can be much cheaper. It will also be much easier when it’s time to scale.
What Are the Key Disadvantages of Outsourcing?
The time between iteration: As your outsourcing partner might not be in your immediate vicinity, it might take some time between iterations. For example, you might have to wait for the first incarnation of your prototype to arrive from thousands of miles away.
While there is a wide range of factors to consider, you don’t always have to pick one over the other. On some occasions, it might make more sense to do both. For example, start the design process with 3D printing in-house and continue with an outsourcing partner when you’re ready to polish it up and complete the project.
To learn more about our manufacturing, prototyping, and our supply chain management experience, reach out to our in-house expert, Connor!
Sales Manager (Midwest)