3D printing is a rapid, much cheaper way of building concept/prototype models and is to the design world the equivalent of a laser printer in a normal office environment with its adoption growing rapidly along with the unprecedented growth of three dimensional CAD solid modelling.
This type of printing compliments the more traditional rapid prototyping (RP) technology but it has major cost advantages. Both traditional rapid prototyping and the three dimensional printing technologies build the models layer by layer from STL data, but when you compare the cost difference per part between the two systems they can be very significant. Also by comparing the total cost of ownership of the systems Including material, capital depreciation, system maintenance and labour, a part built using RP technology can cost nearly twice as much as with 3 dimensional printing.
Due to their larger capital expense RP systems are often located centrally with a dedicated staff function similar to an in-house service bureau. 3D printers on the other hand are, more affordable, smaller and suitable for installation near an end user, even on their desk, providing convenience and ease of use that eliminates “departmental delay.”
Traditionally enlisting a service provider to build prototype parts would require a not inconsiderable element of trust due to the exchanging of company confidential STL data. Turnaround time is another area for risk and depends on the complexity and quality of the STL file and the capacity of the service provider. Time delays are exaggerated also due to product designs inherent iterative process involving multiple loops which are further complicated by involving a third party..
While there are many variables in comparing service provider costs with internal 3D prototype printing costs when putting together a business plan, a company regularly sending parts to an external bureau could, by comparison, justify the outlay on a 3D printer in a matter of months and in the process maintain control and confidentiality internally.
Studies show that a product which is delayed by six months to market will potentially loose up to 33% of its gross profit potential. To this end design cycles are fast becoming more compressed and accelerated. 3D printing can be instrumental in compressing design cycle times by enabling better communication and collaboration between everyone involved in the process. In a world where speed to market is an imperative 3D printing could provide the significant competitive advantage your products need.