You’ve gotten Inspired Beyond the Why and are ready to be an early adopter in exploring what 3D printers can do in your organization. Now what? What do you need to effectively deploy this technology?
The tech research and analysis firm Gartner predicts that 3D printer purchases will double every year for the next three years. The increases are said to be driven by a reduction in 3D printer costs and companies integrating the devices into manufacturing processes.
As with any new technology, many of these purchases will be driven by product excitement. Consequently, some might end up in a corner or sitting with unlocked business value. You, on the other hand, will have a plan.
The Business Plan
Consider your vision first. Is the value to your organization rapid prototyping? Educating the next generation? Design verification? Finished production parts? Candy cake toppers? A general answer here may not help you identify the right printer. Therefore, if you have multiple ideas on use make sure to prioritize them.
Next, let’s think about the people who are going to use it, and the physical workspace they have available. Questions to ask include:
- Are they currently used to thinking in 3D?
- What kind of training will they need on 3D design concepts?
- What software will you use to model?
- What kind of space is available? (3D printers range in sizes from desktop versions to the size of a large ‘90s-era copier to those occupying half a room with ventilation and post production space.)
- How will sharing space work, or not work, with your vision?
There’s a wide spectrum of design software when it comes to 3D printing. Even free options are available. Be sure to choose something suited to the current and desired expertise of your users.
If it’s complex and feature-rich, look for specific training to maximize utilization. Examine the workflow your desired software will offer. This can vary depending on the OS platform you install it on.
Consider the capability of both the printer and the material it prints in. As with many technologies, there is a sort of “resolution” to consider. In the 3D world, this is mostly called “Layer Height” and it is measured in microns. Note: A smaller layer height used to print a 3D model will result in a finer, more detailed model. However, a smaller layer height means a longer time to print.
“Total Build Volume” will dictate the size limits of your prints. While the technology is quickly iterating, the easiest printers to install and use will generally offer the least complexity and finish in their output.
Service and Support
Services are important to unlocking the business value of any technology, especially something new to your users. Consider installation, lifecycle support (including warranty) and training. Current manufacturer support models are similar to those on large traditional printers – depot shipping of parts instead of the entire printer.
How much downtime can you afford? To support your vision, should you stock spare parts onsite and train a key user on part replacement? Keep in mind; manufacturers are investing in value-added online training resources. Consider what they offer for free and what may be available from third parties as a service.
Now you have a good framework to narrow the landscape of 3D printing software, hardware and services that you need to invest in. Oh, one more thing, find trusted partners to help you along the way. We’re working hard at CDW to bring these elements of success together to make it easy for you to get from your vision to pressing “Ctrl-P” on your first 3D print project.