Make vs Buy: Is 3D Printing an Option?


A decade ago, 3D printers sounded like something straight out of a science fiction novel. Today, though, it’s a rapidly growing technology that nearly every industry can benefit from using. This is particularly true for small- to medium-sized industrial companies.

While most of these companies have some manufacturing capabilities, they’re always faced with the “make vs. buy” decision as they need new parts for the products they offer. 3D printing is an ever-evolving technology that may be an option for these companies now or in the near future, and recent supply chain issues could make this option a reality sooner than later.

Let’s take a closer look at 3D printing and when it makes sense to make parts for your company or buy them.

How It Works

HUBS describes 3D printing as: “the process of joining materials to make parts from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing and formative manufacturing methodologies.”

In industrial and commercial applications, the process is also known as additive manufacturing (AM). It’s become a popular solution for industrial production parts because it’s more accessible and affordable for prototyping.

During the AM process, 2D layers of materials are fused together to make 3D parts. The process can be done quickly and it can accommodate complex designs, making it a popular option for companies that need to increase production when supply is limited.

Pros and Cons of 3D Printing

Two of the biggest benefits of 3D printing are that startup time and costs are both low. This makes rapid prototyping much easier, as parts at each stage of the process can be finished faster than with other manufacturing methods. 3D printing also doesn’t take up as much space for inventory as the traditional manufacturing process requires, and it gives you the option to print parts on-demand, instead of buying them in bulk.

Perhaps best of all, it’s a cost-effective manufacturing process, because it saves time and is more efficient. Keep that in mind when you’re trying to decide if it’s the right choice for your needs.

However, one downside to 3D printing is that the parts are more subject to variances than in the standard manufacturing process. This happens because there are natural fluctuations in the cooling and curing process, so you may lose out on consistency in your parts. This also makes it harder to guarantee exact replicas during the production process. Depending on your needs, that may not be a risk worth taking.

Determine the ROI of 3D Printing

Now that you know more about the process and benefits, you can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right choice for your company by calculating the possible ROI. Imagenet Consulting, for example, offers a free ROI calculator that you can use to answer a few questions about your manufacturing to see estimates for annual cost savings, payback period, and time/money saved per model.

When you run the numbers, you’ll have a better idea of whether this emerging technology is worth embracing for your needs, even after the supply chain issues stabilize.