Monday, March 22, 2010

Six Tips to Buying a 3D Printer

by : John C Arkin

If your company has decided to buy a 3D printer so you can create your own scale models, you need to study your options carefully before you make the actual purchase. That is because 3D printers are not exactly inexpensive, with entry level units costing around US$15,000. Not all companies have that much capital to spare on machines like that and buying machines that you will end up not using is only a waste of resources.

So that you will not end up with a machine that will eventually just gather dust in your storage room, you need to weigh in a few considerations before you buy your 3D printer. Here are six tips that can guide you along the way.

1. Identify your needs. Before you buy the 3D printer, ask yourself why you need the machine in the first place. What are you going to use it for? Will you be using it to test and validate the designs you have drafted? In that case, you will need a 3D printer that is not fussy so long as it comes up with the models that you need. Will you be presenting your scale models to your clients?

2. Assess your needs. As useful as a 3D printer may be to your company, if you do not create more than a couple of scale models in a month, it may be more cost-effective for you simply to outsource your scale models to a service provider. After all, the costs of a 3D printer do not just involve its purchase price but also the price of the resins and powder you will use with the printer as well as maintenance and tune-up done at least once a year.

3. Consider if the machine will indeed meet your needs. If you have determined that your company will really benefit from having a 3D printer at your disposal, you may want to consider a number of 3D printer models and take a good look at their features. Not all prototyping machines are made with the same features, so you would want the kind that will suit your needs the most.

4. Weigh in the sensitivity of your projects. One advantage of having your own 3D printer is that you may be bound by a confidentiality clause with your project contracts. Outsourcing your models can jeopardize that confidentiality clause, even if your service provider signs a non-disclosure agreement.

5. Ask for a demonstration. You can also ask the dealer from which you will buy your 3D printer for a demonstration of how the printer works from start to finish. This demonstration can give you a clear idea of how the machine will serve your needs, especially if the dealer allows you to operate the sample machine on your own.

6. Inquire about after-sales support. Since 3D printers can be sensitive machines, you will need some after-sales customer care from the dealer or the manufacturer. Do not hesitate to inquire what kind of product support they provide before you buy. Also, ask about the costs of maintaining the machine and the costs of the materials to be used with the printer.

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