Interested in small batch 3D printing production? Read our beginner’s guide to find out the possibilities of using 3D printing technologies for small parts production.
Before we begin, a 3D printer is not a production equipment. Instead, it’s an equipment that is suitable for prototyping.
Nevertheless, in some cases, you can use a 3D printer or several of them for production. For example, the printers can work just fine when you need to manufacture small products in quantities of up to 1000 pieces per month.
With that out of the way, let’s find out how 3D printers can help you in small batch parts production.
Small Batch 3D Printing
In 3D printing, you need to start by creating a model. Manufacturing companies do not always have a 3D model of a product that they need to print. In most cases, the model exists only form of a drawing. In this case, you need to involve a specialist who can create a 3D model from a drawing, or you can use a 3D scanner.
However, even the model obtained after scanning needs additional processing. For this task, you need some basic knowledge of working with 3D graphics. After the 3D model has been created, you can evaluate the effectiveness of using 3D printers to print a small batch.
First, you need to print the part to estimate the complexity and time it takes to manufacture 1 piece. Also, after printing, the weight of the model will be clear. This will allow you to correctly estimate the cost of the resulting product.
You can also test the part at the area of use. Is it suitable for your tasks in terms of its characteristics, i.e., appearance, strength, wear resistance, suitability with the environment where it will be used, ability to withstand high or low temperatures, and so on?
It is often worth making several prints with different types of plastic or photopolymer resins for comparison.
When we talk about small batch production, there is always a choice between a photopolymer printer and a classic FDM printer.
When choosing between these 3D printing technologies, keep in mind that the cost of filament is on average 3-5 times lower than that of a photopolymer resin. At the same time, printing one model or 10 models in a photopolymer printer takes the same time. This gives it a significant advantage in productivity over an FDM 3D printer.
Also, the printing materials available for FDM printing come in a wide range and their properties are well known. On the other hand, photopolymer printing produces higher-quality finished product surface and a more ergonomic appearance.
So, after carrying out all the tests, choosing the printing technology, material and the required quality, you can calculate the cost of the product and the time it takes to make the circulation you need.
In this calculation, consider an additional 20% for possible unsuccessful prints and temporary losses associated with this. Remember, if you have one printer, it may break down and you may not be able to fulfill your order on time. If time is a critical factor, you should have at least two or more printers for a small batch 3D printing project. In fact, you need multiple printers even if this is not necessary from a performance point of view.
After determining the amount of investment you need and the cost of the final product, compare these figures with traditional production methods (i.e., mold creation, milling, silicone molding, and others). If 3D printing looks more cost effective, then you can try the small batch 3D printing.
After doing the calculations and determining that 3D printing is the right solution for your project, choose a 3D printer that can solve it. Here, consider whether the tasks are of the same type or will constantly change. If the tasks are of the same type, choosing a printer that is suitable for such purposes.
For simple tasks, budget 3D printers like Anycubic Mega S or Anycubic 4Max Pro 2 are suitable.
If the printer will handle diverse tasks, choose a more versatile mode. Good recommendations include the Raise3D Pro2 Plus printer and FlashForge Creator 3 .
If we are talking about a photopolymer printer, consider models with an increased build area, such as the Wanhao Duplicator 8 or Phrozen Shuffle XL 2019. Other things being equal, these resin 3D printers offer greater productivity per unit of time.
For clarity, let’s look at a few examples.
2050.AT, a subdivision of the Transmashholding/LocoTech Group of Companies, is a successful 3D printing farm based in Russia.
Originally, 2050.AT was created to cover the shortage of parts in the depot and at locomotive repair factories. These were both discontinued parts and products with lost documentation.
Examples of the products include:
Air hose bracket for locomotive.
Video mirror cover for the Ivolga train.
As well as functional parts of the driver’s cab that require quick replacement (e.g., switches, knobs, covers, and caps).
In the first stage, parts with delivery problems are drawn according to drawings or scanned. Further, if necessary, reverse engineering is performed and the part is sent to print. If additional processing is required, the products are sent for painting.
At the end of 2018, 2050.AT purchased the first 4 Raise3D Pro2 printers and they worked.
In the spring, they ordered 16 more printers. A total of 20 Raise3D Pro2 printers were sufficient to service 150 depots, 10 repair plants, and 10 manufacturing plants.
On average, the production time for spare parts was reduced from four months to two weeks. Moreover, the cost of the products turned out to be several times lower.
At this stage, the company is actively introducing additive manufacturing in all their specialized companies and plan to expand the farm to 50 printers.
Today, 2050.AT prints spare parts and prototypes not only for repair plants, but also for such enterprises as the Cheboksary Concern Tractor Plants, the MISIS Institute, the Russian Mechanics company, Tupolev PJSC, and others.
2. Prusa Research
Another interesting example is the 3D printer company Prusa Research, which was founded in 2009 by a student from Prague named Josef Prusa.
Josef created a 3D printer in which most of the parts are 3D printed.
In 2016, Prusa’s 3D printing farm consisted of just 40 printers, simultaneously printing spare parts for other printers. By 2018, their number had grown to 500.
Printing all parts of a new 3D printer takes 27 hours on a single printer on a Prusa farm. This is fantastic!
Moreover, most of the spare parts for Prusa 3D printers can be downloaded on their website and printed by anyone at home.
The company ships around 6,000 printers worldwide every month.
This earned them the title of the fastest growing technology company in Central Europe (Deloitte 2018), with a growth rate of 17.118% in four years.
Back to the realities of small batch 3D printing production.
In 2014, the Lubimova project was created. This an online store for gingerbread makers.
The project was created literally in the kitchen with one 3D printer. Of course, with one printer, orders took a long time to complete. Therefore, more equipment was required to increase turnover.
In four years, the project had grown to one of the largest online stores of gingerbread molds and stencils.
Today, “Lubimova” has several dozen 3D printers for the production of molds. Moreover, the process is almost completely automated, which eliminates errors and reduces costs to a minimum. Finally, delivery times do not exceed 2 days.
What About Resin 3D printers?
Due to the specifics of the materials used, the niche of photopolymer printing is rather narrow. As a rule, the material is used in production of master molds for casting or models that require a certain surface smoothness and high detail.
At the moment, one of the most in-demand areas of SLA printing is dentistry.
For example, the production of aligners can be safely attributed to small-scale production. The bottom line is that to treat one patient, 10 to 35 aligner models are required for the entire course.
Models need the same type of resin but shouldn’t be exactly the same. Making 35 master models for molding aligners by hand in the traditional way tasking and time-consuming.
A 3D printer improves productivity and quality of finished products. Moreover, multiple products can be printed on one platform in one cycle.
Ultimately, the cost of 3D printed master models is significantly lower. Apart from this, the production process itself is faster and more efficient.
If you wish to establish a small-scale production of plastic parts, get in touch with us. We can carry out a test print for you so that you can determine whether this technology is suitable for your tasks.