How much should you pay for your 3D printing components?

The cost of 3D printing primarily depends on factors such as materials, quantities, and types of printers. Plastic is generally cheaper than metal, while smaller components require less material. Simple and less robust parts can be produced using inexpensive printers.

When considering various 3D printing processes and materials, several factors influence the final decision. These include the required dimensional accuracy, surface finish, and post-treatment requirements, all of which impact the overall cost.

Designing and manufacturing single parts offer numerous combinations of these factors, with continually fluctuating material prices making it challenging to forecast the price accurately. A rapid and accurate cost-estimating method involves uploading the CAD file to CONOVAWELL to obtain free real-time pricing.

Major factors affecting 3D printing cost

Assuming the designs of parts are identical, the cost of 3D printing can be categorized into two main types: material cost and equipment cost.

Material cost encompasses factors such as base material, material loss, and structural assumptions. Equipment cost, whether outsourced or internal, includes installation and setup time, operational expenses, regular maintenance, post-treatment, and machine downtime for maintenance.

The choice of 3D printing material depends on the application and determines the compatible 3D printing processes. Typically, the cost of 3D printing metal is higher than that of plastics, while composite materials are often more expensive than metals.

Plastic materials for 3D printing come in two main types: thermosetting plastic and thermoplastic. Thermoplastics can be melted and reshaped, making them suitable for common extrusion processes. Thermosetting polymer resins solidify through UV curing and are suitable for prototyping manufacturing.

Metals

Stainless steel and aluminum are the most commonly used metals in 3D printing, although titanium and copper alloys are also utilized for specific applications. Laser welding, laser sintering, and binder jetting are suitable processes for 3D printing metal materials.

Compound material

Carbon fiber, Kevlar synthetic fiber, glass fiber, and other composite materials are at the forefront of 3D printing innovation. They possess similar strength characteristics to aluminum, which enhances the strength-to-weight ratio. However, the cost of composite materials can be 8 to 12 times that of plastic materials and 2 to 5 times that of metal materials.

In certain applications, if each component uses fewer materials to achieve the same structural strength through simpler design, the cost of composite materials can be offset by overall savings. Additionally, parts made of metal and plastic can utilize hybrid manufacturing methods.

Compound 3D printing materials are popular in specific industries, particularly those focusing on cost considerations, such as aerospace, medical, alternative energy, and high-performance automotive sectors.

Cost of 3D printing

1. Material extrusion

Including Melt deposition modeling (FDM, as shown)

Low-cost options are available for simple geometric shapes and low volumes.

Material cost: The base material cost is minimal, while the cost of supporting structures increases with component complexity.

Equipment cost: Assembly time for parts is short and inexpensive. However, as the complexity of parts increases, so does the cost due to longer post-treatment times and labor requirements.

  1. Reductive photopolymerization methods include Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP), and Continuous Digital Light Processing (CDLP).

For producing complex geometric shapes and mass production, consider the following:

Material cost: Plastic materials incur the highest overall cost compared to extrusion and powder bed melting methods.

Equipment cost: Parts can be produced quickly with the shortest production time. Additionally, due to the high surface quality, post-treatment costs are low.

  1. Powder bed melting methods include Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), and Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF).

Ideal for parts with intricate geometric features, mass production, and high-quality output at a low cost.

Material cost: The base material cost is higher than material extrusion but lower than reductive photopolymerization. The absence of support structures can further reduce overall material expenses, and the reusable base material minimizes waste, effectively lowering material costs.

Equipment cost: Setup and maintenance times are longer between batches of powder materials. However, due to the absence of support structures, post-treatment costs are minimal.

  1. Material injection processes result in higher overall costs compared to material extrusion but are lower than laser melting/sintering methods.

Material cost: Similar to reductive photopolymerization; however, compared to material extrusion and powder bed melting, it has the highest overall material cost.

Equipment cost: Requires the shortest setup time for parts; most parts necessitate a support structure, leading to increased spending on components with intricate geometric details. However, post-treatment costs are lower due to the high-quality surface treatment of parts.

  1. Adhesive injection processes have lower costs compared to material injection, thanks to reduced material volume and printing time. When priorities do not include high-quality surface treatment, intricate geometric details, or specific material properties, this method presents an economical solution.

Material cost: The base material cost is higher, similar to laser melting/sintering; however, the absence of support structures reduces the overall material cost.

Equipment cost: Prioritizing high-quality surface treatment, intricate geometric details, or specific material properties will increase post-treatment costs. Compared to material injection, setup time between batches for processing powder materials and maintenance time is longer.

  1. Directional energy deposition methods include Laser Engineering Net Forming (LENS), Direct Metal Deposition (DMD), and Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM).

Material cost: The base material cost is higher, similar to powder bed melting and laser melting/sintering. Due to waste material from complex geometric details, the cost is relatively high.

Equipment cost: Parts with complex geometric details will incur higher costs. Setup time between batches for processing powder materials and maintenance time are longer.

How design impacts 3D printing costs

Before printing a part, design decisions directly affect overall costs, including material, support structure, and required post-treatment. Factors influencing costs include:

Part volume: Part volume is crucial. Reducing model size significantly lowers printing costs.

Support structure: The need for support structures varies by printing method, impacting material costs. Different methods may reduce printing costs.

Complexity: Extrusion and material injection often require more support structures for complex parts. Powder bed melting eliminates the need for support structures, reducing material usage.

Part geometry: Geometry can reduce material and support structure needs. To lower costs, consider disassembling parts into smaller pieces or adjusting positioning on the printing base.

Filler: Filling maintains part shape but increases material costs. Modify filling designs for cost-effective strength.

Post-treatment: Thick layers may not impact material costs, but high-quality surface treatments increase post-treatment expenses.