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It is on record that additive manufacturing has cut production cost across the major industries where manufacturing plays an important role. Due to its well-documented ability to reduce lead times, cut production costs while improving product quality which makes it a win-win situation for its adopters.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a majority of small, medium and large scale businesses are interested in setting up an in-house 3D printing department or facility to aid production.

Starting out on something major, like setting up an in-house 3D printing facility requires extensive planning and some technical know-how which you may not have acquired at the moment. This is why we have created this informal guide to provide you with the steps needed to setup a functioning 3D printing facility.

3d printing cluster

Creating a Functioning and Conducive Workspace

As expected, the first step to opening any facility is analyzing your production needs for it determines the number of 3D printers that will be required to execute these projects.

If your business produces multiple items on a daily basis, then you might need 3 – 5 desktop 3D printers to handle the amount of work that comes your way. And if less, you can choose to start with two 3D printers and scale up with your rising production needs.

Next, you must consider purchasing ergonomic desks and chairs to serve as hosts for the 3D printers and its users. Once you have gotten all your hardware in place—laptops, Wi-Fi, SD Cards, tools, air filters etc.—in place, the next step is considering the software applications the facility needs.

And when it comes to software, having a computer-aided design software—Blender, SolidWorks etc.—is recommended for it allows you to view and edit your 3D models.

Choosing Your 3D Printer

Here again, your understanding of your organization’s manufacturing needs should be the major determinant of the type of 3D printer and its corresponding technology you end up with.

This does not mean there are no guidelines to follow, as a simple consultation with a professional hobbyist or an enthusiast with commercial leanings will show,

It is recommended that you consider purchasing more Fused Deposit Modelling (FDM) 3D printers than the Digital Light Processing (DLP) option to aid ease of use and versatility.

This is due to the fact that a prosumer FDM 3D printer—such as the CreatBot D600, Makerbot Replicator+ etc.—allows you to experiment with different materials/filament types when creating.  You should also consider purchasing an open-source 3D printer which will allow you integrate third-party applications on them.

Managing 3D Printing Logistics

Once you have all your equipment in place and HR completes the job of hiring staff with the right experience, the next task is keeping everyone on the same page.

And by everyone, I mean all the people involved in a project’s life-cycle such as the industrial designer, 3D artist, and digital manufacturing professionals. This is where the need to create a 3D printing cluster comes into play. But first, what are 3d printing clusters…

Clusters are a collection of networked 3D printers which can either be run onsite or remotely using a limited number of personnel. For example, if you create a clustered network for 5 3D printers, you can leave the job of monitoring the production phase to the one individual. This saves you the cost of hiring a professional for each machine.

There are currently a couple of software options designed for creating clusters to ease workflow and Cura Connect is a great option which you can read up on. Once a cluster has been successfully developed, you can expect to efficiently manage and monitor the progress of your 3D printing facility.

Collaboration and Management

The next consideration to have in mind is providing everyone working on a project with a means to discuss ideas, share files, monitor progress and collaborate constructively.

In many industries, collaboration has been made possible with enterprise management software as can be seen in the tech industry as well as the use of Building Information Management (BIM) software in construction. The success of these collaboration and management tools in their various industries has made a case for the 3D printing industry to have its’.

Recognizing this need, a few brand names in the 3D printing industry have taken up the challenge to produce a collaboration and management software for additive manufacturing.

Towards the tail end of last year, Ultimaker achieved some success and today, you can make use of apps such as the Ultimaker Print Management Cluster Software and 3D Printer OS, to organize your facility. Thankfully, these are not expensive software applications due to the affordable nature of their subscription plans.

Training for In-house Personnel

Now, you have everything in place—in terms of hardware, software, logistics and management tools—the last and final step before reaping your rewards, is imparting knowledge to hired personnel. This is due to the need for getting things done right quickly, without having to carry out multiple iterations that may be costly.

Therefore, the 3D artist must be sensitized on the importance of modelling 3D printable models as well as designing for either an FDM or a DLP 3D printer. Hired staff will also need some training on how to use the collaborative and management tools which will ensure everyone s on a similar page.

The success of these training activities will also determine how successful the lean manufacturing tenets of additive manufacturing are applied.

Conclusion

There are a couple of ways to cut manufacturing costs across board but 3D printing has proven to be the best of them. As can be seen from the example of Volkswagen’s integration of 3D printing in its Autoeuropa factory.

The auto giants ended up saving approximately $160,000 annually as well as drastically reducing production durations. You too can take advantage of the efficiency 3D printing brings by creating your own 3d printing in-house facility.