3D metal printed parts - the 2 important cost drivers and 3 ways to reduce part costs

  • By - CADS Additive Ondesignair Space
  • 11 June, 2021
3D metal printed parts - the 2 important cost drivers and 3 ways to reduce part costs

Investing in a 3D metal printer brings your company many benefits. It makes it possible to produce highly complex parts with great structural performance, while producing designs that are one of a kind.

But as many businesses have discovered, using a 3D metal printer is expensive. Producing parts using selective laser melting (SLM) or direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is time and energy intensive. And, unlike other mass manufacturing techniques, additive manufacturing doesn’t get that much cheaper the more you make: If you are able to maximize the number of single parts per build job (build tray) you are able to reduce the overall part production costs to some extent.

So, how can you optimize your metal 3D printing processes and reduce your costs? There are really three ways

2 Major cost drivers in metal 3D printing

The precise cost of producing any metal 3D printed part varies significantly depending on the design itself. That said, the following table, using figures from 3D Hubs, gives an idea of the major costs involved in printing a ‘standard’ build plate of 6-12 parts:

Manufacturing

 

Material cost

$175.00

8.05%

DMLS/SLM cost

$375.00

17.24%

Post-processing

 

 

 

Stress relief

$68.75

3.16%

Part/supports removal

$150.00

6.90%

Heat treatment / HIP

$156.25

7.18%

CNC machining

$1,250.00

57.47%

 Total

 

$2,175.00

100.00%

 

As this table shows, two areas in particular are responsible for the high costs involved in printing 3D metal parts:

  • DMLS/SLM cost: This refers to the machine cost – the machine typically has an hourly rate, so the longer the 3d printing job takes, the higher the machine cost. This hourly rate, in turn, is largely based on the amortization of the machine. Add to this the cost for the energy used during the 3D printing, to arrive at the DMLS/SLM cost
  • CNC machining: 3D metal printed parts need to undergo post-processing which can take anywhere from a few hours up to a few days.

If you can reduce time and energy used in these two areas, it becomes less expensive to use your 3D metal printer overall. And that means you can use it more productively, and improve the return on your investment.  

Learn more: The costs of 3D metal printing

How to reduce 3D metal printing costs

The good news is that reducing the two major cost areas we’ve identified above is perfectly possible. Let’s see how.

1 - Reducing the machine cost of 3D metal printing

The best way of reducing the cost of using your DMLS or SLM machine is to cut the time it takes to print the 3D part itself. You can boost productivity significantly by using modern 3D metal printing software with automation features that let you optimize your time-to-print.

An example of this type of automation can be found in the dental industry. Of course, patient-specific dentures all have a unique shape, but the fundamental geometry is always of the same type. Therefore, orientation, placement, support structure generation and slicing/hatching can be streamlined to a high level of automation. The result is that the actual effort for the user is reduced to a couple of minutes per build-job only, even when no two dentures are the same. 

2 - Reduce the CNC finishing costs of 3D metal printing

CNC machining represents by far the highest cost of any metal 3D printed part. It involves the use of software-controlled machines and skilled machinists who turn the ‘raw’ 3D printed part into a polished and ready-to-use widget.

For example, most 3D metal printed parts emerge from the machine with support structures attached to the unit. It takes skilled workers several hours to remove these parts from a structure. The combination of technology, labour and energy involved make this the most expensive step in the process.

3d metal printing support structures

 

 

And so, it pays to use new techniques that reduce the amount of time spent on CNC finishing. For example, research suggests that the use of supports that can be dissolved in acid reduces the time needed to finish a 3D metal part from days to a matter of hours.  And modern SLM editing software is capable to take into account this type of support removal.

Keep learning: Pros and cons of 3D metal printing

3 - Don’t forget: data preparation

There’s actually a third way to reduce your cost-to-print, you may not have considered. Turning a CAD file into a format that can be 3D printed normally takes time and expertise – it will usually take several hours for your engineers to prepare these files, test them and ensure they are ready to print. The cost base here is fundamentally staff salaries. You’ll need staff who can prepare the machine file and ensure it is designed correctly and will ‘translate’ to the 3D printer. These staff are usually highly skilled and therefore command higher salaries.

And this is where 3D editing software can make a big difference, especially if it’s easy to use, has good automation capabilities and takes routine work away from the user. Examples are built-in machine libraries and pre-defined support structure. Good software that can automate the data preparation of your files, tests them and generates highly accurate machine files can reduce preparation time by as much as 75%. If 3D metal file preparation normally takes your half a day, automation means it can now be done in as little as one hour, saving also another couple $100’s of your 3D printed parts.

Your skilled staff benefit from automation because they can now be more productive – producing, testing and printing more designs in the same amount of time.

Make 3D metal printing more productive

One of the biggest obstacles facing the growth of 3D metal printing has always been the cost factor. Unless businesses can commercially justify the costs involved in producing parts, the investment in a printer may not seem worthwhile. However, by finding ways to reduce machine costs, CNC machining and data preparation time you can significantly lower the amount you spend on making each part – and that boosts your ROI.

Simply put, helping you optimize the cost of 3D metal parts has always been CADS Additive’s mission. CADS Additive brings you therefore the most advanced metal 3D metal printing software for SLM with an intuitive user interface. It lets you automate many activities which would previously have required hours of skilled labour.

But don’t take our word for it. You can try CADS Additive on designairspace for free (we’re not even asking for credit card information).  And of course, our experts are happy to share their insights and experience in SLM: whether you’re looking for a second opinion, or like to learn how companies like yours have successfully started with 3D printing.