Why Choose 3D Printing?

Your masterclass in product design and development


Protolabs’ Insight video series

Our Insight video series will help you master digital manufacturing.

Every Friday we’ll post a new video – each one giving you a deeper Insight into how to design better parts. We’ll cover specific topics such as choosing the right 3D printing material, optimising your design for CNC machining, surface finishes for moulded parts, and much more besides.

So join us and don’t miss out.


Insight: Why Choose 3D Printing?



Hello and welcome to this week’s Insight.

Today we’re going to be answering a big question – why would you choose 3D printing over any other type of manufacturing?

You probably won’t be particularly surprised to hear me say that 3D printing is a fantastic technology. While it may not be right for every project I can give you a number of reasons why it might be the right choice a lot of the time.

Right, let’s start with number one: The geometry it offers.

This is perhaps the best thing that 3D printing has to offer above all other manufacturing technologies. Where most other processes have limitations on what kinds of features you can actually create with them, such as not being able to have internal channels with liquid injection or holes that end mills can’t reach, 3D printers can produce almost any shape you can imagine.

This has led to some truly innovative designs that really take advantage of 3D printing’s capabilities to make organic shapes like honeycombs or complex matrices. When combined with the highly engineered plastics being used these days, you can make some incredibly strong and beautiful parts with comparative ease. You can even include space in the design to help reduce weight or simply to boost the aesthetics, without having to worry about drilling them or having to fiddle around with the mould.

In fact, the absence of any kind of mould or tooling is another one of the draws of this kind of tech. All you need to turn a design from a CAD file into a real, physical part is an appropriately sized machine to print it on and the material to do it with.

Also, with 3D printing, making a change to your part is incredibly simple.

This makes it a useful technology for getting your rapid prototyping out of the way. Not only is it easy to make the little changes that are commonplace when you’re still hashing out a finished design, you can also get those changes printed off and in your hands relatively quickly. This lets you get right back into the process of testing and tweaking, and testing again.

Onto the final point in 3D printing’s favour, which is also probably the most significant one for many projects – cost.

Now, 3D printing isn’t going to provide a cost reduction for every single project going. If you’re producing something that’s relatively geometrically simple on a large scale, for example, then injection moulding is going to be much cheaper in the long run. That’s what it’s best at, after all.

However, if you’re using the tech on a product or a prototype well-suited to the strengths of 3D printing, you can significantly reduce the amount you’d be spending on more conventional production. There’s labour costs to think about, for one – once they get going, 3D printers don’t need any operators or much in the way of supervision. You don’t need to worry about using multiple, multi-stage machines when you’re 3D printing your parts, nor do you normally need to worry about assembly.

Also, if you’re working on a relatively small scale, you don’t need to buy moulds or invest in tooling. In fact, thanks to the availability of outsourced suppliers you don’t need to buy any equipment of your own. You can happily outsource it and get all the benefits of the technology without having to make any kind of capital investment.

That’s it for this week. I look forward to seeing you again next Friday.



With special thanks to Natalie Constable.

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