EDUCATION

How to Choose the Right 3D Printing Service?

3D printing service provider
Above: Sculpteo, the French 3D printing service provider/Image Credit: Sculpteo

We are witnessing a rapid rise in the use of 3D printing technology since the pandemic struck the world. Many organizations are incorporating the technology by outsourcing the work to the right 3D printing service.

Since the technology is capital-intensive to incorporate, adding a supply partner in the overall value chain is the way forward in the current global scenario. To enable more and more companies to incorporate the technology, we have come up with a simple guide to ensure all companies choose the perfect 3D printing solutions partner.

1. Available Technologies

FDM 3D printing technology
Above: FDM 3D printing technology in operation/Image Source: 3D Hubs

One of the most important reasons to work with a 3D printing service provider is to get access to its wide range of 3D printing technologies. With a myriad of options, a 3D printing service can cater to all types of manufacturing projects. So, the range of available technologies becomes one of the most crucial parameters in choosing the best 3D printing service for you.

Due to their larger technology range, the service provider has considerable expertise in all the technologies. This enables them to suggest and guide customers to the right technology that will help them get the most out of their projects.

A customer may initially want to 3D print a part with a certain technology, but a service provider can suggest a more suitable technology for their project, saving time, cost, and post-processing effort while enhancing the part performance as well.

The most common polymer technologies available with most 3D printing service bureaus are:

  • Fused deposition modelling (FDM)
  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital light processing (DLP)
  • Selective laser sintering (SLS)
  • PolyJet printing
  • ColorJet printing

Popular metal 3D printing technologies include:

  • Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)

Other professional technologies that are less common are:

  • Digital light synthesis (DLS)
  • Binder jetting
  • Metal jet fusion (MJF)
  • Bound metal deposition (BMD)
  • Directed energy deposition (DED)

2. Available Materials

titanium powder plant
Above: Powder jars of Sandvik titanium power/Image Credit: Sandvik Group

Selecting a 3D printing service is incomplete until you consider the materials. Technology selection is highly material-centric. All materials cannot effectively be used with all technologies. Certain materials can be used effectively only in certain technologies. So, in choosing the right 3D printing service, you should consider material availability. The 3D printing service needs to have expertise in printing with the material you require.

3D printing services offer a range of technologies and the associated materials. The common materials offered include:

  • For FDM technology: ABS, nylon, PETG, and PEEK filaments
  • For SLA and DLP technology: Tough, high-temperature, flexible, castable resins
  • For SLS technology: Nylon powder
  • For metal technology: Steel, titanium, nickel, copper, precious metals

3. Design Expertise

metal 3D printing
Above: Fusion 360 announces new manufacturing & generative design extensions/Image Source: Autodesk

Design is an often-ignored aspect of 3D printing. While all designs can be 3D-printed, not all designs should be 3D-printed. Confused?

This typically means that though it’s possible to 3D-print any design, some cannot be 3D printed efficiently. A design for 3D printing should leverage the capabilities of the technology, following DfAM (design for additive manufacturing) principles.

A service bureau must understand this distinction and accordingly suggest or recommend design modifications for compatibility with 3D printing. This compatibility can save the customer time, money, and material, as well as enhance the part performance, durability, and reliability. So be sure to choose a 3D printing service that has design expertise.

4. Niche 3D Printing Services

3D Printed Surgical Implants
Above: Full load of acetabular cups printed by twin laser printed with 60-micron layer/Image Credit: SLM Solutions

While it is typically good to reach out to a 3D printing service that has a larger range of technologies, it is not recommended in every case. Many service providers offer solutions in a particular niche. This is generally observed in medical and healthcare applications.

Medical use of 3D printing has to pass certain regulations, and so do certain aerospace applications. For niche applications, service bureaus that have FDA or ISO-approved facilities, technologies, materials, and processes should be preferred.

5. One-Off vs. Long-Term

If you have a one-off 3D printing project, it doesn’t matter much which 3D printing service you select, as your choice will not affect your long-term work, product, or reputation.

But if you are looking to incorporate 3D printing or want to outsource long-term work, then selecting the right 3D printing service should be central to your integration strategy.

Consider all the above-mentioned parameters in choosing a service provider, as the quality of your product — and your reputation — is at stake. A small hiccup can lead to major supply disruptions and loss of face in the market. So, choose a service provider that suits your short-term or long-term goals.


About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.