Opting to Outsource: Transitioning to AM with 3D Printing Services


Nicole Hyman  

3D printed graphite parts inside the 3D printer.

3D rorinting services, like i.materialise and Shapeways, started out as a convenient option for hobbyists and 3D printing enthusiasts who didn’t have access to a 3D printer. These services have come a long way since those days. While these services are still popular among many makers, increasingly we’re seeing a shift towards more industrial offerings. Consider the fact that i.materialise no longer offers ceramic as a material option on their website. This is interesting and perhaps telling because ceramic is a material associated with crafts such as souvenirs. On the other hand, i.materialise recently added untreated brass to its inventory of metal materials which already includes steel, titanium and aluminum.

A 2017 report from Sculpteo, a 3D printing service, found that of the companies they surveyed, 55% said they planned on spending more on 3D printing services in 2017. For companies considering 3D printing, such a service has obvious appeal. After all outsourcing 3D printing reduces in-house capital expenditure on equipment as well as expenses on software, other hardware and 3D printer maintenance. This gives companies greater production flexibility and reduces tooling investment. The popularity of outsourcing is best illustrated by the growth of this market. It’s estimated that the 3D printing services market will grow at a CAGR of 43.7% by 2021. But this market isn’t without its drawbacks and challenges.

This week we decided to explore some of the new 3D printing services which are trying to ease the transition to outsourced industrial 3D printing.

Protolabs to expand its industrial 3D printing service

Proto Labs Nickel plating
A nickel plated 3D printed part from Protolabs

Rapid manufacturing service provider, Protolabs, has expanded its industrial 3D printing service offering with the addition of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology. Protolabs is a foundational partner for HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology which is production-grade. By adopting HP’s 3D printing technology, Protolabs will be able to expand their shift from injection molding and CNC milling, the company’s’ two largest areas of business, to industrial 3D printing. With the addition of this Multi Jet Fusion technology, Protolabs will now offer five different industrial 3D printing technologies and will be able to manufacture metal, plastic and elastomeric components in about a day.

Voodoo Manufacturing offers large scale 3D printing service

Voodoo Manufacturing, a 3D printing factory, has introduced a service which will enable customers to manufacture parts on a larger scale. In preparation for this new service, Voodoo Manufacturing has acquired 10 Raise3D N2 Plus 3D printers. These printers have a large build area of 305 x 305 x 610 mm, making it possible to 3D printing larger objects with ease. This means that a customer can now print a mannequin of a six-foot tall person out of only 20 parts and have it assembled in 20 minutes. Such a project would usually require at least 90 parts and would take two to three hours to assemble. Ultimately what this means is that customers can enjoy better overall part strength as well as a higher visual quality.

Graphite Additive Manufacturing introduces fast-track 3D printing service

SLS Carbon Bracket Low_Credit Andreas Anedda
SLS Carbon Bracket from Graphite Additive Manufacturing

Graphite Additive Manufacturing’s new express 3D printing service makes it possible for customers to complete 3D printing projects in as little as two days. This is ideal for customers who need to complete urgent 3D printing projects. The service enables lead times of about 2 – 5 working days for SLS parts which would typically take 7 to 10 working days. Graphite Additive Manufacturing explains that this new express service comes at a time when demand for SLS 3D printed parts is high. The company recently produced over 3000 parts in one SLS build. (Featured image up top is of parts 3D printed by Graphite Additive Manufacturing)

Bombyx Prod offers serial additive manufacturing service

3D printing service provider Bombyx Prod has launched a serial additive manufacturing service which will be able to print thousands of parts per order. The company currently has only five in-house 3D printers. However one of the printers uses 10 printheads for printing identical parts simultaneously. This greatly speeds up the 3D printing process and means that Bombyx Prod has the printing power of 35-45 regular 3D printers.

3D printing services, while not without their drawbacks, are a convenient way for companies new to 3D printing to adopt the technology. As these services become more popular, there’s bound to be some change in how these services operate. It will be interesting to see how these services adapt to suit the needs and concerns of their customers and the industry as a whole.

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