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Reducing your 3D Printing costs - we asked our Experts!

We all know that 3D printing is a fast-changing manufacturing technology that offers engineers all sorts of design and prototyping opportunities, but if cost is an issue what do you do?

In this article, we asked Tasos Pantelis, European Project Engineer – Additive Manufacturing, for his top tips.

Q1. What are the easiest ways to cut costs when I am designing a part for 3D printing?

Tasos: There are a number of basic things that you can do to optimise your design so that it prints easily and reliably.

Many of these basic rules are the same as they are in injection moulding projects – use gradual transitions, avoid sharp corners and watch out for tall, unsupported walls. This will make things flow better and look good so there will be less intervention from engineers and your cost will be lower.

But if you are producing final parts using 3D printing you need to remember what it can achieve. You can also design organic shapes to cut costs using honeycombs, matrices and holes to save material and processing time.

Q2. Is it always a good idea to use less material?

Tasos: It’s generally a good idea if you’re going to be 3D printing for your finished product. If, however you are using it for prototypes then you also need to think about what is possible for the final manufacturing method.

Carrying out a manufacturability analysis early on in the design cycle can ensure that what you prototype using 3D printing can still be produced when it comes to manufacturing, which will save you a lot of money later.

Q3. Is there anything that we should try and avoid?

Tasos: Secondary operations or post-processing can add to your costs, so consider exactly what you are trying to achieve.

This is less of an issue with selective laser sintering – or SLS – as this technology generally doesn’t need much in the way of post-processing. Direct metal laser sintering – DMLS – though, often involves scaffolding structures to prevent warping, and these need to be manually removed after the part is printed.

Even then, however, you can cut down on the number of secondary operations by considering your part’s geometry. So, for example, try and avoid T-shapes with big arms, and overhangs, as these need a lot of supports. If you do need to include those kinds of shapes you might be able to change the orientation, so instead of printing a T-shape standing up, turn it upside down.

Another thing to avoid is over-tolerancing your parts. While you can specify incredibly precise dimensions, think about what you actually need. If you aim for something that is more accurate than you need this can force your manufacturer to build your part with thinner and thinner layers, which increases the build time and the cost. Sometimes we might even need to use secondary machining operations to get things within the tolerance we were given – again this all adds to the cost.

If you need to achieve small tolerances and a high degree of accuracy it is possible, but ask yourself whether you need it first.

Q4. Having covered some of the don’ts are there any does that we can design to save costs?

Tasos: Most importantly remember what 3D printing can achieve for you and don’t lose sight of what you want.

3D printing can save you lots of money beyond those upfront costs.

With a bit of creative thinking, you can print fewer pieces and take advantage of features that would be impossible with traditional manufacturing techniques, like internal passages for wiring or cooling. And remember that you don’t need to pay for moulds and tooling either.

And think about how much you might save on shipping costs if you can halve a part’s weight, it might not show up in your manufacturing costs but it will save your company money.

So, think carefully about everything involved and you’ll be able to take advantage of everything 3D printing has to offer and make some savings that are simply not possible using other manufacturing processes.

The Protolabs team are always available to support Designers and Engineers on their product development journey. To access more tips and resources, head to the website

I am part of the award winning Marketing Team at Protolabs, Europe. Protolabs is the world’s fastest digital manufacturing source for rapid prototypes and on-demand production parts. With automated quoting and manufacturing systems, it allow us to produce commercial-grade plastic, metal and liquid silicone rubber parts within days. The result? A manufacturing partner that helps Designers, Engineers & Innovators accelerate speed to market for new products and components.
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