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Five Tips to Getting Started with AM

Now that 3D Printing has become a hot topic in everything from newspaper articles to movies, one of the most common discussions I have with individuals involves two questions:

  •  How is 3D Printing going to impact my business/industry?
  •  How do I decide if it’s right for me?

These are important questions, as investing in this technology can be expensive. And, failing to identify emerging trends in your industry and adapt to them can also have harsh consequences. So, if you’re asking yourself the questions about in some form or another, here’s my five-step process to help guide you through some of the key decisions that you will need to make as you explore the technology and ensure you make smart, strategic decisions.

Step 1: Set Your Budget

Currently, 3D Printing technology is highly segmented into personal, professional and industrial machines, and each comes with a vastly different price tag. From the start, you should have a clear understanding of your budget — including not just the hardware but also materials, space, personnel and training. Making a decision about how the resources available for you to invest in the technology will go a long way in shaping your ultimate strategy and expectations.

Step 2: Define Desired Outcomes

What do you want to ultimately achieve with 3D Printing?  Do you want to use it to create prototypes?  Engage your design team and help them explore the technology?  Build end-user parts?  There are a variety of ways to use 3D Printing technologies, and you (and your team) need to be aligned on what you’re trying to achieve with technology — what does success look like?  And then, you need to decide if your budget matches these outcomes.  If it does, you’re on to the next step.  If it doesn’t, I suggest checking out Step 4 (and patting yourself on the back, because you just avoided wasting money on technology that — for now — can’t deliver what you need!).

Step 3: Set your Core Applications

Once you know your budget and what you want to achieve, you need to think about exactly how you will achieve it.  What happens when the printer gets delivered?  Who will work on it?  How will they be trained?  Do you need any outside help to jump start?  What internal customers are you serving, and how do you get started?  Certainly, how you use the machine will evolve over time, but you should have a plan developed for Day One use before you place any orders. Budget, outcomes and core applications still aligned? Let’s validate first.

Step 4: Experiment with Service Bureaus

Service Bureaus are a great way to get exposure to the technology and different materials before making an investment (or in lieu of making an investment if it turns out your budget isn’t going to give you the technology you need).  These companies specialize in producing various items for companies, and can be a great test case to learn about materials and machines, and to validate that you can get the outcomes you need from the 3D Printer you plan to buy. You may even find that your needs are best suited by a service bureau, as it doesn’t require the upfront investment and you have access to individuals who are experts on how to run the machines.

Step 5: Build the case

If you’ve successfully proceeded through the prior steps and 3D Printing makes sense for your business, it’s time to build the strategy and plan.  When you defined outcomes in Step 2, you started to think through what success looks like, but now it’s important to get even more specific.  What is your implementation timeline?  Where will the training and resources you need come from?  What will your first two or three projects be?  Where will the lab be set up and how will you ensure the space has all the necessary safety features? And finally, how will you measure your return on investment (e.g. parts printed, time to market savings or manufacturing savings)? This last question is important because if you can show value, you increase the chances of getting your company to continue to invest in the technology as it continues to evolve.

Moving through these steps in a disciplined way will ensure that you make a smart investment — or tell you that you should hold off for now until what the technology offers, your budget and your desired outcomes are aligned.  I love helping companies think through these issues and ensuring they make sound decisions, so please reach out if 3D Printing Reports can be of help.

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