Reduce 3d printing cost by design optimization

1. Introduction of 3d printing cost

There are many factors can affect an object’s 3d printing cost/price. The main cost can split into several portions: material cost, labor cost, other cost.

Material cost

3d printing raw material cost

There are many different 3d printing materials on market: ABS, PLA, PTEG, RESIN, METAL, ETC. And the price is very different too. If you have a 3d printer, usually you can try to choose materials that can be used on your printer. If you want to print your object by an online printing service, you can get material information from the supplier.

After you choose the material, the object’s price is calculated based on the amount of material that is needed to build your object. And the amount of material can be measured by weight or volume.

Material cost=A*P*K

A is the weight or volume of material, including the object’s material and support material;

P is the cost of material per unit weight/volume (per gram or per liter)

K is a factor we need to consider(K>=1)

The printing time is a factor too. If you print a large object or print at a thinner layer height, it will need more time. And then maybe K should be more than 1.0 in the above equation.

Post process materials cost

During the post process, you still need some materials, such as paint, sandpaper, hydro dipping film, etc. You need to consider these materials’ cost too.

Labor cost

From designing to post process, you need to spend much time or you need to hire somebody to do that. Some 3d printing service companies bill based on an hourly rate.

Labor cost=hourly rate*time

Hourly rate is the cost per hour(dollars/hour);

Time is the time needed to finish the job(hours).

Other cost

If you sell your 3d prints, there will be package, shipping and some other cost. The printing layer height, resolution, quantity, lead time, power consumption are factors which contribute to the cost of 3d printing too.

2. How to reduce 3d printing cost by decreasing 3d model volume

The amount of material is a key factor contribute to the 3d printing cost. In this article, we will discuss the 3d printing raw material cost.  As discussed above, the less material you use, the less it will cost you.

Overall size of the object

Usually we need more materials to print a large object. That means the material cost may be increased. Of course, that is not absolute. For some simple parts, a large part maybe needs less material than a small object. We can get the volume of an 3d model easily from a 3d software.

To print an object, 3d printer’s head nozzle, laser or light beam moves from a point of origin (zero point). A large object requires the head to move a further distance from its zero point, and it takes longer time to complete the printing. A tall object often requires more layers to build, and that means it is time consuming too.

We can reduce the material cost by scaling down the 3d model. But that may cause some other problems. For example, when you scale down a big model, the wall thickness will be reduced too. If the wall thickness is too small, it will not be 3d printable. So sometimes we need to enlarge the 3d model to make it 3d printable.

Hollow the 3d model to reduce 3d printing cost

Hollowing out 3d model is a method to reduce material cost. Of course, there are some disadvantages, such as the part will not be strong as a solid part or you need to add some support material. When you hollow out 3d model, the inside does not need to be the same level of details as the outside.

What to consider when hollowing:

-Wall thickness

The thinner the walls, the less material you will require. But if the wall thickness is too thin, your 3d model might be fragile. And if you want to print the object successfully, you must know the basic guidelines for your material.

-Escape holes

After hollowing, maybe you need to fill the hollow area with some support material. When printing the 3d object is created layer by layer, then some material can get trapped inside the part. If there are no holes, the material cannot be removed. So you need to add a few holes to the 3d model. Usually there should be at least two holes with a diameter of 1.5min mm.

For big models, you might save a lot of material by hollowing out your model. For small models, maybe there is no big difference.

Add lattice structure (lightweight structure) on your 3d model

For some mechanical parts, hollowing the 3d models will make them fragile. But if you print the solid part directly, it may be very expensive.

With lattice structure or lightweight structure, we can reduce the weight whilst maintaining mechanical performance. Through latticing techniques, the part’s weight can be reduced by 90% or more.

Read more about lattice structure here.

It is a topology optimization or lattice optimization method. When you design mechanical part, you can optimize the model with FEA (Finite Element Analysis) software.

Design parts by Generative Design method

A generative designed part may be similar to a topology optimized part. But they are two different design methods.

Topology Optimization-We use CAD and FEA software to optimize a preexisting design by removing material. That means it starts with a complete design and focus on improving the design.

Generative Design-You can just input parameters only: purpose, material, strength, size, manufacturing method, cost constraint, weight and more. Then the computer will try to find the solutions automatically. You may get thousands of potential solutions. And then you can choose the best one that fits your needs.


3. How to calculator 3d printing cost

If you understand the components which contribute the 3d printing cost, you can try to calculate by yourself.

If you need, there are some online 3d printing cost calculator can help you. With these online services, you can just upload your 3d model, and select some other parameters. And then you will get the quotation. And you can contact a company that provide on-demand manufacturing services.

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