Is a 3D Printer Worth it for Your Business?

Is a 3D Printer Worth it for Your Business?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could simply make the right part for a remodel or upgrade, rather than searching hardware stores high and low for exactly what you need, with the right threading, in the right size, at the right price? A 3D printer might be the solution.

3D Printers: What They Are, What They Aren’t

For some people, the idea of a 3D printer brings to mind the kind of Star Trek tech that could indicate that we are, in fact, boldly going… somewhere.  But a 3D printer isn’t as easy as a replicator, you can’t simply demand that it print a 3/8-inch hex head bolt with reverse threads.

A 3D printer is a tool that can seriously compound frustrations of anyone trying to overcome the steep learning curve without realistic expectations.  Sure, you can make anything you can imagine, if you’re good with CAD-style software.  You absolutely can build everything you need, if you understand the materials available and how to calibrate your own machine (because every machine is different) to work optimally with whatever materials it takes to get the job done.

If it sounds like a lot of frustration wrapped up in a single machine, that’s because it can be.  Again, it goes back to expectations and how much time you’re willing to invest in mastering the tech.

3D Printers for Contractors

The hardest part of getting started with a 3D printer is choosing the machine that’s going to best fit your needs and your budget.  For a lot of people, a $150 machine is all it really takes, but others might require a machine that’s ten times as much because they must be able to use a wider range of materials.

Before investing in a 3D printer, ask yourself:

What will I be using this machine for?  Printing plastic 3D keychains and other promotional materials is one thing, but fabricating metal parts is quite another.  Need to print high-quality clear plastic knobs to replace original glass versions?  The 3D printer to do the job is out there, but not all printers are able to print all materials. Make sure you know what you plan to use the machine for and buy a machine that can do the job.

Am I willing to invest a year in learning how to use it?  The learning curve on a 3D printer is high, especially if you have no design background or experience using CAD software.  If you did nothing else after you bought a 3D printer, you could easily learn to use one well in a few months, but most people have other things occupying time in their lives.  You can’t rush this, if you don’t learn the fundamentals from the ground up, you’ll end up bashing yourself against your printer rather than working with it like any other tool in your box.

Am I more interested in design or tinkering?  If you want something easy to use out of the box, that you simply design for and send the file to the printer, you’ll end up spending a lot more money for the simplicity of design.  If you don’t mind tinkering and you’re ok with a machine that’s going to be down some amount of the time, one of the many DIY kits out there may serve you well and save money, too.

Mastering 3D Printing is a Long-Term Project

There’s no doubt that a 3D printer can be a game-changer for contractors in a variety of specialties. Designing and producing products you need and have a difficult time finding, specialty tools or even marketing materials are all good reasons for your company to own a 3D printer.

Just like a table saw isn’t the best tool for every type of cut, though, a 3D printer isn’t the only tool – or even the best tool – for all situations. Before dropping the dough on a machine that might not be what you need, try one out at your local library or ask a friend who may own one for some hands-on experience.  You may figure out pretty quickly if it’s a good fit for you.

Do you have a 3D printer for your company?  What do you mostly use it for?