A well managed 3D printing farm, or 3D printing lab, can be a strong addition to your existing business, or even become a separate stand alone business. Building a cell of multiple 3D printers can increase your production capacity, allow you to simultaneously print with multiple materials, and enable you to offer 3D printing as a service, creating a new revenue stream.
A print farm, print lab or print cell is a facility of multiple 3D printers used for manufacturing products. These spaces are arguably the purest form of direct digital manufacturing (DDM), as 3D printers allow you to go directly from your 3D CAD design to a printed part.
Below you will discover a range of reasons why you might consider investing in multiple 3D printers for your organisation. There are three types of environments that support DDM well:
The print production facility at Formlabs HQ.
Support larger design and engineering teams
When you have growing design and engineering teams, it can be a challenge to manage 3D printer usage and maintenance, especially when some team members are better at caring for your printers than others. Adding a print farm centralises responsibility for printer maintenance into a single department and allows engineers and designers to work on their separate prints in tandem.
Increase Production Capacity
Whether you're 3D printing your own designs or providing bridge production for clients, a collection of multiple 3D printers makes it easier to offer plastic production as a service at scale.
For example, Chris Vestal, principal of MotoMinded, started his dirt bike accessory company in three days with a bank of 3D printers, going from prototype to production right on his workbench without the hassle of requiring molds. Chris has been able to produce parts on demand and maintain reasonable stock levels.
The Formlabs print farm, with about 50 Form 2 3D printers, can produce an average of 650 parts per week in various materials and is managed by seven staff. You don’t require a dedicated operator for each printer, just a few staff who are good with their hands, technically savvy, and understand the basics of CAD so they can manage any issues with 3D models.
The Formlabs print production team produces hundreds of sample parts each week in multiple materials.
Print in Multiple Materials Simultaneously
Most 3D printers will only allow you to print with one material at a time, which can extend production times for multiple material assemblies if you own a single printer and need to stagger jobs when printing different parts. Multiple printers enable printing of multiple materials simultaneously so you can get to the assembly stage more quickly and save significant amounts of time.
Offer 3D Printing as a Paid Service
Websites like 3D Hubs have made it easy to launch and manage your own 3D printing service bureau, creating a revenue stream from your unused print capacity by taking on external orders. These online marketplaces allow users who aren’t printing enough to justify owning a high quality 3D printer themselves to submit their .STL or .OBJ files and select a provider to print their 3D models and ship them, with many of those providers running their own 3D printing farms.
If you’re interested in getting into this line of business, it’s probably best to start small and scale accordingly, which has become possible with the advent of affordable desktop 3D printing technology.
Redundancy and Reliability of 3D Printers
Even with the most reliable and robust 3D printers on the market, user error or general maintenance needs can take down a single machine at any time. If you only own a single 3D printer, when a printer goes down your entire 3D printing capacity is removed, and you may need to engage an external provider, adding time and cost to your projects. Adding multiple 3D printers provides reliability and redundancy, meaning there’s always a backup plan. Even if you do lose a printer, your printing capacity is not entirely removed.
Build and Manage Your Own 3D Print Cell
Interesting in building your own 3D printing cell of six or more printers for prototyping or low volume production? Download our white paper to learn how to build and manage a multi-printer facility.