Long-time 3D print artist Eric van Straaten of the Netherlands is attempting something unique for artists in this field: obtaining his own color 3D printer.
van Straaten specializes in realistic figurines, often of children and animals that have a unique style. His “Humbelles” series includes quite a large number of such figurines, and he makes a living selling these to the public, or doing commissioned work like most other artists.
To produce these colorful figurines over the years, van Straaten has used 3D print services to produce them. The reason for doing is that the cost of acquiring one’s own color 3D printer is significant, and it’s easier to simply “rent time” on someone else’s color 3D printer.
The problem is that the cost of doing so is pricey per unit, particularly for items being sold directly to the public who are sensitive to cost.
The situation facing van Straaten is the same one facing any prolific 3D print operation: when starting out, use a 3D print service, but when your volume increases, get your own equipment to save costs.
A low print volume does not justify owning equipment, but at some point, the volume DOES justify purchase.
It seems that van Straaten is at the point, or believes so. He’s working up an Indiegogo campaign to assist with the acquisition, but to be clear it’s not exactly a donation scenario: he’s intending on selling figurines in exchange for funding.
The challenge I’d pose to van Straaten – and to anyone considering such a switch from 3D print service to owned equipment – is this: are you prepared to handle ALL of the costs and efforts required to keep the machine going?
And what are those things? Here’s a list of the major considerations:
Are you prepared to pay for the likely huge shipping cost to deliver the machine to your facility? It could cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size, weight and distance of the machine.
Do you have a facility able to house the machine? Is it physically large enough? Can the machine fit through the doorways upon delivery?
Do you have the correct environment for the machine? Do you have the correct type and amount of electrical power (some machines require tricky three-phase higher voltage power)? Do you have suitable air recirculation and ventilation?
Is the area suitable controlled for temperature and humidity that matches machine specifications?
Are you prepared to pay for ongoing proprietary supplies for the machine? You may have to pay more than the 3D print service because you’re not buying as much.
Do you have sufficient time to operate the machine? You may have to get up in the middle of the night to swap jobs in order to keep the machine running at a frequency sufficient to pay for itself.
Are you prepared for the inevitable print failures? Your break-even financial calculations could be dented by these all-too-frequent events.
Can you repair the machine when it breaks? Do you have a quantity of spare parts and experience working on this type of machine? If not, you’d best opt for a service contract from the manufacturer or third party service, which could add significantly to your operating costs. Depending on the nature of the contract, you may have to pay something for each service event, or a flat rate per year.
Finally, are you prepared to deal with the scenario of your machine becoming unsupported by the manufacturer? At some point you will be unable to procure materials and spare parts and the value of your investment will plummet. Time to buy a newer machine!
As you can see, there’s many more considerations that just purchasing the machine. By the way, purchasing a machine for this situation might be best done on the used market. Save your dollars for the other aspects!