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Metal AM In-House vs. Outsourcing

When to outsource the technology and when to bring it into your workshop?
Metal parts made with AM
© LUT University

With AM changing the approach on how products are designed, prototyped, and made, companies have started to integrate the metal AM into their production.

Prior to taking up metal AM for themselves, the decision of where and how to incorporate it has to be made. Investing into metal printer and buying it as a service both have own advantages and disadvantages. Which of the options becomes reality is very much depending on the issues and goals of the company. This article outlines the key considerations of both approaches.

Function of the part

First of all, the complexity and the function of own part needs to be analysed. If the plan is to use metal AM for product development and prototyping (with numerous alternations to design involved), then in-house system could be a preferrable way to go.

Outsourcing, on the other hand, may be a viable option when the aim is to print end parts high level of complexity. Experienced engineering bureaus are knowledgeable about design for additive manufacturing and have large printing capacity.

Production volume

How often does the company need the printed parts is an important aspect, as few-times-only use does not justify buying the equipment. But, if the aim is to print on a daily basis, or, for example, share the machine between different projects, buying one will be cost efficient solution for a long run.

Funds

The size of the budget matters, as setting up metal AM in-house will involve significant upfront costs. In addition to buying a printer, one has to train the staff, spend on material management system on-site and account for costs that come from maintenance. The production volume and frequency must make in-house manufacturing profitable, otherwise, outsourcing is a better option.

Expertise level of the staff

Approach to product design and manufacturing in AM have quite a few differences from those of traditional methods. Companies seeking to implement AM have to ensure that employees to be working with it understand these differences. Skilfulness and knowledge about both, technological and design aspects is needed for successful application. When staff literacy in these fields is lacking, outsourcing should be tested to get to know the technology and bypass the risks caused by lack of experience.

Metal AM – In-House

Pros:

  • Manufacturing on-demand. Once the production is set up and running smoothly, investment starts paying back by shortening lead times and meeting the project deadlines earlier. The designs can be adjusted whenever needed, machine(s) can be left to run 24/7 and there are no costs from logistics to be concerned about.

  • Lower expenses – in-house production eliminates costs and stand-by times associated with delivery and storage.

Cons:

  • The greatest con is the cost of industrial metal printing machine, prices of which are from tens to hundreds of thousands. Therefore, the in-house production should be a part of the long-term plans to justify the initial cost and generate value.

  • Hiring professionals literate in additive manufacturing technology and educating operators will be required.

Metal AM – Outsourcing

Pros:

  • Avoiding an upfront investment at the beginning of implementing the technology will save budget. Neither will company have to spend on service- and maintenance. The experience and machine park of the service-taking company can offer valuable insights for further planning of own production once the question of producing in-house rises to agenda.
  • Selection of different AM technologies, systems and materials by service company, with their time polished skill-set in all of them. Several of them can be tried and evaluated.
  • Proficiency in additive manufacturing – those offering metal AM as a service will be able to offer advice variety of topics. They also offer additional services such as part (re-)design, preparing the files for printing, and post-processing.

Cons:

  • Price of the part will be higher compared to producing the same part in-house.
  • The inevitable time-delays related to shipping, possible que at service-offering company, etc.

To sum this all up, there are various factors in game, but most important of all is the clarity in the plans of the company regarding metal AM. Consensus between the stakeholders, design and operations units must be reached to envision the future work flow before going with either option. Alternatively, both of these options can be applied at the same time or interchangeably, depending on the goal of specific project.

© LUT University
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