We’ve wrapped up our first phase of research on the cost implications of Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, and we have just begun phase two.  We teamed up with Additive Manufacturing groups in academia and industry, developed a research approach and estimating structure with the guidance of experts, and began collecting cost and technical data.  So far, we have gathered 648 datapoints from 3 organizations, which mainly includes data from 6 different printers.  The data are mostly for stereolithography (SLA) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) processes.  For our first cut at the data analysis, the results look very promising.  Figure 1 shows the actual vs the predicted time it takes for the 3D printer to produce an item from a basic set of inputs, such as the printer, material, end item dimensions (X,Y,Z), surface area, and quality level.

Figure 1: Additive Manufacturing Build Time - Actual vs Predicted

In phase 2, we are collecting more data to refine our relationships and expand to other AM processes, looking to provide more guidance on how a part should be oriented on the build tray, and looking more closely at postprocessing costs, which can be a significant portion of the cost, especially when working with metals for defense and aerospace equipment.  I’ll be sure to post an update as the study progresses.  If you’re interested in getting involved with our research, or if you have anything to add, please leave a comment!