Additive Printing Start to Finish

It actually starts at the end

This page does not seek to educate you on everything there is to know about Additive printing.  Our goal here is to help you understand at a high level the entire process that you will have to go through to end up with the improvements in your business operations and profits that was the goal of the entire effort in the first place.  We suggest that you also read our page What Nobody Else May Tell You.  Then you will be in a better position to separate truth from fiction as you talk to people in the industry that have something they would like to sell you that "you really need" or neglect to mention problems and issues that you need to know about, but are not something they really want to bring up in the sales process or talk about.  We have all been in that room.

If you are going to be successful in implementing Additive printing in your business, you have to start at the end and work backwards.    What exactly is it you will be trying to make and who will either be using it or purchasing it?  Chances are that you will be making many things for many reasons.  This first step will  be a key part of your Additive printing evaluation process and how you can best assure yourself a good return on your investment.  This is business 101, but it sometimes gets lost when new technology is being discussed.

For clarity, this industry uses three terms that really mean the same thing; 3D printing, Additive printing, and Additive Manufacturing are three terms that describe the same thing.  3D printing was used to describe this industry and its related processes when the people mostly involved in it were hobbyists.  When the technology and processes started being developed for and marketed more to businesses rather than hobbyists, the terms Additive printing and Additive Manufacturing were created to get away from the hobbyist association that that the term 3D Printing has historically had.  

Here is a step-by-step high-level overview of the entire 3D printing process:

  • Once you have a good idea of what you want to end up with, the process typically starts with a CAD (Computer Aided Design) software package that allows you to create a set of drawings that can be printed out on paper the instructions that someone else can follow to actually build what you originally had in mind.  To print it out on a 3D printer, you would just tell your software to export the final drawings into a STL format; this is a standard function in just about every CAD software package today.
  • The STL file is then transferred to your 3D printer and what you originally conceived is created via one of many possible print processes.  See our pages on Selecting a Printer and Additive Printing Economics for more details and information on those processes, their associated printers, their associated costs, and their specific pros and cons.  The STL file may then need to be analyzed for actual manufacturability, potential design issues introduced by the 3D printer process itself, among other things, and then converted to another file type that your specific 3D printer can understand and work with.
  • One of the biggest issues you will need to think about is exactly what materials you will need to actually use to print what you originally had in mind.  This MUST be thought through BEFORE you spend a lot of time evaluating the purchase of any printer unless you want to waste a lot of time and money.  It is important to note as well that materials used in the 3D printing world usually are required to be produced to a different state than they are in the manufacturing world that you are used to metals typically need to be in a powder form, plastics typically need to be in a filament form as examples.  This factors into the overall cost equation when it comes to printing in an Additive printing environment.  See our page on What Can Be Printed for examples of what types of materials can be used as raw materials by a 3D printer and what types of products can be produced through the printing process.
  • Once you have a computer file your printer can work with and you have all the materials loaded into your printer, you start printing.  You may need to have support structures in place before you start the job or have your printer create them as it prints.  Quality control may take place as the printing progresses or at the end of the process.  Multiple print jobs may be needed to produce parts with different characteristics depending on what you are making and the capabilities of your specific printer.  At the end of the print process you may have additional post processing, assembly, and inspection process that are required and that are separate from the actual printing process.  Some of the systems on the market have devices that can do that work and can be physically linked to the printer itself so little or no human intervention is required even if multiple physical machines are required.  See our page on Selecting A 3D Printer System for more information.
  • At the end of the entire process you will have something that represents a wise investment of resources, or not.  If you work with Talburt Global, our associates, and partner firms through the process of implementing 3D printing in your business, your odds of success will increase as you will be working with a team of professionals who together can offer you resources that you will need and that you cannot find elsewhere.

For some ideas on how Additive printing can improve your bottom line and allow you to better serve your customers, see out page Specific Benefits By Industry.

We are here to help

We do not know everything.  No single firm or individual does.  We build and work with teams of professionals that are experts at what they do however and that formula delivers exceptional results.