Intro To Industrial 3D Printing

While often associated with maker projects or cute plastic home decorations, 3D printing is a powerful manufacturing technology that offers opportunities to introduce greater efficiency, innovation, and cost savings into an organization. Developments in the last few years have grown it from a handy prototyping tool to a versatile technology that offers advantages in speed, cost, and the ability to handle complex geometries and assemblies. The ability to speed up product development cycles, reduce costs, and drive growth has made it increasingly popular in industries like aerospace, consumer hardware, automotive, and medical. A new wave of innovation in the field means that materials are diversifying, productions speeds are getting faster, and new applications are being tested.

However, 3D printing is not a universal tool; in many cases it is more advantageous to use traditional manufacturing methods. When deciding whether or not to use additive manufacturing, knowing the pros and cons of the process and materials can help you choose what's right for your project.


Sample Applications of Additive Manufacturing

3D-Printing-Jigs-Source-Javelin.jpgFunctional Prototypes 

Test & Identify Design Problems

End-Use Parts

Jigs & Fixtures

Improve Manufacturing Workflow

Concept Models

Tradeshow Demonstrations

Casting Patterns

    Visual Aids


Benefits of 3D Printing

Improved Product Development Lifecycle

  • Identify design issues early on
  • Transition from prototypes to low-volume production without breaking the bank on tooling
  • Create models to bring to trade shows, beta test in the field, or fulfill a kickstarter campaign
  • Fit more design interations into your timeline with faster lead times
  • Produce parts in a low volume and get your designs in the hands of customers for feedback

Reduce Waste

  • Uses less material than subtractive technologies
  • Combine assemblies and reduce the number of parts to source, assemble & document
  • Save on transportation costs
  • Decrease weight

Freedom Of Geometry

  • Multi-piece assemblies can be printed as one object
  • Complex geometries can be created, offering enhanced design freedom
  • Features that cannot be made with traditional manufacturing methods, such as lattices or internal cavities, can be created easily

Reduce Cost at Low Volumes

  • Complex parts can be printed instead of machined
  • Save on assembly, documentation, fuel and storage (see how)
  • Get parts faster and reduce the time engineers are waiting for parts


  • Creating single units or batches of customized parts is much more affordable than with other manfuacturing methods

Save Time

  • With faster lead times, engineers are never waiting for the next prototype for weeks, they can get it the next day.
  • Reduce time on asmanufacturing and assembly with custom fixtures and ergonomic assembly aids
  • Take advantage of distributed manufacturing and get parts faster



Technology Overview

Here’s a rough overview of how the different technologies stack up. For more detailed information on each of the 3D printing processes, check out the in-depth look at the technologies in the following pages.






Surface Finish


FDM ★★ ★★★★ ★★ $$
SLA ★★★★★ ★★★ ★★★★★ $$$
SLS ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ $
Polyjet ★★★★★ ★★ ★★★★★ $$$$
DMLS ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★ $$$$$


*see table below for design requirements for each technology

3D Printing Technologies

Click on each process name to learn more about the technology and what materials are available.



Functional Prototypes in Industrial-Grade Materials

FDM prints in the same thermoplastics used in injection molding, as well as some specialty engineering plastics.

Read more»


Smooth Surface Finish & Fine Detail with Diverse Materials

Great for precise, detailed prototypes and mold patterns. There are a wide range of SLA materials available medical grade, temperature resistant, or simulation production plastics.

Read more»


Multi-Material 3D Printing

Great for attractive, detailed prototypes that look and feel like the real thing. Polyjet has excellent surface finish, is easily painted, and can simulate various durometers of elastomers & plastics.

Read more»



Durable Full-Melt Parts

Great for durable prototypes and end use parts. While it doesn't have the same variety of materials offered as other technologies, SLS is well rounded. It is able to handle complex geometries, produces strong parts, is one of the more affordable technologies, and offers  throughput efficiency for low-production runs.

Read more»


Metal 3D Printing

Great for parts that are too complex/expensive to machine, as well as applications desiring weight reduction or simplification of assemblies. DMLS parts are full-melt, and offer comparable material properties to machined metals.

Read more»

Design Guidelines for 3D Printing

Each printing process has it’s own limitations. These are the standards for each technology to ensure your parts come out as you intend.  For projects where tolerances are critical it is always best to go over the limitations of each printing technology with a specialist at your 3D printing service provider.


Minimum Wall Thickness 0.6mm 0.8mm 0.8mm 0.6mm 0.5mm
Minimum Feature Size 0.6mm 1.0mm 0.8mm 0.6mm  0.4mm
Minimum Space Between Interlocking Parts 0.5mm 0.5mm 0.5mm 0.5mm 0.5mm 
Minimum Size for Embossed/ Engraved Detail 0.4mm 2.5mm 0.5mm 0.5mm 0.5mm

Want this table and tips for designing for 3D printing? Download our 3D Printing Reference here