One of the most common questions we hear from customers is: “How can I reduce the cost of my prototype?” For customers considering stereolithography (SLA), there are five standard variables that affect the expense and which, if managed well, can result in a more cost-effective build.
The biggest contributor to cost is the overall height of the part. Most parts are built using a .004” layer thickness, or, in the case of a high-resolution build, a .002” layer thickness. The 3D file is “sliced” into layers and then traced and solidified layer by layer on the SLA machine. Consequently, a 12-inch part (3,000 layers) will take longer to build than a 6-inch part (1,500 layers) and, therefore, cost more. Orient the part with a smaller z height or consider the cost benefits of allowing ProtoCAM to produce the prototype in two pieces and glue it together prior to shipping.
The number of cubic inches of material required to make a part is the second largest influencer of final cost. Generally, the larger the part, the greater the volume of material needed, and the greater the expense. To reduce material volume and cut part cost, prototypes can be created hollow rather than solid or with reduced wall thickness.
When a part comes off the SLA machine, excess resin and support material still must be removed. The prototype is then post-cured in a UV oven and generally bead blasted to provide a consistent finish over the entire part. Depending on the complexity of the part shape — small details and number of supports — it can take anywhere from several hours to several days to completely sand the piece to presentation level. Experienced customers can opt to perform the finishing work themselves on exceptionally complex parts to save on the final invoice with ProtoCAM.
4. Finish Level
ProtoCAM offers several levels of part finishing ranging from an economy “natural” to a “presentation” level and cost goes up contingent to amount of manual post-production work required. Our standard level of finish involves the removal of supports with some light sanding on the support surfaces with an overall bead blast prior to shipping. See our page on Finish Levels for a full list of what is available with SLA.
5. Lead Time
The easiest way to reduce part cost is to increase the lead time. ProtoCAM’s standard lead time is two days after receipt of order, although some larger parts require a longer lead time. Customers that need quicker turn-around will see an additional charge to accomplish that requirement. Similarly, if you don’t really need the part within two days, increasing the lead time to one or two weeks will cut the final cost for production.
As with any project, there are also economies of scale. If you think additional copies will be needed, ProtoCAM recommends purchasing those with the initial run of parts. The greater the quantity ordered, the smaller the per-piece cost.
Our engineers always orient parts to give our customers the best quality within the shortest amount of time. But, if other options need to be explored to meet scheduling or budget constraints, contact ProtoCAM and we’ll see what we can do for you.