3D Printing End-Use Parts and Low-volume Production

Article by Rod Mackay updated December 26, 2014


Most companies that manufacture high-volume products are constantly looking for ways to stay relevant in today’s marketplace. However the processes they use to manufacture their products are still heavily reliant on expensive tooling and long lead times. As a result, these companies are limited in their ability to respond quickly to market changes or implement product refinements. By integrating 3D Printing Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology into production, manufacturers can bypass the traditional constraints to quickly develop and manufacture new products, and improve existing ones.

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The 3D Printing Alternative

FDM has unprecedented benefits for 3D Printing End-Use Parts for low-volume manufacturing to bridge the gap between product concept and traditional manufacturing processes. FDM is well-suited for the following manufacturing applications:

Pilot production

Pilot production is commonly used to validate new products and processes in mass production industries. It often leads to a better product, lower development and manufacturing costs, a more efficient manufacturing operation, and reduced time to market. FDM can be used in this stage of production planning to quickly build one-off products and tools designed to speed the production process along.

3D Printed Mold

3D Printed Mold


This technique is an interim step between prototyping and full production that allows manufacturers to build products for sale while full-scale tools and production processes are being created or finalized. This is a great fit for FDM technology because it requires no tooling, products can be built in hours instead of weeks or months, and manufacturers can respond efficiently and cost-effectively to the desires of the changing marketplace.

3D Printed Part for Sale

3D Printed Part for Sale

Low-volume production

Sometimes manufacturers build their businesses around the production of low volume, highly customized and/or complex products. In this scenario, FDM technology can maximize sales opportunities while minimizing cost and lead time because there’s no minimum quantity requirement. Plus, part complexity doesn’t add time or cost, so production can begin as soon as the CAD files are sent to the 3D production system.

Short Production Run with a Forus 380mc

Short Production Run with a Forus 380mc

End-of-life production

As a product nears the end of its life cycle, investments in repairing or replacing tooling may not be justifiable, and high-volume production equipment and operators may be diverted to other products. FDM technology can be used to extend a product’s life by manufacturing spare parts on an as-ordered basis, eliminating the need for physical inventory.

Spare Part Production

Spare Part Production

Case Study

Nova Tech Engineering, based in Willmar, Minnesota, produces automated machinery for use by poultry hatcheries worldwide. A key part of the company’s success has been its ability to customize its machines to manage numerous types, breeds and sizes of birds. However, as the business grew, the cost of machining numerous part variations became increasingly inefficient, costly and growth-inhibiting.

Nova Tech End-use Parts

Nova Tech End-use Parts

“We were spending a lot of time and money machining parts, which was detrimental to our overall operational efficiency,” said mechanical designer Jacob Rooney. He explored his options and discovered FDM technology could solve the problem. The company acquired two FDM systems mainly for prototyping, and later invested in a third dedicated to pilot production. “Today we use these printers for various applications such as rapid prototyping, creating casting molds, thermoforming, jigs and fixtures, and manufacturing finished parts.” Another distinct advantage is design freedom. “FDM is the perfect fit for us,” added Rooney. “It allows us to easily change designs so we can fit the parts to the equipment and the bird variety at any stage without being penalized by cost or delays.”

“FDM is the perfect fit for us. It allows us to easily change designs at any stage in the game without being penalized by cost or delays.”

Today, thanks to FDM technology, Nova Tech Engineering can create the many specialized parts their customers require but at a fraction of the time and cost. One example is the time and money it takes to create ten 12-piece carrier assemblies. Prior to using FDM technology, these took four weeks to produce at a cost of $45,000. Now, they take only three days and cost $1,500 — a savings of 89 percent and 97 percent respectively.


See how FDM compare to traditional manufacturing methods for Nova Tech:

MethodProduction timeCost
Injection molding4 weeks$44,175
FDM3 days$1,490
Savings25 days (89%)$42,685 (97%)
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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.