This is a good question to ask before running a 3d print. While the technology is very novel, it is not the solution to every design problem. Here are some considerations:
- Is the part a primitive solid? Cubes, spheres, tubes, and other basic shapes can often be created in simpler ways, using less expensive material. For example, instead of printing a cylinder, consider whether some pipe from the hardware store could do the job. Instead of printing a box, try to find one or construct one from sheet plastic / metal. The laser cutter can make some excellent boxes.
- Does the part require dimensional accuracy? Holes will never 3D print to their correct size, so post-print processing will always have to be done. Likewise, the printing materials shrink as they cool, sometimes up to 10% for some material types.
- Does your part have fine details? Things like text (under size 30) will not print visibly. Sharp edges and thin walls tend to deform while printing, and sub-millimeter details are unlikely to print at all.
- Do you need good material properties? Our printers only print in plastic, and do so in layers. printed parts will sometimes break between the layers when under lots of stress. That isn’t to say that 3D printed parts cannot be structural, but that it will take extra considerations.
- Can your part even be printed? 3D printers are not magic. Certain geometries are impossible or very difficult to print, or will leave huge amounts of support material in the part. Remember that large overhangs and spans will need to be supported. Large, flat objects usually do not print well due to warping.
If you are not sure about the best way to produce a part (and remember, 3D printing is often not the best way), talk to someone about your design. Remember to mention details like final application, environment of use, durability / surface finish requirements, etc.