3D printing

A hearfelt message to a 3D printing bureau

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Relationships are tricky and can go through some rocky patches – especially the relationship that a company has with its additive manufacturing bureau. Here, our regular columnist SJ lays their feelings on the line


Dear AM bureau, l am writing to say that I feel like the vibes have been off lately. I’m picking up what you’re putting out. You need me – and your other customers – to be more demanding.

Like, when we’re on a high, and requesting quotes for quantities in the thousands, the vibes are immaculate. Communication is on point, email responses are prompt, home visits are super-friendly. The frequency of our calls may be lower, but the quality of those calls is much higher.

But, when we’re in our lows, it’s chaotic. I give you the news that we were outbid by a competitor, or that the programme wants to stick with a safer, more conservative manufacturing method, and instead of comforting me and acknowledging my feelings, you go on and on about how I never come through for you and how I put your business at risk with false hopes and expectations. Like, come on – what did you expect? We’re both grown adults here!

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally into you. But, like, not exclusively. You know how ‘vendor lock’ really cramps my style. When you’ve got that rizz, being tied down to just one partner gives you the ick.

I know it’s really hard to put in all the work that you do to make me happy and then see me out at conferences talking to someone else, acting like I don’t know you, like I wasn’t just at your site just the week before, like I’m not in your DMs right that second asking for even more quotes. But you’ve gotta give me some breathing room.

Our current relationship just isn’t working anymore. In the beginning, you were so happy to do the little one-off jobs for me. Now, all you ever want is production. And, babes, I’m so happy to give you production – but you’ve got to upgrade your quality system, to invest in it. It has to eat and leave no crumbs if we ever want to be making qualified, flight-ready hardware together.

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Time for a rethink

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to question if this is what I really want. I mean, the highs are amazing, but the lows are just too much sometimes. And I don’t know if I can keep living like this, wondering if we’re always going to make it through the next financial quarter or if it’s gonna be the end of us.

I’m not saying we should break up or anything – but maybe we need to take a step back and re-evaluate things, because I don’t want to be stuck in a toxic cycle forever, you know?

I’m out here grinding, making moves, and I need a supportive partner by my side. I need you. Because without you, I wouldn’t be able to order parts.

Without you, I wouldn’t know my way around a build plate. I couldn’t even speak DFAM until you showed me the right angles, the max hole sizes, the best aspect ratios, the difference between a watertight wall and one that’s pressure-proof. And who can forget all those late-night rushed emails we had around support designs?

It took multiple meetings for you to explain that supports were just fancy lattices. I never told you this, but I really appreciated you letting me come over to your house to show me how supports are removed and the whys and hows of that. My respect for you grew considerably.

Especially when you showed me the variety of printers and materials you had to offer me. It was an impressive spread and I was touched by your generosity. In the spirit of that, I want to be more honest with you. I was all rough edges and no contour until your process parameters lasered their way through my heart.

Reaching a compromise

Maybe, we can compromise? I’m more than willing to open up a couple of tolerances for you, if you can promise me better quality on the post-process side. And we can talk more about bringing down material testing costs if you’re willing to get on board with sharing in-situ monitoring data on the machines.

I can’t reign in my overbearing and costly inspection requirements, but I can move those requirements to be for specified classes of parts and give you a different, less intense inspection process for low risk/ non-critical product lines.

Does that sound do-able on your end? Are you willing to meet me in the middle here?

The key to a successful partnership is one where we make efforts to grow together and to support each other in our shared goal: a healthy and sustainable manufacturing industry.

I need someone who’s gonna hold it down for me, not someone who’s gonna bring me down. I hope you understand where I’m coming from. Anyway, I just needed to get this off my chest. Let’s talk about it sometime, yeah?

Your (toxic) customer, SJ

P.S. Have you even read the ‘RevC_Final_ FinalDrawing_thisone.dwg’ that I sent over last night at 3am?

P.P.S. Well, obviously I’m still sending model updates after you’ve started the print file, babe. That’s who I am. Didn’t we discuss that you wanted me to be more demanding?


This article first appeared in DEVELOP3D Magazine

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