Whenever you’re shopping for anything, do you ever find yourself checking the information for where that item is made? With 3D printers now being manufactured, distributed, and sold all around the globe, would buying one specifically made in the USA matter? That’s the question Tom and Tracy Hazzard tackle in this episode. They go into the pros and cons of using USA-made 3D printers. In choosing a 3D printer, what’s more important – the place where it’s made or the quality that it produces?
Listen to the podcast here:
Does A USA Made 3D Printer Matter?
This is the Ask Us Anything segment.
I don’t quite know how I feel about this one.
It’s not the first time we’ve gotten this question. This is probably about the third time. Mostly, they’re from manufacturers of the materials or equipment or other things. The question is, does a USA-made 3D printer or USA-made filament matter? If you’re in Canada, does Canadian-made matter? Does Dutch-made or Italian-made matter? You have to think of it in each of your own countries as domestic made.
There are several ways you can look at this question. Are we to believe that products manufactured in the US are better than products manufactured in China, Europe or anywhere else? You can also take it a different way. Is the market value better if it’s saying made in the USA or made in Italy or made in whatever.
We must be careful here in how we put it. A lot of the maker communities, because they’re all talking about local made and all of that, there is a value to having USA-made if you’re selling directly to US makers, if that’s your audience. In a broader sense, from our experience in mass retail, it doesn’t matter.
The mass consumer doesn’t pay more for USA-made than they will for other things. They’ll probably vote with their wallet more than anything rather than where it’s made.
This question came to us differently from one of the manufacturers. The thing is just because you’re assembling it in the US or pulling these parts together, you can’t say it’s USA made. You need to look up the regulations on that. It is one of those things where it’s not worth jumping through hoops if your circuit boards are coming from China, your extruders are coming from the Netherlands or wherever they are coming from. You go for where the best product that you can create is. The most reliable and the best product you can create, that’s way more important than slapping a label on something.
I agree with the point you started which is, there may be value if you’re a big supporter of US jobs and local manufacturing and not shipping things halfway around the world that don’t need to be. Environmentally and for job, maybe USA-made does matter. That’s a good thing.
There’s one other place in which that does matter and that is if you’re selling to the government or certain educational systems. Certain educational systems and government programs have allocations that they are allowed to give to women-owned companies, minority-owned companies, US-made products. These are criteria so when you check the box, you get put up in the list of buying or purchasing options. I remember early in our careers doing contract furniture, we used to have the same thing happen in Canada. Canada values Canadian-made furniture. Some of the manufacturers used to have a plant in Canada that would make the same furniture that was made in the US but it was domestic Canadian, which was great. That was good for Canada that they promoted that. The same thing can happen here.
That makes sense. Let’s talk about the actual quality of the product itself, of a 3D printer. Let’s talk about 3D printers. You and I had a lot of experience manufacturing products in the US, Asia and Europe. The reality of manufacturing is that all our iPhones and probably all our cellphones are made in Asia. I don’t think anybody’s making cellphones in the United States. This is a highly technical and precisely manufactured product. For anyone to think that a product made in the USA would be better actual quality than something made in another country is maybe not realistic.
It’s not a foregone conclusion. It’s not automatic. It doesn’t happen. I have seen from many of the inventors who have contacted us over the years to work with them, they have had as many problems with overseas manufacturers as they have had with US manufacturers. The real issue isn’t the manufacturing, it’s your criteria in quality control. It’s on you as the manufacturer even though you’re outsourcing a good portion of that manufacturing or sourcing your parts. It’s your job to choose the right parts that are the best quality that is going to provide long-term consistency. It’s your job to follow up on them and make sure they’re made to that standard.
If you get a poorly manufactured product made in another country, it may speak more of poor direction, poor specification, poor quality control direction from the US importer or whoever’s buying that product from the factory than it does what the factory is capable of.
That’s what we found. We found that there are factories that people would give up on and they make great quality work. They don’t know what the criteria are. They didn’t know what they’re being judged on. When you lay out that quality control, they meet it every time. It’s not a fair assumption to say that it can’t be done. It’s on you to make it happen. That’s the first thing. The second part of it is that you must think about what happened with our friend Taj and Rays 3D. Where in fact, the US audience for their printer has a different set of criteria than the audience for it in domestic China where they’re making those printers.
By involving a US company in the process and by integrating that into their development process, they’re making a product that is much more suited to the US market. That’s where it gets smart, if you’re bringing in US design or US sales, US support, US customer service, all those things. If that’s where your target audience is, you want to make sure that you’re serving them with the product that is understood by that manufacturer. When you bring that in, that’s where it makes a bigger difference, not where the product is made.
I’ve seen high-quality manufacturers in terms of the fabrication of the aluminum or the steel and the components going into it. In terms of the physical machine itself. I’ve seen highly precise, well-built machines come out of Europe or the Netherlands. I’ve seen them come out of the US and we see them come out of China.
The example of the ones we’ve seen out of the Netherlands, they’re great built machines and everything, but their customer service was difficult.
That was hard to deal with.
If they had a better US component for that, they could have fixed that part of it. That’s where they should have decided on having a better US presence. Our friends, the Italian filament manufacturers, are going about that smartly and I love that. It’s a great filament. We tried it on our machine and we love it. They’re going about setting up a US presence and they’re taking their time entering the US market to make sure that they’re serving it well and serving it in a unique way that justifies the cost of their Italian made filament. That’s a wonderful approach.
This brings up a different aspect of, does where it’s made matter? We know there are some good quality filament manufacturers in the US. We’ve tested and used their filament and we’re happy with it. One of our biggest complaints is that there haven’t been enough unusual or interesting colors. Those are basics and the basics are what sells the most, that’s true. These people that fill color, they’re making everything in Milan, Italy. They have one of the most beautiful rainbows of colors available. They’re willing to make custom colors for only a ten-kilo commitment.
In this case, rainbow is not even a good way to describe it. It’s much more nuanced and beautiful than that.
That was my non-technical color term. Tell us what you want.
They have a much more, in a sense, an Italian sensibility about the use of color that goes where you can have multi-color prints that can be made well with these colors because they coordinate together in a nice way. They sat back and thought about what colors make a good color collection and then they presented them. Their color card is presented in a nice way as well. It shows you that they’re thinking about colors being predominant and important in what sets them apart.
I don’t know how it is in other countries because I only understand the US consumer market, but when you think about Italian or European made products, typically the US have a perceived value of being higher quality and being a premium. Whether that’s entirely true or not, there’s a market value in that. I do think that for fill color to market Italian manufactured filament would be a good thing for them. This market certainly is a key differentiating factor.
It absolutely is. In that respect, what you’re saying about that is that everyone should play to their strengths. If US-made is your strength, then go for it.
If Chinese-made is your thing because it’s a lower cost of the manufacturer then labor is here in the US, then go for that. I like how you’re saying like Rays 3D is focusing on what does the US market need? Don’t just take what the China market needs and try to force-fit it into the US market. In that case, there’s something for everybody here in this market, when you think about it.
Work your strengths and hire out your weaknesses or in the sense, create a US presence for your weaknesses.
It makes a lot of sense. It’s somewhat a matter of opinion if USA-made matters or where it’s made in the world matters. It depends on the context of the situation, the totality of the company. Do they have good USA presence or do they not? What is it that’s differentiating them and is that a value to your particular company or not and your needs?
Your particular audience.
If you’re a government or a school agency, maybe they do give preference to USA-made. As a company making things in the US, maybe that is a big difference.
It gives you a leg up. If you have any questions similar to this one or anything about 3D printing and you want to ask us anything, you can find us anywhere on social media, @HazzDesign.
Thanks again for following.
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