The implementation of large scale 3D printing often enables groundbreaking improvements of production processes. Since the technology behind industrial 3D printing is being improved and updated constantly, the options and benefits of this solution could be uncertain when applied to specific business cases. Before investing in a solution for 3D printing, our customers would like to know whether a project is commercially and technically feasible.

This is where a large scale 3D printing pilot project offers valuable insights. During this project CEAD collaborates with the customer to determine the feasibility of a possible large scale 3D printing project. The pilot project covers facets such as hourly costs, determination of printing material, design, and printing strategy. After successful completion of the project, the customer is ready to start large scale 3D printing.

Three circles overlapping each other with text Design, Material, Strategy

The motivation for a large scale 3D printing project

In practice, R&D/innovation managers and engineers contact CEAD to find out more about the benefits of applying large scale 3D printing. The main motivation to start a pilot project is usually centered around time and cost savings, which are provided by 3D printing as opposed to current techniques used.

A typical example of using large scale 3D printing as a substitute for a current production process can be found in the creation of industrial molds. The traditional process of creating a mold requires substantially more manual labor and time than 3D printing in combination with milling does. Therefore, 3D printing provides a more cost effective alternative.

Besides 3D printing as an alternative for current technologies, all possible applications and improvements can be the topic of research during a pilot project. Typically, a pilot project provides an insight into:

  • Whether the 3D printing technology is suitable for your project;
  • The difficulty of producing the product;
  • A detailed commercial analysis of the production;
  • The optimal printing material for your product;
  • And, much, much more depending on your specific case study.
3D printed bridge with ribs to improve the strength of the internal structure

Possibilities for a pilot project

The possibilities for a pilot project are endless. These projects are not only used to investigate options for complete gantry based or robot based systems, but also to determine the optimal printing material or robot extruder output. 

Different printing machines require different research approaches. Pilot projects concerning robot extruders are usually centered around material selection and thus require less time to complete. More advanced projects can also investigate the possibilities of milling. The final implementation of a pilot project is always completely customized to your application. 

Duration of a pilot project

The quick analysis provides an estimation of the time required for the completion of the pilot project. The duration of the projects depends on its size and complexity. Smaller pilot projects can be realized in one phase, think for example of the determination of printing material. 

On the other side of the spectrum are larger pilot projects. An example of such a project can be found in the large scale 3D printed bridge that was the result of a collaboration with Royal HaskoningDHV and DSM. Larger pilot projects are cut into three phases in order to minimize the risk for both parties. After each phase, a ‘go/no go’ moment takes place, which allows both parties to control the project. 

Cost of a pilot project

It is not possible to provide a general cost of pilot projects, due to the endless possibilities of 3D printing. More complex projects require more effort, causing a larger cost than smaller projects. The quick analysis generates an estimation of the cost of the project. A more detailed projection is provided by the subsequent step: the in depth analysis. The following paragraphs elaborate more on the characteristics of each step of a pilot project.

Phases of a pilot project

Pilot projects consist of a quick analysis, an in depth analysis, and the actual pilot project itself. Each of the three phases assesses a vital part of the technical and commercial feasibility of a case study. 

1. Quick analysis

The first step of larger pilot projects consists of a cost-effective quick analysis into the overall difficulty of the project. The complexity, object size, and material selection are taken into account during the quick analysis. Furthermore, the characteristics of the part itself are of importance in this phase. We distinguish three types of parts: a mold, a structural part, and a non-structural part

The first output of the analysis is used to form a general idea of the project plan, including the required 3D printing system, and a cost estimation. Before additional in depth analyses are conducted, the cost estimation of the pilot project itself can be used to assess the importance of further steps. The cost estimation combined with the difficulty of production provides the input for the first go/no-go moment. Once both parties decide to continue with the project, the second phase is started.

2. In depth analysis

The pilot project continues with a more detailed and technical analysis. The requirements analysis takes external factors into account, such as corrosion or chemical resistance. Additionally, various 3D print strategies, redesign analysis, and material selection are extensively reviewed during this stage. 

During this analysis, a general layout of the project plan is formed as well as a rough estimation of lead time. The project plan provides an overview of the steps required for the project to succeed. This information provides the CEAD specialists the possibility to calculate the future hourly costs for in house printing. Finally, the in depth analysis concludes with a second go/no-go moment. 

3. Pilot project

The third part of the project consists of the actual pilot project itself. During this step, CEAD helps to create the business case. This is done through a refinement of the in depth analysis. Cooperatively, we locate areas for possible improvements and make small adjustments to the project. Think for example of the definite selection of material, a redesign of parts and testing of critical points, such as a material test and a tensile test.

The final product of the pilot project can be found in the demonstration of the technical feasibility, by printing and milling the complete part. This proof of concept is then used to assess the commercial feasibility of the project, followed by the final go/no-go moment. If the pilot project is concluded successfully, the actual purchase of the selected large scale 3D printer can start.

3D printer purchase

The first selection of possible large scale 3D printers is made during the quick analysis. The subsequent steps guide the customer to the ideal solution for 3D printing for the specific application. Once all three phases of the pilot project have been completed, the ideal machine can be optimized and customized. Our specialists help to compile a printer that fits your needs.

Case studies of 3D printing pilot projects

CEAD has been guiding companies, universities, and organizations by selecting the right 3D printing solutions since the start. The following two case studies provide an insight into the practical side of a pilot project.

Pilot Project: Large-scale 3D printed bridge

For this project, three companies joined forces to break new ground: CEAD, international engineering and project management consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV, and DSM: an international company focussing on developing game-changing scientific science across multiple societal areas.

Robot Extruder E25: 3D printed molds with Polypropylene 30% short glass fibers

Rapid Prototyping is an Hungarian based large-format prototype manufacturing company with over 20 years of experience in the industry. With their CNC-machine, they build molds for the yacht industry, maritime industry, custom trucks manufacturers, and other related industries.

Milling at Rapid Prototyping client of CEAD

Start a pilot project

A pilot project can give your organization answers on questions concerning large scale 3D printing, such as the cost and technical feasibility. The modular layout of the pilot project combined with the various go/no-go moments ensures that only required steps are taken, minimizing risks for both parties. 

Curious about more information on a 3D printing pilot project for your organization? Please feel free to contact us directly at, +31(0)15 737 01 83 or through the contact form below.

Contact form pilot project

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