The increase in availability of 3D printers means that companies can get parts made rather quickly by a specialized 3D-printing company, rather than waiting for a mail-order part to come in from a manufacturer who may have to rely on slower processes to create the part. While 3D printing isn't the fastest itself, the procedure is very simple and does not require much more than a software file to get started. But you have to ensure your part will be strong enough to use, and that means taking three aspects into consideration.
Plastic or plaster powder are among the two more common materials used in 3D printing. If all you need is a small gear wheel, plastic could be just fine. But for parts that need to be much stronger, you need to use a 3D printer that uses lasers to produce a metal object. When you arrange for the printing, you'll have to give the company a detailed description of what the part will undergo so that they and you can decide on the best material.
Toughness vs. Strength
You'd think a strong material would be what you need, and it can be, but not in the way you need it to be. A strong material is one that holds together under unstressed circumstances; it's not necessarily one that is tough. When you want your piece to be able to withstand forces that could tear lesser materials apart, you have to go for one that is considered tough. The printing company you choose will have an array of materials to choose from, so ask about which ones are considered tougher than others.
Your 3D-printed product is nothing if it doesn't have a good design. 3D printing works by laying layer after layer of material on top of itself, and if the design of the item isn't sound, then the item itself won't be either. Have the printing company work up the final design (that takes material into account), based on information you provide. Don't just give them a basic diagram; tell them what you need the part for, how long you want the part to last realistically, the conditions the part will experience (like excessive temperatures), and so on. Ensure you're going to get more than just a toy version of the part you need.
3D-printing technology is getting better each year, and it's getting easier and more affordable to have the custom parts you need simply printed up. But be sure you work with the printing company to create a design that will showcase how good the technology has gotten because that will only benefit you in the end.