Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D Printing

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Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D Printing

Introduction 

The invention of 3D printing has wholly revolutionized product manufacture and development. 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, entails combining multiple layers of a material, one after another, until you successfully create a 3D printed model. 

It has become such a popular choice among many manufacturers due to its innovative benefits that far surpass that of traditional manufacturing. However, like any other method of production, 3D printing has its fair share of drawbacks.

Therefore, in this article, I will be taking you through the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing to enlighten you more about this ground-breaking technology. 

Advantages of 3D printing 

The reason 3D printing has become so popular is because of all the advantages it has over traditional manufacturing methods. Here I’ll explain the most significant benefits 3D printing has to offer.

It Is Affordable 

3D printing is a single step manufacturing process, so it not only saves you the costs linked to using different manufacturing processes and machines but also valuable time. 3D printers do not need constant supervision as they can perform specific tasks once they are set; thus, you do not need to be around at all times. For example, they can be left running at night without employing an expensive nightshift to look over them.

Additionally, 3D printing saves you the total cost of materials as it only makes use of the necessary material to produce a particular part with no or little wastage. 

Buying 3D printing equipment is usually expensive, so it can be cheaper to outsource the project to a 3D printing service company. 

Rapid Prototyping 

Using 3D printing equipment, you can create prototypes within a couple of hours. Thanks to this, the design process speed is considerably increased, meaning you can have the parts in a few hours and ready for the next project. Furthermore, you can cheaply and quickly create a new prototype with every design modification, unlike the expensive and lengthy prototype machining process. 

Sturdy and Lightweight Parts   

Plastic is the primary material used in 3D printing, but metals are also used. 3D printing allows complex, organic shapes to be made that are much lighter than traditionally machined parts. In the aerospace and automotive industry, this is a vital factor as the use of lightweight materials helps improve fuel efficiency. 

3D printed parts can be produced from customized materials that offer specific attributes like water repellence, higher strength as well as heat resistance. Plastics such as PLA can be combined with metals or even wood to give unique finishes and properties.

3D Printing Technology Is Environmentally Friendly 

The use of 3D printing technology reduces the quantity of waste materials created during the production process. Moreover, this technology helps further better the environment since the lightweight 3D printed models can make cars or aircraft significantly more fuel-efficient. 

Easy to Access 

The use of 3D printing equipment has increased in recent years due to increased accessibility. Therefore, finding a local 3D printing service company is now easier than ever.

3D printing has become a popular hobby thanks to its low cost and easy access. Many people have integrated 3D printing into their hobbies such as gaming, DIY, or cosplay. For people that can’t afford a 3D printer, there are many so-called maker spaces where shared use of a 3D printer is free or low cost.

Manufacturers are also turning to 3D printing to save on import and transportation costs. With most of the traditional methods of manufacturing done abroad in countries like China, 3D printed parts can be made closer to where they are required for quick reaction.

Reduced Waste 

In 3D printing, only the essential material is used to make certain parts as it is an additive manufacturing process. This is different from traditional machining, where huge masses of non-recyclable materials are cut to make 3D parts. Because of this, the 3D printing overall cost of production is lower as less material is used since you only pay for what you need. 

Improved Healthcare Facilities

3D printing has revolutionized the medical sector as it is now possible to print human body organs such as hearts, kidneys, and livers. Additionally, more research is being carried out on ways in which this 3D printing technology can further help the healthcare sector. 

Print on Demand 

Unlike subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing technology does not take up a lot of space for stock inventory as parts can be printed only when ordered or required. Thanks to this, you not only get to save costs but also space since you only print in bulk when necessary. The storage of all 3D design files is kept in a virtual library where you then print them using the 3D model, either as STL or CAD file. Hence, you get to locate and print only when necessary.

Quality and Consistency 

Old manufacturing methods are usually characterized by poor designs that can result in low-quality prototypes. This means the quality of the product cannot be guaranteed. However, this is not the case when using 3D printing technology as the product assembly follows a strict step by step process, thereby ensuring remarkable designs and quality products. 

3D printing technology also allows for improved consistency compared to traditional manufacturing. This is possible as errors are noticed immediately, thereby helping lower the overall number of wasted materials and failed parts. Whereas simultaneously ensuring the production of consistent quality parts. Therefore, this technology ensures the parts in a batch are neither defective nor inconsistent in comparison to the other parts.

Perceptible Design and Product Testing  

The visual sight of a product virtually or on the screen cannot be compared to a prototype’s actual feel, something you can experience when using 3D printing technology. It is thus possible to physically touch and feel a product prototype and inspect whether its design has any flaws. In case there is an error, you can go ahead and change the CAD file and later print the new version. 

A physical prototype is invaluable for demonstrating a product to customers or CEOs who may otherwise find it difficult to approve a product from a 3D CAD model. This is one of the primary uses of 3D printing in the industry, and it’s worth remembering the 3D printing was initially known as ‘rapid prototyping’ for precisely this reason!

Faster Production 

Unlike traditional manufacturing methods such as CNC machining and injection molding, 3D printing is considerably quicker. This is because this technology can quickly test designs and ideas hastily, from the prototype to the final product. Consequently, this allows you more time on the market and win over customers before your competitors are done manufacturing their final products.   

Infinite Geometry and Shapes 

Conventional manufacturing methods depend on cutting and molding technologies to create the desired shapes, which is not only sophisticated but also expensive. Fortunately, you will not experience this issue with 3D printing technologies, and all you need to have is a material that is well supported. These supports can be automatically generated by the software.

3D printing can create shapes that are hollow with no openings, have extreme undercuts, all features that are impossible by any other manufacturing method.

Disadvantages of 3D Printing 

Of course, there will always be downsides to everything! Despite many advantages, 3D printing has some disadvantages too. Here are the main ones.

Restricted Build Size 

The chamber size integrated into 3D printers is usually relatively small, thereby restricting the part sizes that you can print. Therefore, any larger item needs to be printed separately and later assembled after its production. Consequently, this increases the time required to print because the 3D printer needs to print more parts before you can go ahead and manually join the parts. Where to site these splits has to be decided by the designer, taking care that they don’t induce weakness or spoil the finish of the final part.

Part Structure  

In 3D printing, parts are typically created one layer after another, hence why it is also referred to as additive manufacturing. This means that whereas the layers are firmly held together, they are vulnerable to splitting when exposed to loads at specific orientations or stresses. It is an issue that is often experienced with items created using fused deposition modeling (FDM). Additionally, the Multijet and Polyjet parts are typically more fragile. Due to this, it may be better to make use of injection molding when making homogenous parts as these are more robust and less likely to fail under structural loading.

Job Losses in The Manufacturing Sector 

The use of 3D printing allows you to create prototypes and product designs within a few hours with one simple step. Most of the steps followed in subtractive manufacturing are eradicated, and this helps save on the cost of labor as fewer people need to be hired to complete the manufacturing process. This eventually results in a fall in manufacturing jobs, something which can be especially detrimental to nations where most of its citizens depend on low skill jobs. 

Of course, 3D printer operators and manufacturers are required, which offsets some of these losses.

3D Printing Technology Is Not Very User-Friendly   

Despite the excitement about the potential of 3D printing technology, using 3D printers is not as straightforward as you would imagine. Because it is a new technology, there is often an element of trial and error required when creating parts on a 3D printer. Experts with previous experience of the technology can all by eliminating this problem. Still, until 3D printing is more widespread, it should be considered a technology with a potentially steep learning curve.  

Limited Materials 

Because 3D printing technology is a recent innovation, the materials needed during the manufacturing process are limited, with some still being developed. The preferred 3D printing material is plastic since it is quickly melted down in layers to make the final item. Nevertheless, plastic is not the most robust material for all requirements, and its strength varies, thereby making it not an ideal pick for specific components. 

3D printing with metal is gradually picking up steam as a viable technology, but at the moment, it is quite expensive.

Additionally, other specialized materials that are used include gold and glass, but these are yet to be commercialized. 

3D Printing Machines are Expensive 

The materials and equipment used in 3D printing are costly, with the cost of industrial-grade printers being hundreds of thousands. Because the initial capital required to embark on using 3D printing technology is prohibitively expensive, many people are locked out from enjoying this innovative technology. Moreover, the materials needed when using 3D printing technology can be costly in comparison to those made use in traditional manufacturing. 

To get around these costs, many companies lease 3D printing equipment or use a third party to get access to 3D printing machines in a so-called 3D printing bureau.

Violation of Copyrights 

The development of 3D printing technology has brought rise to increased counterfeiting incidences. It is because it is now very easy for anyone with access to a product blueprint to copy existing products quickly. Due to this, there has been an increase in patent violation, and identifying a counterfeit product is almost impossible. 

The evolution of 3D printing technology has made life harder for copyright and patent holders to safeguard the rights of their unique products. 

Like other industries, such as the music industry, this is likely to be an on-going battle that will see many innovations and law changes to try to combat it.

Production of Dangerous Items 

Creating explosives, guns, knives as well as other harmful weaponry is theoretically more accessible because of 3D printing technology. This is because it gives people access to a method of manufacturing items in their own homes that was previously impossible. This has made it harder for the relevant security authorities to know when terrorists and criminals are making weapons. With 3D printing technology becoming cheaper and more user-friendly, it is expected there will be an increase in the design and manufacture of unlicensed weaponry. 

Of course, media reports of 3D printed guns have been exaggerated, and realistically, any weapon made of plastic that melts at 200C is not going to be very effective.

Additionally, some criminals are using 3D printers to make realistic looking card readers for ATM bank machines.  

Conclusion 

After reading through this article, you now know the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing. Therefore, with this in mind, you are in a position to understand why 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing and has gained widespread popularity across the globe.

Likewise, you are also well-informed of the drawbacks that 3D printing technology has.

Therefore, 3D printing technology is an innovation that needs to be appreciated while being aware of its flaws and possible solutions.    

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