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3D Printing Advantages & Disadvantages

3D Printing Advantages & Disadvantages | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone

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September 16, 2021

You’ve probably heard about 3D printing. Every technology has its pros and cons, and 3D printing is no different. What are these advantages and disadvantages?

What is 3D printing, and what are its advantages and disadvantages? 3D printing technology involves creating three-dimensional solid objects from digital files. 3D printing technology is a modern manufacturing method where objects are designed on a computer and then printed with a 3D printer. 3D printing, just like other technologies, has both advantages and disadvantages, making 3D printing the center of the debate. You’ll be in a position to understand why 3D printing has gained more popularity as well as the technology’s drawbacks.

With many people interested in this technology, you might want to consider educating yourself on both the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing. This article provides you with a breakdown of all 3D disadvantages and benefits you may want to know.

While 3D printing has grown in various sectors, including engineering, entertainment, space science, and medicine, there are still several pros and cons of this technology that needs to be considered. We analyze all advantages and disadvantages of 3D technology according to researchers, experts, and developer’s input. This article will assist you in determining whether or not 3D printing is an excellent solution to your manufacturing needs.

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Table of contents:

Advantages of 3D printing

3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing, is a manufacturing method based on three-dimensional computer models.

Experts describe the method as an industrial and technical revolution set to change the way humans live significantly. Here are the significant advantages associated with 3D printing that have also enhanced its popularity.

Offers rapid prototyping

3D printing has the capability to manufacture parts in mere hours, which speeds up the process. This quick process allows modification of each design to be completed at efficient rates.

Compared to traditional machining prototypes, 3D printing is quicker at creating parts and inexpensive because it allows each component to be completed faster.

Easy to access

Most people are integrating the use of 3D printing technology due to increased accessibility in recent years. Currently, it is now easier to find a local 3D printing company that offers the services.

Several manufacturers are currently shifting to 3D printing to save on transportation and import costs. Manufacturers can make 3D printed parts closer to where the parts are needed for quick reaction.

3D printing technology has also become a hobby for most people due to easy access and low costs. Technology has been integrated into hobbies such as cosplay, gaming, and DIY. There are several maker spaces where 3D printers are shared either for free or at a low cost for those who cannot afford them.

Consistency and quality

While the traditional methods are characterized by poor designs that result in potentially low-quality prototypes, 3D printing technology, on the other hand, ensures remarkable designs that result in quality products. This is because product development follows a particular step-by-step process.

The technology also ensures an improved consistency than the traditional manufacturing technology. You can immediately notice errors, which helps lower the overall amount of spoilt parts and wasted materials. 3D printing, therefore, ensures consistent production of quality parts.

Faster production

3D printing is considerably faster compared to traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding. The technology can test ideas and designs quickly to the final product. Using 3D printing technology gives manufacturers more time to market their products and win over customers before their competitors finish manufacturing their final product.

Lightweight parts

The primary material used in 3D printing is plastic, which, unlike their metal counterparts, they’re much lighter. Lightweight parts are a vital factor, especially in the automotive industry and aerospace, to improve fuel efficiency.

Most automobile manufacturers are switching to 3D printed parts for vehicles. This makes the vehicles much lighter, making them fuel-efficient. In some cases, plastics are substituted for metals to provide the same ideal results for car parts.

Freedom or flexibility of design

Most traditional manufacturing processes have design restrictions. However, 3D printing allows printing and designing more complex designs compared to conventional manufacturing.

The traditional manufacturing methods cannot design complex geometry because it can be impossible to machine some areas. Methods like injection molding and machining may not be possible or may struggle to make complex designs.

However, the 3D printing technology encompasses the use of support material and additive process, making it possible to create any type of geometry. This makes it easier to simplify designs and allows replacing an assembly with a 3D printed component.

As a manufacturer, 3D printing provides you flexibility for your business. You can print or modify a part when you need it. The presence of online 3D printing like the Sculpteo offers 3D printing services where people can order any amount of parts they need. This allows producers to only order what they need, hence more flexibility.

A wide range of technologies

Do you need a 3D printing technology that prints a resistant part, a heat resistant part, a flexible part, or a food-compatible part? There are several factors to put in mind when choosing a 3D technology.

There are several 3D printing technologies available, from SLS, binder jetting to FDM; you’ll find a perfect technology for your specific project! You first have to identify your needs before you settle on a particular technology. Choosing the ideal 3D printing technology according to your needs will allow you to get more benefits from the technology.

Customization

Customization, especially in mass production, is beneficial for various industries such as consumer goods production and the medical field. For instance, when a company requires mass customization, the most efficient and cheapest way to create their products is by adopting additive manufacturing.

However, when using digital manufacturing, it’s easier to use 3D modeling software to adapt a 3D design, which will allow you to print various alterations of the same product.

Cost-effective

3D printing is expected to be cost-effective overall because a single machine is able to do all work through a one-step manufacturing process. No extra time and labor are needed on multiple machines for various stages as in traditional manufacturing processes.

It is also possible to produce small quantities through additive manufacturing, unlike the traditional manufacturing techniques like injection molding that don’t support small amounts. The conventional methods can therefore be cost-prohibitive.

Unlike the traditional manufacturing methods that need an operator nearby to remove parts and place them in a different machine, 3D printers can be set and left alone while the model build is completed. This helps cut labor costs because one operator can run several machines without close supervision.

Nevertheless, when the 3D printer is too expensive, you don’t have to worry because you can still outsource your project to the various 3D printing service companies available. This way, you will ensure that your project is handled by expert engineers and still produce your products within your budget.

Environmentally friendly

3D printing technology reduces the wastage of materials created in the process of production. The technology produces 3D printed models that are lightweight, and this increases fuel efficiency in aircraft and vehicles.

In order to increase environmental benefits, the technology can also use materials that can either be recycled or materials made from plan-based organics.  

Advanced healthcare

According to healthcare experts, 3D printing has increasingly become an essential technology in medicine, particularly surgery, in the last decade.

3D printing is used in the medical sector to print human body organs such as the heart, liver, and kidney to help save lives. Nevertheless, further uses and advances are being developed to enhance technology in the healthcare sector.

Print on demand

Unlike the traditional manufacturing processes, print on demand is an advantage that doesn’t require large amounts of space for inventory stocking.

3D printing technology allows design files to be stored in a virtual library because they’re printed as either STL or CAD files. The files can be located and printed whenever they’re needed. This saves on costs since print in bulk is not necessary unless required.

Additionally, very low costs are needed to make edits to the designs. This can be achieved by editing individual files not to waste out-of-date inventory.

Waste reduction

3D printing manufacturing is one way to reduce wastes, yes! By simply using the technology! The exact amount of material is utilized to create an object needed. Using the precise amount of material in the 3D printing process helps avoid wastage.

Disadvantages of 3D printing

3D printing has become a prevalent choice among manufacturers because of its innovative benefits that surpass traditional manufacturing. As much as the advantages of 3D printing are obvious, known to many, and loudly said by its developers and enthusiasts, we can’t ignore the disadvantages of 3D printing. The main drawbacks of 3-Dimensional printing technology include:

Limited materials

While an enormous range of materials can be used in traditional product manufacturing technologies, 3D printers are still not very versatile to work with most raw materials. In addition, most of the printable 3D materials cannot be recycled, and only a few of them are food-safe.

Currently, 3D printers work with approximately 100 types of materials, according to industry experts. The development of 3D products that use more different materials is still underway.

Industry experts indicate that plastic is the preferred 3D printing material because it can be quickly melted into layers to produce a final item. However, plastic is not the most robust material for required characteristics since its strength greatly varies, making it unsuitable for some components.

On the other hand, materials such as metals are gradually getting into the market as a viable technology, but they’re pretty expensive compared to plastic materials.

Copyright infringements

Copyright infringement is one of the most significant disadvantages of 3D printing. Counterfeiting in 3D printing technology is becoming rampant as copyright holders experience a hard time protecting their copyrights and businesses.

Any person who gets hold of a particular blueprint can easily counterfeit the product, making it almost impossible to have unique products.

High energy consumption

3D printers tend to consume large amounts of energy to produce large quantities. The technology is therefore suitable for small quantity production.

Researchers indicate that 3D printers consume approximately 50 - 100 times more energy than counterpart injection molding during laser or heat melting of plastics.

Harmful emissions

High volatile organic compound emissions produced by 3D printers, especially those enclosed in spaces, can generate carcinogenic particles or potentially toxic emissions. These carcinogenic or toxic emissions can cause serious health problems such as organ damages, nausea, throat, nose, and eye irritation.

Part structure

During the 3D printing process, parts are created layer after layer, hence called additive manufacturing. The layers can still be vulnerable to splitting, although they are held together firmly. The part structure breakdown can occur when the layers separate under stress or part orientations.

Experts advise using injection molding when producing homogeneous parts. This is because injection molding tends to be more robust hence less likely to fail during structural loading.

Helps in the production of dangerous weapons and items

3D printing technology eases the creation of 3D knives, printable handguns, explosives, and other dangerous weapons or products. This encourages criminals and terrorists to own more destructive weapons.

Nevertheless, it is almost impossible for the security authorities to know if criminals or terrorists are making weapons because 3D printing technology allows people to access methods of manufacturing items from their own homes, which was previously impossible with traditional manufacturing.

With the technology becoming cheaper and user-friendly, an increase in the design and manufacture of unlicensed weaponry is expected.

Job losses for the people that work in manufacturing industries

More manufacturers are now opting for 3D printing because it allows them to create product designs and prototypes within a few hours. 3D printing also eradicates most steps needed in subtractive manufacturing, which helps manufacturers save on costs. Fewer people are therefore required to complete the remaining manufacturing processes.

Manufacturing job opportunities are therefore reduced when more companies adopt the use of 3D printing technology. The countries that primarily rely on large numbers of low-skilled workers are greatly affected economy-wise when they lose their jobs.

3D printing equipment is pretty expensive

3D printing machines and materials are costly. Many people tend to be locked out from using the 3D printing technology because the initial capital required to start using the technology is expensive.

Additionally, 3D printing materials are more expensive than the materials needed in traditional manufacturing. Some manufacturers opt to lease equipment required in 3D printing to help them save some costs. Others use a 3D printing bureau where they’re given third-party access to the printing technologies and materials instead of purchasing them at high prices.  

Restricted build volume and build size

In 3D printing, build volume provides the maximum size that an object can possess for its printing. The size of the printing volume will depend on the finishing process chosen as well as the material settled upon, which in turn determines the 3D printer type to be used.

There are various types of 3D printers with varying sizes, both small and large sizes. However, the majority of the printers are designed with small rooms. For a larger object to be printed, several items need to be printed separately and assembled after production to make the large object. Printing several parts before you can manually assemble them can be time-consuming. Consequently, a lot of care is needed to ensure the final product to be intact without any weakness or any other defect that could occur when assembling the product.

While objects created with 3D printers are currently limited in their sizes, 3D printing technology producers are currently working to allow the creation of large items like architectural structures using 3D printers.

3D printing is not entirely user friendly

The 3D printing technology is still new, and there are still trial and error elements required when creating 3D products. Despite the potential of 3D printing, 3D printers are not straightforward to operate. However, experts consider the 3D technology to have a potentially steep learning curve that is being explored.

Post-processing

Many 3D printed products or parts need cleaning up, or post-processing to remove the extra materials from the build as well as smoothen the surface to achieve a smooth finish.

The extent of post-processing needed depends on several factors, such as the intended application of the finished product, the size of the part produced, and the type of 3D printing used for the production.

Several post-processing methods are used, including chemical soak and rinse, assembly, sanding, heat drying, and water jetting.

While 3D printing is known for its fast production, the post-processing step can slow down the manufacturing speed.

Design inaccuracies

Some 3D printers have lower tolerances which result in final parts that are different from the original design. This is a potential problem that is directly related to the process or 3D printer used. While the problem can be fixed by post-processing, the additional production cost is expected.

Not the best choice for large volume

While the initial costs for the 3D printing technology may be a bit lower than other methods used in manufacturing, when it’s scaled to produce in large volumes, the prices per unit remain high.

Unlike the conventional manufacturing techniques such as injection molding that is cost-effective to produce large volumes, the 3D printing technology is a fixed cost. Thus, the 3D printing technology is not convenient for large volumes or mass production.

About THE AUTHOR

William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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3D Printing Advantages & Disadvantages

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