With the good comes the bad, they say. Let’s see what is holding 3D printing back.
Higher Cost for Large Production Runs
- Cost varies with the amount of material used, so big things tend to be expensive while small things tend to be cheap. That’s it. The complexity and number of parts are not factors. As we mentioned earlier, the beauty of it is that there is no tooling — this opens up a world of opportunity to the designer, the creator and the hacker, but does it really help people who just want a replacement door knob? There is also no economy of scale so, producing anything in bulk that is bigger than your fist seems to be a waste of time.
- 3D printing is not yet competitive with conventional manufacturing processes when it comes to large production runs. In most cases, the turning point is between 100 to 1,000 units depending on the material, the design and the size. As the price of printers and raw materials continue to decrease, however, the range of efficient production is expected to further increase.
Time consuming/slower build rate
- Many printers lay down material at a speed of one-five cubic inches per hour. Depending on the part needed, other manufacturing processes may be significantly faster. In some cases 3D printing a single part can take as long as 30 hours to complete.The good new is that new and innovative companies are trying to solve this problem everyday. When a patent in the field expires, we are observing a rapid technology improvements and innovations, and that might be the key for the faster and more reliable 3D printing experience in the days to come. The good new is that new and innovative companies are trying to solve this problem everyday. When a patent in the field expires, we are observing a rapid technology improvements and innovations, and that might be the key for the faster and more reliable 3D printing experience in the days to come.
- There are some case studies where a 3D printer is faster than an Injection Molding, however the parts in production were relatively small – around 2 cubic inches. Many people speculate that “3D Printing will never be used for mass production or that “Injection Molding will never be replaced by Additive Manufacturing for a large production runs”. But keep in mind that there were similar speculations in the case of the Personal Computer development.
Fewer Choices, Colors, and Finishes
- Despite there being more than six-hundred 3D printing materials available today – many which are plastics and metals – the choices are limited compared to conventional product materials, colors, and finishes. The field is rapidly expanding though, as the number of new materials added to the 3D printing palette is growing rapidly every year to include wood, metals, composites, ceramics, and even chocolate.
Limited Strength and Endurance for Some Processes
- In some 3D printing technologies, the strength of a part is not uniform due to the layer-by-layer fabrication process. Therefore, parts that have been 3D printed are often weaker than their traditionally manufactured counterparts. Also, parts made on different machines might have slightly varying properties, proving the repeatability of 3D printer must improve. However, as technical advancements occur on new continuous 3D printing processes like the Carbon3D or HP Multi Jet Fusion these limits will likely to diminish in the near future.
- The surface finish and dimensional accuracy may be lower quality than other manufacturing methods. In most cases to obtain a great quality part, the 3D print has to go through few additional steps. This really depends on the technology we are using to produce the parts we want. For some processes those additional steps are must do and for others are not as important. Depending on the desired results and depending on the material properties there are a lot of post-pocessing techniques you can further apply to get the best possible outcome.
- While 3D printing is a very capable method of creating objects at a precision of around 20-100 microns (100 microns = 0.1 mm = 0.00393 inches) – or about the height of a single sheet of paper, we are not currently able to create products as precisely as other methods. For users who are creating objects with simpler design details, 3D printing offers a great way for making products real. For objects requiring more working parts and finer details – such as the silent switch button on the iPhone – it’s difficult to compete with the high precision capabilities of certain manufacturing processes.
Copyright and IP Issues
- With 3D printing becoming more common, the printing of copyrighted products to create counterfeit items becomes more common with products that are nearly impossible to fake. By 2018, 3DP will result in the loss of at least $100 billion in intellectual property! But no room to fear! Do you remember what happened with the music industry back in the early 2000’s
- The main issue with 3D printing and copyrights, is in the possibility for widespread fabricating of copyrighted objects independently from the established markets in ways that cannot be detected, prevented, or controlled.
Considerable Effort for Application Design and Setting Process Parameters
- Extensive knowledge of material design and the Additive Manufacturing machine itself is required to make quality parts. To print something, you need a CAD model and getting that can be challenging. Like when you write a letter, you don’t just click ‘print,’ do you? You have to actually type it and check it for mistakes. Now this is the same for 3D printing, but with even more factors to consider and challenges to overcome. To get a good CAD design we need to be familiar with the 3D printing technology and the materials we are going to use, and their limitations.
- While anyone can learn the basics 3D modeling tools and start using 3D printing in a short period of time, it’s not always as easy to design exactly what we want, having in mind really complex shapes and forms.
- Another challenge presented is that most 3D designing suites are not intended for Digital Manufacturing. Although they can produce the files necessary for the purpose, it’s not as easy as it should be. Furthermore, there is the steep learning curve, steep price point for the really capable software programs and not to forget the cost of the right hardware equipment.
Discontinuous Production Process
- Parts can only be printed one at a time, preventing economies of scale for the established/conventional business models – and that’s it’s biggest weakens and it’s biggest strength. Yes, you can set up multiple parts to print at once, but the time per part to be completed would remain approximately the same. After each print is finished there are multiple steps prior to setting up the machine back to work which could be time consuming. Nevertheless automation steps are following, where in the near future robots will do all this for you.
Small Build Volume
- Currently, 3D printers are limited with the size of the products they can create. While larger machines are available, they come at a higher cost. Ultimately, the concept to create large items, such as houses and building, with 3D printers is being pursued. Recent developments in the field are merging robotic arms, excavators, and even cranes with 3D printing, that virtually can go as big as needed, but we are going to wait a little bit in order for this type of technology to get better.
Fewer Manufacturing Jobs
- As with all new technologies, manufacturing jobs will decrease. This disadvantage can and will have a large impact to the economies of countries, like China, that depend on a large number of low skill jobs. On the other hand this will open more opportunities for skillful office jobs, and the workers of tomorrow will not be involved with intense labor.
Last updated: 4/28/2017