The invention of 3D printing has completely revolutionized the production and development of products.
3D printing has become popular among many manufacturers due to its innovative benefits far exceeding traditional manufacturing.
In this article, we will explain the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing so that you can learn more about this innovative technology.
Table of Contents
Advantages of 3D Printing
3D printing technology is becoming more and more popular in recent times due to its applicability in numerous fields. It offers some revolutionary advantages, which are listed below:
1. Production speed
The speed of 3D printing in producing prototypes and one-off products is comparable to milling on CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines.
Comparable if we are talking about one part, but a 3D printer can print several parts simultaneously.
For large-scale production, traditional manufacturing methods exceed 3D printing. But in working with more complicated and exciting objects, 3D printing is already bypassing them.
You can turn a 3D printed design into almost any complex design you can imagine.
The mechanical properties of 3D printers are helping designers, engineers, and even ordinary people to create complex objects in ways that previous manufacturing methods were incapable of.
3D printers create toys, phone cases, tools, clothes, tables, lamps, pottery, art, and even cars.
Medicine is also finding new ways to use 3D printing to help patients. Physicians can now print medical 3D models that are so accurate that surgeons can essentially test-run a patient’s model before actually operating on that patient.
3D printed models are also being used to create less expensive, stronger, and more suitable prostheses for people who have lost limbs.
Even though large-scale projects with thousands of 3D printing costs are not cheap, it still turns out to be much more profitable than other technologies.
Many 3D printing services are using 3D printing machine for short runs or prototyping.
Plastic can also be used for injection molding, but casting small batches may require the installation of too expensive equipment.
But even in this case, manufacturers can produce cast 3D parts several times cheaper than aluminum.
4. Copy Accuracy
The accuracy of 3D printing is the minimum allowable height of the applied layer. Modern devices can produce high quality down to 100 microns, but the user must meet certain conditions to obtain such accurate prototypes.
First of all, the accuracy of the finished copies depends on the 3D printer itself – on its technical characteristics, layout, and so on.
It would be best not to rely only on the layer height value indicated in the device description.
The accuracy of prototypes depends on a lot of factors. For example, printers made in a closed case can produce much better model accuracy than their open case counterparts due to the printer’s uniform temperature regime.
In addition, it is required to set all print settings correctly and monitor the table’s calibration, the device’s operating conditions, and the temperature regime. High-quality plastic plays a vital role in the accuracy of the copies made.
5. Print when necessary
Print when necessary is another advantage of 3D printing because, unlike the traditional method, it does not require ample storage space. This printing process saves space and money as printing is carried out only when needed.
All 3D design files are kept in the virtual library as they are printed along with the 3D model as CAD (Computer Aided Design) or STL (Standard Tessellation Language) files, which means they can be found and printed if needed. If needed, design modifications can be made economically by editing individual files.
There is no need for huge archives; thousands of plans can fit on a single e-reader, tablet, or smartphone, even more on the media servers we have, depending on the format.
The files can be retrieved and edited as needed, and no human resources need to be allocated or a budget to maintain/eliminate obsolete inventories.
The security of your files does not require a custodial protection service as you would with a document repository, password management, and the long-term security of your media.
This will cover the annual cost of an extended warranty and crash warranty in addition to the purchase price.
6. Ease of working with metals
3D metal printers offer a high degree of freedom in shaping metal parts we can model. It is possible to model metal parts with complicated shapes, which are difficult to form, cut, and join.
With a metal 3D printer, it is possible to create a shape that would be expensive to manufacture with conventional metal processing technology at a low cost of almost only the material cost.
It is also possible to eliminate the assembly process by modeling what was previously assembled from multiple parts in the state after assembly.
Furthermore, since we can change the shape simply by changing the data for the 3D printer, it is a significant advantage that the process is operational at almost no additional cost.
7. Less waste
Traditional manufacturing is a subtractive process in which raw materials are lost and reused repeatedly, resulting in high costs and waste.
The advantage of 3D printing is a unique way of creating a product with minimal waste, called additive manufacturing.
While more traditional methods involve waste that can be reused or recycled, it still takes time and effort to determine how and when that waste is used. High-volume 3D printers do it themselves.
Thermoplastic materials, for example, can be melted, solidified (cooled to become solid), melted again, solidified again, and so on. Thus, industries can reuse the production waste.
8. Strong and lightweight parts
Though metals are also used in 3D printing, plastic is still the primary material for the process.
However, plastics have benefits because they are lighter than their metal counterparts.
It is imperative in industries such as automotive and aerospace, where light weight is essential for improving fuel efficiency.
In addition, it also helps in manufacturing parts that can achieve specific properties such as heat resistance, increased strength, or water repellency.
9. Environmental protection
A much-debated question is how much the plastics used for 3D printing harm the environment.
The question is much more relevant regarding the combined environmental impact of 3D printing as a process and the resulting functional machines compared to the construction and ultimate fuel emissions of machines designed, tested, and manufactured from conventional raw materials.
Based on the analysis of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/OECD study, 3D printing will completely take over the role of traditional manufacturing technology in the next 5-10 years.
For 3D printing to become a truly sustainable and environmentally friendly technology, a fundamental change of approach is also needed at the societal level.
10. Domestic use
Thanks to the advent of desktop 3D printers, hobbyists and enthusiasts can create an endless variety of models. It is true because there are not many restrictions on the geometry of the final product.
The hidden potential of 3D printing is so vast that your imagination only limits it.
You can quickly design and print plastic gear for a blender or food processor- such spare parts are often unavailable in official service shops or markets.
The manufacturing costs can easily minimize to half the repair appliance cost.
11. Competitive advantage
Businesses can quickly create better and more advanced products, providing a competitive advantage.
It also allows products to be developed early and prototyped faster, making them more likely to be invented and ready for production and market.
Creating a life-size prototype allows designers to think differently about the products they are developing.
You can talk about the product you can produce in some time on the other side of the world and touch it.
The probability that the produced product will not be able to satisfy the needs and agreements can be determined beforehand.
3D printing lets you quickly create a concept that people can physically hold in their hands, eliminating any fear or misunderstanding.
3D printing materials have an extensive price range. The printer’s price range depends on the device’s quality, characteristics, printing technology, and purpose.
You can purchase a desktop FDM home printer for as little as $100. At the same time, price tags for systems for professional users start at $1,000. Industrial models can cost several tens of thousands of dollars.
Prices for advanced devices seem exorbitant. Professional and industrial equipment, in principle, is not cheap.
For example, an injection molding line could cost $50,000 or more, not including the installation or additional tools required to create the molds themselves.
It is necessary to make tooling and set up equipment to create a new unique plastic part in traditional methods.
Anyone with minimal knowledge of 3D modeling and 3D printer techniques can print a new part on a 3D printer.
Although 3D printing systems are still not cheap, they are more accessible to a wide range of users than more traditional production facilities.
3D printing is almost entirely automated by default. No additional personnel are required to operate, monitor, and maintain the printer. It further lowers the barrier to entry.
13. One device for many tasks
It is worth trying to compare the capabilities of 3D printers with other technologies, this time for better imaging – on the example of hobbyists.
Every time they want to create a product, they must use different machines, devices, and tools.
The process is time-consuming and requires considerable financial outlays, so handicrafts become expensive to purchase.
In the case of 3D printing, it is entirely different – all machines and tools are replaced by only one printer.
Thanks to this, the artist does not have to order new instruments and devices when he plans to do another project.
He needs to order the missing materials to implement his idea. In this way, technology supports hobbyists and artisans in their passion.
Continuous prototyping and production on your 3D printer ensure that designs never leave company premises, protecting your intellectual property.
No third parties can ever claim your innovations. Every innovative design is kept in-house, so you no longer have to worry about privacy.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing
As discussed earlier, the 3D printer offers numerous advantages, but this technology has disadvantages that we should consider before opting for the technology.
1. Print time
When it comes to producing many objects, 3D printers are slow compared to other fabrication technologies. Aside from mass production, another disadvantage is the long print times for single prints.
Based on the size and quality of the printer, printing can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but if the printer fails when it’s almost finished printing, you’ll have to start over.
However, you can almost guarantee that the print will be perfect by ensuring the 3D model and print file are well designed and sliced, and the printer is set up correctly.
2. Limited materials
While you can use 3D printing technology to create products from various materials such as plastics and metals, the range of raw materials available is not comprehensive.
Not all metals and plastics used as raw materials can be thermally affected in 3D printing. In addition, many of these materials are not recyclable or reusable, and some are not food safe.
3. Arms control
The effects of 3D weapon printing are still out of control. There are already several companies that sell such 3D-printed weapons.
The Undetectable Firearms Act prohibits using all weapons that a scanner cannot detect. The law, however, does not ban using 3D-printed weapons with a small amount of metal.
The ban on the possession and use of firearms does not provide the possibility of creating this technology.
If the user created a melee weapon, it is not clear who is responsible for causing damage: the owner of the printer, the manufacturer, or the one who printed it? This question does not yet have an exact answer, but this is a matter of time.
4. Social conflict
It can cause social tensions, especially in developing countries, as 3D printing requires minimal human resources.
Outsourcing is often directed to countries where millions of people living with a modest standard of living work in the production/manufacturing segment.
Many Third World or developing countries rely on low-skilled jobs to sustain their economies, and this technology could put those jobs at risk by requiring production to be moved overseas.
Once you have purchased a printer, you must learn to create and modify 3D models. 3D modeling is a skill that takes a lot of time and effort to master, a process of trial and error fully.
But once you learn how to use the program, you can print whatever comes to mind.
Most 3D printed parts require cleaning to remove the backing and smooth the surface to achieve the desired finish.
Finishing methods include waterjet, sanding, chemical soaking, washing, air or heat drying, and assembly.
If you use metal for 3D printing, remember that the metal powder also poses a safety risk. In addition to the severely harmful effect of inhaling the fine respirable particles, a dust explosion can occur if the dust comes into contact with an open fire.
Therefore, thoroughly removing the metal powder is necessary to prevent a substantial powder discharge that you can still use from the machine for purely economic reasons.
The amount of post-processing required thus depends on factors such as the size of the part being made, the intended use, and the type of 3D printing technology used for manufacturing.
7. Intellectual Property Rights and Liability Issues
This technology raises the issue of possible infringement of intellectual property rights. There is also the issue of liability.
Who is at fault if someone gets hurt by a 3D-printed knife? Who will be held responsible if the motorcyclist was wearing a 3D non-printed helmet in the event of an accident?
Who can be given ownership? To the printer’s owner, the company that made the printer, or the person who printed it?
Another major drawback of 3D printing is that people want to have everything made by the printer due to its increasing popularity. After all, this is possible, so why not?
Therefore, the chance of overproduction of products we do not need is high. For example, imagine that an artist or a company has invented a product and can quickly produce it themselves using the 3D printer.
He has no idea yet whether there is a demand for it and how many people might want to buy it. It is easier to switch to production with a 3D printer than if they did not have this option.
It is a disadvantage that is noticed quite often. Indeed, the noise level generated by 3D printers is relatively high.
In addition, they heat up to high temperatures and transfer this heat to the rooms in which they are located. Even the best models on the market are burdened with these features.
In the case of 3D printing, the printing process is a bit more complex. As parts are printed sequentially, each print can be monitored and errors detected in real-time, reducing the number of damaged parts and the amount of wasted material.
However, slight inconsistencies may exist between 3D prints due to thin material and environmental quality variations.
The machines must be very well tuned and controlled for a batch of parts to be entirely consistent.
11. High cost
Printers and their supplies become relatively expensive if not well used. Large manufacturing is required to cover the investment.
Buying a machine at home or business – unless it is a hobby or object of research – is usually not financially advantageous.
Another important aspect, which can be a disadvantage, is that 3D printing requires technical knowledge to result in the best possible.
Machine maintenance must also be ongoing, including cleaning and changing parts.
12. Inferior workpiece
Parts printed from a 3D printer are often less rigid than parts made on traditional machines because the workpiece is created by welding the material layer by layer.
It makes the workpiece stronger in the axial direction than the plane. In many cases, you won’t be able to put the workpiece into practice.
13. Consume a lot of energy, source of pollution
According to a Loughborough University study, 3D printers consume around 50 to 100 times more electrical energy when melting plastic with heat or lasers than traditional injection molding used to make an item of the same weight.
While heating the plastic and printing small figures, the machines use PLA filaments that emit 20 billion ultra fine particles per minute and ABS filaments that emit up to 200 billion particles per minute.
According to research from the Illinois Institute of Technology in the US, these particles can settle in the lungs or bloodstream and pose health risks.
Summary and Comparison (Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D Printing)
|More than 500 types of plastic available for printing|
Can print with titanium, aluminum, steel powders, and even precious metals
|Printing a prototype or final product on a printer is faster than creating in the usual way|
|Allows you to create parts of almost any geometry|
|Cheaper and faster to produce parts because a part can be made in a matter of hours|
|Allows you to significantly save the consumption of production material and predict in advance how much filament will be needed|
|No tools are required for printing|
|Sustainable because only prints when needed|
|Each 3D printer has its print materials which will not cope with all types of metal and vice versa|
|Details require post-processing|
Visible layers on parts when printing quickly
|Parts are printed with a hollow inside|
|Details may differ from each other under different post-printing conditions.|
|Depending on the printer, the construction volume is minimal|
|Products often have to be reworked|
|Materials depend on the 3D printing process|
3D printing is not only transforming materials and manufacturing technology, as well as the economy, but it is affecting our thinking and society as a whole.
Hopefully, this will positively allow us to expand the boundaries of our home, the Earth, and our knowledge.
(Last Updated on August 25, 2022)