3D printing or additive manufacturing, simply put, is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
An additive process involves creating a 3D object by printing successive layers of material until the entire object is created.
3D printing has various advantages compared to traditional manufacturing methods which are given below:
1. Flexible Design
In the case of traditional manufacturing processes, there are constraints regarding design, which limits the potential for making more complex and flexible designs. 3D printing removes these challenges and restrictions, and hence more complex designs can be developed and printed.
2. Rapid Prototyping
In 3D printing, products or parts can be produced within a matter of hours, which quickens the prototyping process. Hence each stage is completed sooner. Thus, 3D printing is inexpensive and quicker, thus enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of manufacturing.
3. Print on Demand
In traditional manufacturing processes, inventory needs to be stocked, hence this requires space for stocking, thereby increasing costs. In case of 3D printing, one can print on demand, and thus this technology saves space and costs unless there is a requirement to print in bulk. One example of it is polyether ether ketone or PEEK 3D filament, which is a high-performing polymer and a highly popular semi-crystalline thermoplastic material.
As 3D design files are stored online, it is easy to retrieve them when needed, and they can also be edited at low costs.
4. Strong and Lightweight Parts
3D printing material is mainly plastic and is lighter than metal. This proves advantageous for the automotive and aerospace industries as fuel efficiency is enhanced.
5. Fast Design and Production
With 3D printing objects and parts can be printed faster. The design process is also faster as STL or CAD files are used.
6. Minimisation of Waste
The cost of production of parts is minimised since only materials required for the product or part are used, hence minimising wastage as opposed to traditional processes where there is wastage due to excess material or scrap.
7. Cost Effectiveness
3D printing does not require continuous monitoring and as a result, the cost of material and labour is saved. Being a single step manufacturing process, it saves time and costs. You have the option of either doing the 3D printing yourself or outsourcing to an external 3D printing agency if the cost of the equipment does not suit your budget.
8. Environment Friendly
3D printing is environmentally friendly due to minimal material wastage and improved fuel efficiency by using lightweight 3D printed parts.
10. Advanced Healthcare
The healthcare sector uses 3D printing to print organs for the human body such as livers, kidneys, and hearts.
3D printing has also some disadvantages which are briefly described below:
1. Limited Materials
While 3D Printing can create items with plastics and metals but the range of required raw materials is not exhaustive. The reason is that the required temperature control cannot be effected for all metals or plastics to allow 3D printing.
2. Restricted Build Size
Since 3D printers have small print chambers the size of parts that can be printed is limited. This leads to an increase in hours for 3D printing as the printer needs to print more parts.
3. Post Processing
Most 3D printed parts need some form of post-processing activities like sanding, water-jetting, chemical soaking and rinsing, etc. Hence post-processing slows down the overall speed of manufacturing.
4. Increase in cost for high volume production
Unlike conventional manufacturing techniques where the cost per unit reduces with high volumes of production, 3D printing costs remain unchanged with increased volume.
5. Part Structure
In 3D printing, when parts are produced layer-by-layer, there is a risk of delamination of the layers due to stresses, which affects the quality of the final product or part. Hence using injection moulding would be more advantageous as it creates homogenous parts which are not brittle.
6. Reduction in Jobs involving human labour
With the rise in automated production, the risk of layoff of human labour would increase, especially in developing countries where there is more reliance on low skilled human labour, with an objective to keep their economies running.
7. Design Inaccuracies
The extent of tolerances varies across 3D printers as the quality depends on the type of process or machine being used. This directly results in the final parts, not being in agreement with the original design. Consequently, the time and cost of post-production process are increased.
8. Copyright Issues
With the increased popularity and accessibility of 3D printing, the risk of fake and counterfeit prototypes and products being created increases, which will result in quality control and copyright issues.
To conclude, 3D printing has definitely taken the world by storm and a lot of industries are embracing it due to its obvious advantages, in spite of some of the disadvantages enumerated above.