Whether you’re using it as a hobbyist to print 3D models or to test new components before manufacturing, 3D printing is the way of the future.
But, as is the case with all technology, there are some essential advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing to consider.
One of the most significant advantages of 3D printing is creating complex shapes and models that would be harder to make with traditional manufacturing.
However, there are some disadvantages that we must consider, like the cost of the machinery and the size of the parts you can print.
Let's take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of 3D printing.
The Advantages Of 3D Printing
To fully understand the impact and changes that 3D printing brings, we must look at all the advantages of using this new additive manufacturing technology.
There are many aspects of 3D printing that have made it ideal to use for both small and large businesses.
3D Printing Saves Time And Money
The first and most significant advantage of 3D printing we will discuss here is the amount of time and money it can save during the manufacturing process.
Though the initial investment needed to get the 3D printing equipment and software may be considerable, the more you use it, the less the production of unique objects using 3D printing costs.
Having the ability to use 3D printing technology in-house means the time from design to physical prototype is much shorter, which has a significant impact on the overall timeline for the entire production process.
Unlike the traditional manufacturing process, which involved long retooling times, 3D printing allows fast-paced businesses to make design changes, print, and review their prototypes within as little as 24 hours.
3D Printing Allows For More Efficient Testing
With traditional manufacturing methods, one of the problems with designing or creating something new was that it took time to test whether the product worked as desired.
Products or components would have to be designed, and then moulded or machined parts would be produced in small batches in order to test the viability of the design.
Depending on the machinery or the components being manufactured, this could take days, weeks, or even months.
If a part wasn't suitable, or a mistake had been made, the whole process would have to start again.
Now, with 3D printing, the time from CAD model to prototype is significantly faster.
A component can be printed to scale in just a few hours, and with the number of material options now available, it's possible to create parts with mechanical properties equivalent to that of the final material, allowing much more extensive tests to be carried out.
3D Printing Produces Less Waste
Unlike traditional manufacturing processes like machining, 3D printing produces much less waste during the prototyping process.
Historically, machining prototypes relied on subtractive manufacturing processes such as CNC machining, turning, milling and drilling.
These machining methods result in a lot of waste material which either needs to be processed for recycling or discarded.
In contrast, 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process, meaning the parts are produced layer by layer until the finished part has been printed and no excess material is added to the part, leading to little or no wastage.
The Disadvantages Of 3D Printing
Though there are many incredible benefits to 3D printing, there are always disadvantages that you must consider before investing in new technology.
As with any other new technology, 3D printing has drawbacks that may make you reconsider using it.
3D Printing Equipment Is Expensive
Though the price may vary depending on the type of 3D printer you need, the size of the printing area, and the materials you want to use, it's safe to say that 3D printers are still relatively expensive.
The more complex the components, the more advanced your printer will need to be, and the more it's likely to cost.
However, there are 3D printing services, like we offer here at Prototal UK, that allow businesses to outsource their 3D printing if the cost of the machinery is too high.
The Printer Limits The Size Of Your Prints
Despite being able to produce incredibly complex parts in a relatively short amount of time, 3D printing has one major limitation - Size.
In the vast majority of cases, the final product will be small enough to fit within the print bed of most printers.
However, if you're printing specialist parts or need particularly large models or components, 3D printing may not be the best solution.
3D Printing Still Requires Post Processing
Although 3D printing is much quicker than traditional methods, the parts aren't always ready once the printer has finished.
With some parts, such as early-stage low-fidelity prototypes, this may not be much of an issue.
However, for later stages in the product development cycle, the surface finish of the printed parts may need to resemble final production, meaning further processing of the part with processes such as vapour smoothing or surface finishing may be required.
With resin-based 3D printing, you may also need to leave the print to cure after the printer has finished, so it's important to factor this additional processing into the timelines you're working to.
As with any technology, there are significant advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing.
If you're considering replacing some of your traditional manufacturing processes with 3D printing then it's important to consider the investment needed and how it will impact your business.
If you'd like to take advantage of the benefits 3D printing and additive manufacturing has to offer, without needing to invest in expensive equipment, a member of our team would be happy to discuss our services and the options that might be the most suitable for you.