3D printing technology has dramatically influenced the markets by revolutionizing product development. Also known as additive manufacturing the technique involves creating objects by joining materials layer by layer. It is quite distinct from conventional manufacturing processes that involve cutting to shape 3D models.
3D printing shortens the process of manufacturing and enables the creation of structures with complex geometry faster and cost-effectively. 3D printing also allows mass customization, and it facilitates cost-effective prototyping. These perks have led to broad adoption of the tech across many industries,
However, just like any other invention, 3D printing has its flaws. There are many reasons why this type of manufacturing may not be the best approach for your business. Below are 15 disadvantages to consider before adopting this manufacturing technology.
1. Energy Inefficiency
The price of electricity has been soaring over the years, and companies are trying to implement measures to reduce costs. With three-dimensional printing, however, your business can easily drown in high electricity bills. Research shows that 3D printing as a manufacturing technique uses 100 times more power than the conventional methods.
The high energy consumption has detrimental environmental impacts. As the world fights for a greener planet, adopting 3D printing is akin to taking one step forward and two back. The only way that 3D printing can be used sustainably is in small batch production. It will beat economic logic if small companies use 3D printing in their mass productions.
2. The Technology is Costly
You might have to pay through your nose to afford 3D printing hardware, software, and material. Industrial 3D printers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which locks out many businesses from accessing and using the famed technology.
The cost of 3D printing often depends on the amount of materials used. Big orders are expensive while small products are cheaper to print. 3D printing is not as competitive as conventional manufacturing techniques when it comes to large assemblies. That is however expected to change as the price of printers and materials decrease.
Consumer 3D printers might not be as costly as industrial grade ones, but then the cost of power and printing materials for in-house 3D printing would be more than the price of ready finished products in the market.
3. The Scarcity of Printing Materials
Materials used with 3D printing are limited. Time and research are still needed to come up with a variety of quality materials compatible with the process. Currently plastic is the most commonly available material in 3D printing.
It is easier to work with plastic than metal and other materials. The reason for that is that plastic has a lower melting point and can, therefore, be easily smelted and molded into the final product. Also, there are metal powders frequently used, but the last parts may not be sturdy and dense enough. Glass and gold materials are yet to be used on a commercial scale as 3D printing materials.
4. 3D Printing Technology May Not be as User-Friendly as We Like to Think
Because of the hype associated with this technology, many people believe that 3D printers are useful and convenient for ordinary consumer use. The shocker is that these printers do not work the same way than ordinary printers. For starters, you need a high voltage socket and specialized cartridges. Seamless internet connectivity can also be a problem. Although strides are being made to make 3D printing as intuitive as consumers, we are still a few steps behind that.
5. 3D printing can Lead to Harmful Emissions
When used in enclosed spaces, 3D printers have the potential to decrease the air quality by producing potentially toxic emissions. Research also shows that during additive manufacturing carcinogenic particles may be let out into the air. The ultrafine materials might settle in a person’s bloodstream or congest their breathing system leading to cancer and other diseases.
6. Too Much Plastic Byproduct
The most common 3D printers have a plastic filament. Even though making models from synthetic raw materials reduces waste generation, the machines still give off excess plastic wastes. The plastic waste ends up in landfills and negatively affects the environment. Then also, the use of plastic limits the type of product that can be made by 3D printing.
7. Three-Dimensional Printing is Slow When it Comes to Mass Customization
The ability to design and create products that match consumer specification is one of the major selling points for this technology. However 3D printers can be super slow when it comes to making these products. The more intricate the custom designs are, the more time-consuming the printing process. Manufacturers who get many orders for custom 3D printed products might take several weeks to print.
8. 3D Printed Guns and Weapons are a Security Threat
One can easily create weapons of mass destruction by downloading blueprints online. As the world gets excited about the conveniences and uses of 3D printing, terrorists and criminals are smiling too. The fact that you can create these weapons at home leaves no trail for detectives to follow. With the already high proliferation of illegal weaponry, 3D printing could make the world vulnerable to more attacks.
9. 3D Printing Could Increase Piracy
Creating counterfeit goods with 3D printing is easier than ever before. Counterfeiting is one of the most significant disadvantages of 3D printing technology. All it takes is a blueprint for starting making goods on a massive scale and put the original manufacturers out of business. Additionally, as technology increasingly becomes available, you can expect more cases of patent violation.
Since the counterfeit printed goods are made from a shared blueprint, it will be hard for the authorities to identify the fake goods. That means that small business will have a tough time trying to stay afloat.
One of the significant ways 3D printing can cause disruptions includes job layoffs in the manufacturing industry. The technology enables quick manufacturing and uses a single set up. Unlike conventional manufacturing processes that require many people to man the process, you only need one person to monitor a 3D printer. That sounds like a cost-cutting benefit for companies, but for workers, it means layoffs and furloughs
3D printing has the potential to reduce manufacturing jobs and slow down the economies of countries that rely on low skill jobs. It is akin to what the world is expecting with robotics.
For many digital 3D printers, the rate of the layer by layer deposition is less than five cubic inches per hour. That means that depending on the complexity of the design, 3D prints can take many days to complete. In studies that showed 3D printing to be faster than the conventional manufacturing process, the involved parts were small.
12. Limitations on Color and Finishes
There are a few 3D printing materials available, but the choices are more limiting than conventional raw materials. For instance when it comes to colors, and finishes users have to put up with monotony. Then again there is no provision for materials such as wood and ceramics.
13. Limited Endurance
In many consumer-grade 3D printers, the strength of the finished product may not be uniform because of the layer-by-layer formulation process. The 3D printed parts might, therefore, be weaker than their conventionally manufactured counterparts. It is also worth noting that parts printed from different machines will likely have varying properties. For things that need more functional components and more delicate details, it can be difficult for 3D printing to measure up to the high precision and endurance capabilities of traditional manufacturing processes.
14. Some Skills Needed in the Design and Setup of Parameters
Learning is the main pain of 3D printing that is restraining the technology from widespread adoption. Additive manufacturing requires that users acquire knowledge about material design to make quality products. One would first need to create a CAD model. Even though anyone can learn the basics in a matter of days, it may not be an easy task designing complex shapes and forms.
3D printing is not as easy as printing a piece of paper on your desktop. One has to invest time in learning the 3D designing application to create better models and to print using the right settings. However, most 3D designing computer suites are not suitable for digital 3D printing.
15. Size Limitations
At the moment, 3D printers can only produce small-sized products and not large assembly parts. Larger 3D printing machines are available, but they cost an arm and a leg. With continued research in the field, the future of 3D printing large items, such as buildings might be possible, but we are still far from there. For that to happen scientists might have to find a way to combine 3D printing with robotics and other tools in the manufacturing process such as excavators and cranes.
3D printing has countless benefits in industries such as health and manufacturing. However, it might take a few years before this technology fully replaces conventional manufacturing techniques. 3D printing is still developing, and it has flaws that everyone should consider before adopting it as the manufacturing method of choice. At the moment it can be used to complement traditional manufacturing.