The potential of 3D printing has the technology world standing up and taking note. Essentially enabling a machine to manufacture objects of any shape in a flash, it is little surprise that those working in prototyping roles of product development have been impressed by the technology.
However, not everyone is convinced that this concept will usher in a new era of printing. Here, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing, with comments from a couple of experts in the industry.
- The potential for manufacturers to enhance their innovation
Due to the characteristics associated with 3D printing, companies will have the opportunity to print a prototype model for examination within hours of beginning to design the product in question. Feedback and resulting refinements of a model’s design can also be applied without much fuss.
Richard A D’Aveni, the Bakala Professor of Strategy at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, said to the Harvard Business Review: “As applications of the technology expand and prices drop, the first big implication is that more goods will be manufactured at or close to their point of purchase or consumption. This might even mean household-level production of some things.”
- Develop products of better quality
3D printing uses a huge selection of resins and waxes to create a model that boasts a better level of strength than products developed using more traditional prototyping techniques.
On top of this, the materials used in the process will improve a product’s temperature resistance, while paint and any finishing touches can be applied with pinpoint accuracy for added effect.
- The materials available are limited
Although this may change as 3D printing becomes more popular, at the moment there is a major limitation to the number of materials that can be used for a process.
Plastic is the material of choice for many manufacturers, but only high-strength and high-temperature materials can be used to create an accurate model. A few firms have experimented using metal for 3D printing, but one of the main drawbacks of this is that finished models are lacking where density is concerned.
On the other hand, a visit to an onlinestationery store likeViking IE and manufacturers can get their hands on a wide variety of printer ink cartridges for all kinds of inkjet and laser printers to create detailed plans of how a prototype will look in its finished form. Raw materials can then be purchased for a snippet of the price – it may take a little longer to create the product but the cost saving is currently huge.
- You need to know about CAD
Knowledge about computer-aided design (CAD) is strongly advised for anyone working with 3D printing. However, learning how to use a 2D input device on a 2D screen to create complex 3D models is not something people can become experts in overnight.
Nick Allen, the founder of 3D Print UK, who has plenty of experience working with this new technology, said to Gizmodo: “You not only have to learn how the program works (it’s a bit like Photoshop; give it a week and you can draw something, but give it three years and you’ll learn it inside out), but you also have to learn how to design.
“You need to acknowledge things like tolerances — i.e. a ten-millimetre shaft will not fit in a ten-millimetre hole.”
At the moment then, 3D printing does not sound as appealing as mass-production techniques due to costs and the complexity of the technology. However, the innovation and quality of products produced from 3D printing does give this concept plenty of potential in the years to come.