Challenges of 3D Printing in Manufacturing

You often hear of the many benefits that 3D printing has to offer to today’s engineers: part consolidation, design freedom, just-in-time delivery, no tooling required, and online machining UK. For an engineer, the list of benefits and applications of 3D printing are endless. Looking at all the aforementioned benefits, it is easy to assume that 3D printing has become as common and readily available as the internet is today. But the reality is that this is not the case. Just like the challenges of the additive manufacturing field, there are many challenges of 3D printing. In this post, we will take a look at the top three challenges faced by 3D printing companies.

Many organizations are, in fact, struggling to come up with ways in which they can integrate this technology into their manufacturing and production processes. A report released by Wohlers in 2017 found that additive manufacturing was at the time still lower than 2 percent of the entire engineering market.

It, therefore, begs the question:

What are the challenges of 3D printing that have been holding back the widespread adoption of the technology?

The three main challenges that are negatively impacting the growth of 3D printing are:

  1. 3D Printing is not standardized.
  2. Additive manufacturing has an impact on the environment.
  3. The equipment and production costs are high.

3D Printing Is Not Standardized. Why is this a challenge? 

It’s true that 3D printing makes it possible for the engineers to produce single items in an affordable manner. However, the truth is that the technology at times does come at a cost to excellence.

Apart from the top-notch machines that at times cost millions of dollars to acquire, you will find that many of the readily available 3D printers tend to produce items whose quality is inferior to those that have been produced using traditional manufacturing methods.

The leading reason behind this inferiority is the lack of global standards. Simply put, many end-users and manufacturers experience difficulties. Especially when it comes to stating whether the products or goods that have been produced using 3D printing will be of consistent reliability, strength, and quality. This is according to the experts at Deloitte.

When this guarantee is not available, many manufacturers are likely to remain leery of this technology. This is because many of them will critic the risk associated with this uncertainty. And consider it to be too costly for any gains that they may potentially realize.

At the moment, AMSC (American Makes and ANSI Additive Manufacturing Standardization Collaboration) is actively taking steps that will help to eliminate this uncertainty. The group has a mission to develop universal standards that are consistent and harmonized. It also intends to come up with specifications that will assist in facilitating growth in this particular sector.

You can also find a table from ASTM International doing the rounds on the internet. This table, made in cooperation with ISO, displays a rudimentary framework for global 3D printing standards, called the “Additive Manufacturing Standards Structure”.

3d printing standards standardization

Additive Manufacturing Has an Impact on the Environment. How can we reduce the environmental impact of 3D printing?

The most common material that we use for 3D printing is plastic filament. The plastic that we use for 3D printing is relatively inexpensive and of high quality. However, you will find that most of its byproducts tend to end up in landfills. It is a practice that generally contradicts everything that the environmental movement stands for. (Related: Everything you need to know about the 3D printing process.)

For the widespread adoption of 3D printing to occur, the byproduct of its use will need to be reused. Another issue pertaining to the use of plastic has to do with energy consumption. According to a study that was conducted at Loughborough University, the researchers established that 3D printers generally consume up to 100 times more energy compared to injection molding when making a similar item.

Likewise, another study conducted at MIT determined that laser direct metal deposition utilized more energy compared to traditional machinery. It is also important to point out that the desktop 3D printers users employ in small scale manufacturing and rapid prototyping in both home and office settings tend to release nanoparticles that are harmful.

To protect your welfare and those of others, there is a need to make sure that the 3D printers being used come equipped with filtration accessories or exhaust ventilation.

environmental impact of 3D printing
Environmental impacts of 3D printing according to materials and processes. Chart via Umweltbundesamt.

Equipment and production Costs are High. What is the reason behind the exorbitant rates of 3D printing?

Challenges-3D-Printing process
Challenges to 3D printing. A study by Stratasys.

Stratasys Direct conducted a study whose findings were that the cost of purchasing the equipment was a major concern for professionals who rely on 3D technology. While using plastic to print is inexpensive and easy for most, acquiring metal printers that big organizations use can easily set the company back by tens of thousands of dollars.

Even when a company gets access to this equipment, many soon find that the printing process is not only slow but cumbersome as well. Unlike the normal manufacturing process, using 3D printing to produce or manufacture large volumes of certain goods comes with very high costs.

For example, the time it takes for you to produce an item using 3D printing often depends on the total number of layers that you will need to be printed. The printer’s speed will also have an effect on the production process.
The metal printers in use today can in some cases take several days to print an item

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