Is 3D printing the future of manufacturing?
3D printing is one of the ways in which technology is impacting us in the 21st century. As it becomes more accessible, companies and consumers are starting to embrace this novel method of manufacturing products at all levels. Depending on who you ask, 3D printing is either going to change the world down to its core or help build a better one. With standards improving, costs dropping and a wider range of materials becoming available, it seems that 3D printing could be the future of manufacturing.
However, are there limitations to what 3D printing can be efficiently and successfully used for? This blog post will examine both the pros and cons of 3D printing.
3D printing has allowed the development of new and innovative ways to produce goods but also has had a positive impact on the environment. Using 3D printers, companies have eliminated up to 70% of waste material from their manufacturing processes. This reduction in waste has allowed up-scaling and promoting more efficient production savings at a much lower rate than traditional manufacturing methods. In addition to less waste, the materials used in 3D printing allows companies to recycle more materials, reducing landfill waste.
3D printing can also reduce company costs. 3D printing processes require less labour than traditional manufacturing methods, with the majority of work done via computer. Being a single step manufacturing process 3D printing saves both time and money due to requiring just one machine for the complete process, removing the need for multiple single-purpose machines.
3D printing allows for much greater processing and design flexibility in products. Creating more complex, uniquely designed objects is possible without having to compromise on time or cost. The ability to print in great detail in a multitude of different materials, as well as develop rapid prototypes is a huge bonus to any company.
However, there are some downsides to 3D printing that hold it back from being the ultimate manufacturing tool. With a decrease in costs and the need for manual labour, there is an inevitable loss of human jobs. The increased use of automation inevitably leads to jobs being put at risk of redundancy.
Additionally, despite the wide range of uses, there are limitations to the materials that can be used in 3D printing. Many plastics and metals cannot be suitably temperature-controlled to be used in 3D printing. There are also issues regarding the recyclability and sustainability of many of these materials.
Finally, difficulties will arise in high volume manufacturing. While cheaper initially to buy a 3D printer, non-static costing techniques like injection moulding would be more cost-effective to produce large volume products. 3D printing in high volumes would not necessarily lead to a lower cost per unit.
Ultimately, while 3D printing is both developing at a fast rate and here to stay, there will continue to be a need for other, more traditional manufacturing practices. 3D printing has forced a shift in the manufacturing processes that companies utilise and encouraged the development of new practices to support this development. Although manual labour jobs may initially be lost to automated processes, the future up-skilling of technical workers will have a large part to play in the future of the industry.
What are your thoughts on 3D printing within manufacturing?
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