10 Disadvantages of 3D Printing Technology
As with any emerging technology, 3D printing has disrupted the markets by transforming product development. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves joining materials together, layer after layer to make objects from a 3D digital model. It differs from subtractive manufacturing (traditional manufacturing) which comprises cutting away unwanted parts from large pieces of solid material.
The 3D printing process eliminates many steps used in traditional manufacturing and facilitates the manufacture of complex structural components. These features have led to significant success in the areas of rapid prototyping and tool development.
As a result, 3D printing technology has opened new possibilities for industries by enabling faster product design, customization, cost reduction, tangible product testing, and more. For instance, its advances are increasingly becoming relevant in medical and dental industries where customization is essential. We have looked at the advantages of 3D printing here.
However, 3D printing technology has a dark side and is not always the right choice for product development for your development project. 3D machines are still potentially hazardous and wasteful. Moreover, their economic, political, societal, and environmental impacts have not been extensively studied.
Here are ten things about the risks and potentially negative impacts of 3D printing technology.
1. High Energy Consumption
According to research by Loughborough University, 3D printers consume approximately 50 to 100 times more energy than injection molding, when melting plastic with heat or lasers. In 2009, studies at The Environmentally Benign Manufacturing, a research group dedicated to investigating the environmental impacts related to product manufacturing, showed that direct laser metal deposition uses 100 times as much electrical energy as traditional manufacturing. For mass production, 3D printers consume a lot of energy and are therefore better suited for small batch production runs.
2. 3D Printing Technology is Expensive
3D printing equipment and materials cost make the technology expensive. Industrial grade 3D printers are still expensive costing hundreds of thousands of dollar, which makes the initial expenses of using the technology very high. For a single machine, capital investment starts in the tens of thousands of dollars, and can increase to as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Also, the materials used in commercial grade 3D printers are costly compared to product materials used in traditional manufacturing.
3. Limited Materials
While 3D printing is a significant manufacturing breakthrough, materials that can be used are still limited, and some are still under development. For example, the 3D printing material of choice is plastic. Plastic is preferred as it can quickly and easily be deposited down in melted layers to form the final product. However, plastic may vary in strength capacity and may not be the best for some components. Some companies offer metal as a material, but final product parts are often not fully dense. Other specialized materials including glass and gold are being used but are yet to be commercialized.
4. 3D Printers Aren’t that User-friendly
Because of the excitement and potential around 3D printing technology, 3D printers have come across as easy to use and also sound more useful than they really are. The truth is 3D printers use high-voltage power supplies, specialized equipment, and parts which makes them difficult to use and manage. Some have low resolution and can’t even connect to Wi-Fi. Improvements have been made here and it’s getting easier to 3D print day by day.
5. Harmful Emissions
3D printers used in enclosed places such as homes can generate potentially toxic emissions and carcinogenic particles according to researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Their 2013 research study showed that 3D desktop computers could emit large numbers of ultrafine particles and some hazardous volatile organic compounds during printing. The printers emitted 20 billion ultrafine particles per minute using PLA filament, and the ABS emitted up to 200 billion particles per minute. Emitted radiations are similar to burning a cigarette, and may settle in the bloodstream or lungs posing health risks including cancer and other ailments.
6. Too Much Reliance on Plastic
Popular and cheap 3D printers use a plastic filament. Although using raw plastic reduces waste generation, the machines still leave unused or excess plastic in the print beds. PLA is biodegradable, but ABS filament is still the most commonly used type of plastic. The plastic byproduct ends up in landfills negatively affecting the environment. Furthermore, plastic limits the type of products that can be created from the material. Future 3D printers will need to use other materials such as metal (as some currently do) or carbon composites to become more useful to manufacturers and consumers alike.
7. 3D Printers are Slow
While 3D printers are limitless for mass customization, they are slow when it comes to manufacturing many objects. Depending on printer size and quality, it can take several hours to days to print. The more the work involved with product development, the slower the printers. Companies that receive orders to customize and make 3D prints using a variety of products can take up several weeks to print depending on the materials used.
8. Production of Dangerous Weaponry
With 3D printers, it is easy to create 3D knives, guns, explosives, and any other dangerous items. Criminals and terrorists can, therefore, make such weapons without being detected. Some criminal organizations have already used 3D printing technology to create card readers for bank machines. As time goes on, 3D technology will become more user-friendly and cost-effective, and it is possible that design and production of unlicensed weaponry will increase.
9. Copyright Infringements
Counterfeiting is one the most significant disadvantages of 3D printing. Anyone with a product blueprint can forge products very quickly. Patent violations will increasingly become more common, and identifying counterfeited items will become practically impossible. As 3D printing technology evolves, patents, and copyright holders will have a harder time protecting their rights and companies manufacturing unique products will be significantly affected.
10. Manufacturing Job Losses
3D printing technology can make product designs and prototypes in a matter of hours as it uses only one single step. It eliminates a lot of stages that are used in subtractive manufacturing. As a result it doesn’t require a lot of labor cost. As such, adopting 3D printing may decrease manufacturing jobs. For countries that rely on a large number of low skill jobs, the decline in manufacturing jobs could dramatically affect the economy. It’s likely that robotics will have a much larger impact here.
In a lot of industries, 3D printing provides countless benefits. However, it is not going to replace traditional manufacturing. It is still an emerging technology with some disadvantages that need to be considered when selecting a product development method. Manufacturers and product designers therefore need to see it as a process to complement traditional manufacturing. They can exploit its unique capabilities to improve product design and manufacture entirely new products that could not be otherwise produced.
An interesting article indeed. My partner and I are looking to establish a company to cater to the needs of 3D printing in India. It would be great if we could chat about a few details about the research you might have done to write this article.
Good for our presintation
Thanks! Feel free to use it.
Hello everybody 🙂 I’m relatively new to 3d printing and I have many questions on the topic, so I hope you won’t get mad at me for asking here at least couple of them. I think even before I’ll get seriously into sculpting I should focus on the software I’m going to use, and that’s what I would like to ask you about. Mainly, should I begin with the most simple and crudest software I can find or would it be better to start on something more complex? I’m worried that I’ll get some unwanted habits while working on less complex software. My second question is about the software as well: should I look for program that would allow me design and slice it in it, or should I use a separate program for each of them? Will it even make a difference? Weirdly, I couldn’t find the answer to that, as it seems like most blogs and sites want to focus on the very basics (like what is 3d printing and so on), and while the answers to those questions are fine, it seems like no one wants to go into the details (it looks like some of them even plagiarise each other! I swear I’ve found the same answers to the same questions on at least 3 different sites) but I’m getting off-topic… The last question is about 3d pens. Would it be possible to somehow convert whatever I draw with a 3d pen to a 3d model in a program? For example, if I’ll draw a car with 3d pen, would it be possible to get its outline in a software? I’m not sure how that would even work, but the very idea sounds appealing to me. Anyway, I think I’ll stop here just in case no one will ever answer me and all of this writing will be for nothing. I apologise that I’m using your content to ask questions, but I hope you can relate and help a beginner like me. Anyway, thank you for posting. I did learn something from this and that’s always appreciated. Thank you, and I hope to hear back from you very soon 🙂
i am not sure about a 3d pen. ive never used one. however, i can tell you some issues you will come across. I use Solidworks when im at work for engineering. I design dies to go into a press to create over a few hundred parts per minute once its set in the press. It took me years of 3d model design to get to this point. Solidworks is very easy to use but its hard to make curve lines (anything that looks manufactured is easy to do… anything that looks living is nearly impossible with this program). If you want to make something curvy, use video game design programs. Your question is very difficult because you would be considered of Beginner status… some of your questions would not apply. If i were you, try out some of these programs first before you commit to a bank loan for some of the expensive machines. Solidworks and other 3d programs offer free trials.
Disagree with the last 3 points. The top 7 makes sense, but last 3, NOPE
Very interesting Technology
3d printing is expensive? Try getting a one off prototype with injection molding…
Some of the points are quite debatable as it will depend on the user’s needs. 3D printing is not the solution to all situations, but it’s the right one for many.
I have a plate with 50 holes. 3D printer getting failed while doing holes.
What are the solution to avoid the 3D printer fail.
This article needs an update. Alot of these are no longer true. Material types have expanded, Biodegradable PLA is now the norm for most use cases, and printers have become far more affordable. The “slowness” of a print is dependent upon your use cases. For prototyping a printer is way faster. Or if you are making a large number of intricate made-to-order models on a resin printer. Sure it takes a while for the print to finish, but resin SLA printers allow for a layer of everysingle model to be finished in a single flash reducing your production time-per-model down to minutes. 8-10 seem to be grasping at straws. A weapon itself is not dangerous, it is simply a tool. Copyright is not a issue with 3D printing, its no different than other instances of copyright violations. Claiming 3D printing is going to cost people their jobs has to be the most idiotic claim on this list.