… THINGS TO CONSIDER
The previous article Benefits of 3D printing wouldn’t be enough for us to be able to look at the 3D printing objectively. Despite the fact that we consider 3D printing a technology of the future, like any technology, it has its drawbacks, which are worth mentioning…
DEMANDING 3D MODELLING
Although the first point is not a drawback of 3D printing itself, the fact that each 3D printing is preceded by 3D modelling is for many a great obstacle. Not everyone can work in graphic softwares and even if so, many people find it difficult to model a 3D object suitable for 3D printing. If there are any defects in the 3D model, a 3D printer won’t be able to read the data correctly and instead of a perfect 3D object one can encounter 3D nonsense. It is a waste of material, energy, time and money. In this case, it is often better that nothing is printed. For this, 3D models should always be carefully prepared and checked before being submitted. If you are not sure about the quality of your data, you can leave the preparation to professionals, but don’t forget that this service comes at a cost depending on the specifics and difficulty of the job.
LIMITED COLOUR RANGE OF THE MORE COMMON AND AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS
Many types of materials are used for 3D printing nowadays, but colour options are still very limited. For example, in and around Slovakia there is only one material suitable for full-colour 3D printing, which is gypsum composite.
VOLATILITY AND LIMITATIONS OF MATERIALS
Many materials used for 3D printing are unstable. PLA plastics distort in the sun, photopolymers’ chemical bonds break from UV radiation, gypsum composite is very fragile, elastic materials lack solidness, translucent materials are indeed translucent but not transparent… There is always room for improvement.
LOW DETAIL OF THE MORE COMMON AND AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS
High detail can be expected from most professional 3D printers. The more common and affordable machines, however, work less accurately. If design and high precision is not a priority for your project, this aspect of 3D printing may not be a huge disadvantage for your overall vision.
LIMITED BUILD SIZE
A 3D printer is unable to print larger models in one piece, therefore, it is necessary to print them in two or even more pieces. They have to be glued or combined otherwise and this work can be challenging for many people.
THE MOST COMMON AND AFFORDABLE MATERIALS ARE NOT ECOLOGICALLY FRIENDLY
Although there are some ‘green’ materials used in the process of 3D printing, the most frequently used materials – affordable plastics – are far from being ecologically friendly. In these times of eco-friendliness, this can be a major step back. Moreover, most of the 3D printed products are not recyclable and cannot be used for further 3D printing, thus we can easily find ourselves surrounded by useless ‘stuff’.
FINANCIAL DEMANDS OF QUANTITATIVE PRODUCTION
Even though 3D printing is an ideal and affordable technology for prototyping, it is still very costly to be used in quantitative production.
DURATION OF QUANTITATIVE PRODUCTION
Quantitative production by 3D printing is still disadvantageous not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time. However, 3D printing is one of the fastest methods of prototyping.
RELIABILITY OF 3D PRINTERS
3D printers operate with high precision, but their performance is often unstable. Both commercially affordable and highly professional machines can encounter this problem. They require frequent service, which goes hand in hand with unexpected investments. Before buying a 3D printer, you should have a sufficient financial reserve. In comparison with costs for its maintenance and for the purchase of materials, the 3D printer itself is not the biggest investment for which to prepare.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF COMPLETING A 3D OBJECT
The 3D printing process does not necessarily end when a 3D object has been created. Photopolymer objects need to be varnished to achieve higher stability, plastic objects have to be cut out of the support material, and great skill is required to finish the fragile composite objects with glue, wax or epoxy.
Along with the amazing opportunities for new products and technological possibilities, 3D printing also presents a threat to more traditional forms of manufacturing. Manufacturers are terrified by the possible vast production of counterfeits. Many of them are already trying to adapt to the new market by selling 3D models of their products online.
THREAT OF ABUSE
Like with any technology, it is unavoidable that it sometimes end up in the wrong hands for the wrong purposes. Some 3D printers are able to print dangerous and illegal items such as functional guns, or even drugs. While 3D printing is able to increase the quality of our lives, this technology can also be exploited…
If you too have experienced some drawbacks of 3D printing, please feel free to share them with us. We’d love to hear your feedback.
Still, based on some of the reactions to the article, we must say that in our opinion, the pros of this technology strongly outweigh the cons. The development of 3D printing is extremely fast and we are happy to be a part of it from its conception and to see it through its many inevitable and exciting developments.
Image sources: foundationdesign.co.nz, kvbusiness.com, thre3d.com, epic3dprintingfail.tumblr.com
I believe “NON-ECOLOGICAL COMMONLY AFFORDABLE MATERIALS” is the largest drawback to the 3D technology. Most common users are not experienced in design or maintenance of 3D printing and the output will end up in a dump. Every manufacturer of 3D printers should make it their highest priority to supply environmentally safe and affordable materials to users to protect our planet.
James, thank you for your opinion. I trust this technology will use more and more of the green materials. There are some pretty amazing ones already.
This blanket indictment mainly applies to cheap FDM-type printers, not to 3D printing in general. It’s full of shaky assertions and half-baked conclusions. Let’s look at these points one by one:
DEMANDING 3D MODELLING – Untrue – 3D printing can be done using 3D scans as well as with the products of CAD modeling. Also, people with printers can download models without having to make them themselves.
LIMITED COLOUR RANGE OF THE COMMONLY AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS – There are some printers with full-color capabilities besides the ones that print in gypsum composite. The Mcor, for instance, which prints using ordinary paper as a feedstock, and the new ProJet, which prints in full color in plastic. These might not be within everyone’s price range or easily available in Slovakia, but that seems like an arbitrary standard to measure a whole industry by.
VOLATILITY AND LIMITATIONS OF MATERIALS – There are no materials on the planet that don’t have limitations of one sort or another. There are 3D printers that can print in metals, ceramics, glass, chocolate, wax, plastics, sand, human cells- you name it, somebody has probably tried printing with it. There are printers, like the Form1+. that do a good job of printing clear material. Again, this is a generalization based on limited experience with a certain type of printer.
LOW DETAIL OF THE COMMONLY AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS – Again, what’s “affordable” to one person can be considered cheap junk by another or out of reach by a third person. There certainly are 3D printers that can achieve astonishing detail, enough to be useful to jewelers, for instance, which aren’t incredibly expensive.
LIMITED BUILD SIZE – There is no theoretical limit to how big a 3D printer can be. Yes, the cheapest machines tend to be small, but that’s true of most machinery. People have come up with printers that are big enough to build houses in concrete, and even FDM-style printers have been made with build envelopes that are quite large.
NON-ECOLOGICAL COMMONLY AFFORDABLE MATERIALS – There’s really no standard for what can be considered “ecological”. Plastic has been demonized lately, but it can be made from plants as well as from petrochemicals. PLA (polylactic acid) is one of the most commonly used and affordable filaments, and it’s plant-based and biodegradable. I’ve seen prints made using sand as a feedstock and solar power to melt it; how much more ecological can you get?
FINANCIAL DEMANDS AND DURATION OF QUANTITATIVE PRODUCTION – Certainly 3D printing is not as economical a method of producing simple plastic parts in quantity as, for instance, injection molding. But that’s more because it’s slow than because it’s inherently expensive. And there are other sorts of parts that are more costly and time-consuming to make by conventional methods than by 3D printing, owing to high mold costs and the complexity of assemblies that can be printed as one piece.
LOW RELIABILITY OF 3D PRINTERS – Here is finally a valid point. Yes, these are complicated machines, and they do require more maintenance than most users expect when they buy them. This is true of expensive ones as well as cheap ones. But everyone who uses a 3D printer doesn’t have to buy or maintain one. This is a good reason to use service bureaus, not to avoid 3D printing altogether.
RATHER COMPLICATED FINALIZATION – Some printed parts need further treatment after being made, others don’t need much at all. It really depends on what process was used, and what the intended use of the parts is. But this is true of anything one makes in any material by any method – if you make furniture by hand out of wood you normally still have to sand and varnish it.
FALSIFICATIONS AND THREAT OF ABUSE – This has caused a lot of furor, but it’s entirely overblown. Yes, there has been a certain amount of “fan art” featuring licensed characters used without permission. The damage this has caused the license-holders has to be minimal at best. I don’t think any commercial products have been successfully pirated by this method, not least because the inherent “quantitative” limitations of the process mitigate against it. It’s been compared with the pirating of digital music and video, but there’s a crucial difference. While that sort of content can be effortlessly duplicated without loss, instantly replicated, and distributed online without shipment being necessary, not of these things apply to 3D printing. Perhaps the digital files that enable one to print a commercial product could be distributed that way, but anyone wanting to use it would have to print one of their own, and it likely wouldn’t be as good as the original, especially if they were using the “commonly affordable” printers we seem to have been discussing here. As for the printing of guns, this is pretty laughable, at least in the USA, where real guns outnumber citizens. It’s easy enough to come up with a gun that works better if you’ve got a piece of pipe and a rubber band. And nobody’s printing bullets anyway, any more than they are printing drugs…
Thank you Andrew for your opinion, you obviously understand the technology very well. It is always good to hear constructive criticism. However, I tried to point out the inconvenient facts that are bugging people about 3D printing in general and yes, you are right, mostly it applies to commonly affordable machines. As I stated in the beginning, we consider 3D printing a technology of the future, therefore I certainly don’t want to imply the technology isn’t good enough. As it is with any technology, it is “born“, it is not perfect, but it finds its way to “perfection“. I am looking forward to seeing it evolve and become a great part of our lives.
DEMANDING 3D MODELLING – Very true, 3D printing can be done using 3D scans or downloaded 3D models. It is very helpful for many of us. However, I was talking only about the 3D modelling itself. Don’t you think it might be difficult for some people? In most cases people choose 3D printing to create completely new things and not something that has been done already. And that requires 3D modelling.
LIMITED COLOUR RANGE OF THE COMMONLY AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS – I can see you have an excellent overview of 3D printers. I am aware of the full-colour paper and plastic 3D printers and yes, these are not within everyone’s price range. That is why this point implies to commonly affordable 3D printers. However, this technology evolves fast and these (and many others) might become affordable very soon. I am not arguing with that. I am happy about it.
VOLATILITY AND LIMITATIONS OF MATERIALS – Sorry, did I say anything in the contrary of what you are saying? I totally agree with you. Constant innovations in materials suitable for 3D printing amaze me every day – I wrote about it in the previous article “Benefits of 3D printing“. Moreover, I agree with you on the great performance of the Form1+ machine and that is why we ordered it a few weeks ago. Only in a few days (or weeks – depends on the delivery time) our 3D printing studio will become its proud owner. However, I still think there is room for improvement for some materials to become more stable.
LOW DETAIL OF THE COMMONLY AFFORDABLE 3D PRINTERS – Yes that is true, “affordable“ may be subjective, also “expensive“ and even “astonishing detail“ may be subjective. I mentioned the high detail in the previous article “Benefits of 3D printing“ but this one was intended to look at its drawbacks.
LIMITED BUILD SIZE – I don’t deny there are machines big enough to 3D print certain things. These machines are especially designed for those objects (statues, buildings, etc.). However, most frequently used 3D printers have a certain build size which may cause problems to some people. I don’t take it as a terrible disadvantage, I take it as a possible inconvenience.
NON-ECOLOGICAL COMMONLY AFFORDABLE MATERIALS – I agree with you there are super ecological materials, too. And I trust we all will use more and more of those.
FINANCIAL DEMANDS AND DURATION OF QUANTITATIVE PRODUCTION – True, there is always something that can be more or less expensive this way or the other. However, generally speaking the 3D printing is in the comparison with standard technologies a more expensive technology as far as quantitative production is concerned. The best way is to know the capabilities of the technologies and combine them wisely.
LOW RELIABILITY OF 3D PRINTERS – Yes, of course, not everyone who uses 3D printing has to necessarily own a 3D printer.
RATHER COMPLICATED FINALIZATION – You are right. Did I write anything in the contrary?
FALSIFICATIONS AND THREAT OF ABUSE – As I said – if you put any technology into the hands of people, there is always someone who misuses it for wrong purposes.
Thank you again, Andrew, for your sound comments and for the time you devoted to this discussion. I am happy there are people defending this technology so profoundly, even though I never meant to offend it. I am amazed by 3D printing as much as you are.
Kudos to you!
Yes the climb is still in the uphill position as far as 3D as we would like it .I,m a traditional mold maker and have tried the various types of 3-D printing and yes our technology needs to better improve due to the complexity of designs we search for.I still make sure to measure 2wice but cut once! I await for the technology to settle down and conform to the needs of the designers as well as the mold makers,hopefully in giving a lasting and accurate product to our clients as they expect.
Have a blessed Day!
Thanks Joe, you too and good luck with your work!
That was an interesting article. The 3D printer is not a ‘cure all’ solution, it is a great step bringing a manufacturing facility into the home. Not many people can have such access to a plastic injection molding machine or a press tool. You make an interesting point about the use of CAD 3D modelling a a prerequisite to a successful models. This is absolutely true, but a perfect 3d model may not print. The parameters with which we can design in order to achieve a good quality model change from machine to machine and process to process (FDM, SLS etc.) and these change constantly as the technology evolves. Please bear in mind that 3D designs create the tooling for plastic injection moldings as well as the moldings themselves. It is simplest method to convert ideas into information. For me, I believe that this method of manufacture without having to make tools to create a component has an interesting future. It is allowing us to create designs that previously would have been very difficult or nearly impossible to make. Regards David.
Hi David, thanks for expressing your thoughts. Yes you are right about the 3D models. 3D models that are modelled correctly but have extremely thin walls may be problematic to print for some machines, for example. As you said, 3D printing is not a “cure all” solution. At the moment it is an amazing technology to “cure a lot” and even in the world of molding.
i learn the 3d printinng world and from my point of view , i can tell thats you have to know that every technology have its own good and bad yes that is true that this “born new technology” (this thechnology is here since the 80’s we just waited that paents will expired) it is expencive and to slow to print right now but in time its wil all be changed .
the real money for the companies is in the metarials and they are spending a lot of time and affort that it will be “suitable” to the machine (i have to add that from what i saw so far is that same old marketing trick that if you use other material you will lose your insuranced and that you wont get any service from the company because you used an unsuitable material , some of them its true in home 3d printint not sure)
mean while we will just have to know what we want that from our 3d printed object will be and whats its target because this is a major question because it reveal to us the answer in wich technology we want to use and also wich materials (every thechnology has its own benefits and disadvantage as i said )
for example one technology use more metarial and you will need more spend on supports and the other dont need that support as i said good and bad :)
it wil save us time and money well dont know about the time the time will tell :-)
Shay, I agree,,, however the tech has been here since the very late 60’s and the 70’s. I used my first one in the 80’s like you. When techs become more affordable they tend to become more mainstream. Then everyone believes they are “new”. And whomever is stating that the “ECO” portion is the worst drawback, has never designed a system or a software, dare I say never built anything in their lives. I work at HP and Sony for decades. There are more drawbacks than ECO. There are very good things that will be developed because of your discussion and I thank you for putting this up. The negatives, is how we learn to improve the systems.
All you mentioned are today’s limitation, rather the inability to educate everyone on this technology, imagine in 1970’s the same article would have been talking on the demerits of computers and future use.
When a technology revolution takes place, there is a lean period to get used among common users.
We should be aware that. Lab level printers are doing tremendous research on all areas that we can’t even, imagine.
Material science is developing like anything.
For any further info, please reach me .
Thanks and regards,