Challenges and Opportunities in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing
3D printing and additive manufacturing are fundamentally different from traditional formative or subtractive manufacturing. These are the closest to the ‘bottom-up’ manufacturing where a structure can be built into its designed shape using a ‘layer-by-layer’ approach rather than forming by technologies such as forging.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is versatile, flexible, highly customizable, and can suit most sectors of industrial production. Consumers across industries always want to be treated well. So, no matter which industry a business belongs to, their satisfaction is crucial if companies want them to stay loyal. PwC’s research reveals that 32% of customers leave a brand after facing a bad experience, while 86% of buyers are ready to pay more for an excellent service.
Despite that, there are some technological and software challenges. Let’s discuss the challenges in 3D printing and additive manufacturing:
Slow Production Speed
Many industrial 3D printers still lag behind traditional mechanized equipment because of speed and efficiency. This is a hurdle for adoption in industries driven by mass serial production like automotive and consumer goods. In these industries, products require to be manufactured and delivered in as short a timeframe as possible to maintain production efficiency.
Today, most 3D printer manufacturers are looking for ways to make 3D printing faster. A few have developed modular systems to increase throughput, while others are trying to improve the technology further their existing machines.
Manual Post-production Processing
The reality of 3D printing is that all parts coming out of a 3D printer virtually will require some post-processing to enhance the mechanical properties, accuracy, and aesthetics. Although this is not a concerning issue while using 3D printing for prototyping, as the technology is transitioning to an end-part manufacturing process, scaling and automating, post-processing has become one of the key bottlenecks to setting up AM production line.
The majority of the post-production processing operations are still heavily manual processes that require skilled operators to perform key tasks. It might be cost-effective to use human labour to finish a prototype or even a couple of dozen parts. However, when producing hundreds of 3D-printed parts, the requirement for post-production processing automation becomes extremely acute.
Limitations in Data Preparation
It may seem 3D printing is as simple as pressing a button, but industrial 3D printing needs significant design preparation to get a model ready for printing. The process of designing is complicated as CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and Computer-Aided Engineering software is widely not optimized for the needs of 3D printing. For instance, it can be difficult to use typical CAD software to design components made with graded materials, develop lattice structures, or model porosity.
Besides, additive manufacturing design workflow involves multiple steps that are frequently bogged down by the requirement to use separate software solutions.
Along with challenges, 3D printing and additive manufacturing bring some following industrial opportunities as well:
Flexible Market and Product Differentiation
AM technology is now witnessing increased adoption beyond prototyping into the end and spare part production because it delivers complexity and performance advantages that are impossible with conventional techniques and machining.
Some engineers had believed AM-produced fuel injectors were a viable technology for final production engine and rocket parts for a long time. These fuel injectors were then redesigned to contain two subcomponents instead of 115. One of the first industries to take up 3D printing is Aerospace that continues to change.
AM improves product differentiation to meet individual direct-to-consumer needs better without the requirement for retooling. In 2020, nearly 41% of leading organizations used 3D printing to concentrate on accelerating product development. And they are developing their products in turn to rapid market demands. Around 2,000 3D printing specialists now offer 3D print masks, respirators, valves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Efficient Supply Chain
Sustainability has been changing consumers’ way of living life and driving companies along the supply chain to impact the environment more. The United States sustainability market is estimated to grow USD 150 billion in sales this year, Nielsen reports. Looking at climate change and global competition, most manufacturers, change their support for sustainability and integrate product performance with responsibility.
Sustainability could be a key factor. From AM’s perspective, one of its biggest advantages is recyclability. It builds a tiny environmental footprint because of its efficient use of resources and a shorter supply chain.