Since its inception, 3D printing, or rapid prototyping, has gained much deserved attention and has become one of the most monumental technological advancements of the past century. Printing 3D objects seemed like something out of a sci-fi film when the 3D printers first hit the stage but after years of improvements, it is now expected that in the future the common people will have access to 3D printers in their own homes. This is expected to effectively reduce the need to go to the store to shop. It has found its way into virtually every industry and continues to find its way into new ones. The cost saving and time saving aspects of rapid prototyping have been particularly attractive for manufacturers. Many claim that rapid prototyping is the next revolution following the industrial revolution. But the fact remains that rapid prototyping has its setbacks. Hence begging to ask, where could rapid prototyping go wrong? These may be fixed in the future as technology improves but for the time being they are very real and need to be addressed.
While over an extended period of time the 3D printer will pay for itself, the initial cost is a painful one for many. This initial cost is one of the major factors holding back 3D printing from becoming a commonly seen device. This is probably the biggest drawback attributed to 3D printers at the moment. High quality 3D printers can cost upwards of up to $2 million dollars! While the amount of trained labor needed is reduced other costs such as CAD trained workers are needed for effective use of the technology.
Lack of Materials
3D printing prints objects by adding layer after layer from the bottom up. This is a vital breakthrough in technology, but even this particular feature has its problems. The materials needed for these printings are limited. Plastic is usually chosen as the material as it prints easier. However the types of plastic available vary from very strong to excessive temperature materials. This means that the strength of certain individual parts can’t be tested with certainty. The risk here is obvious as untested parts cannot be used in the final product. Metal has been tried but the final product is usually not as dense as expected and a lot of finishing work is needed. Other special materials such as gold have been used but these technologies aren’t quite ready for public use just yet.
Size Does Matter
One of the more obvious issues of rapid prototyping is that 3D printers themselves tend to be small so the size of the product being developed is small. Of course there are bigger 3D printers but the cost of such printers is simply too much for smaller sized companies to afford. This is an issue for small companies but the big industries such as the car or airliners industries have no problems in affording the bigger 3D printers. The affordable 3D printers tend to be small enough to fit on your desk so the products created will be of similar size. Until these larger printers become more readily affordable, many companies will have to wait and use the old school method of manufacturing.
Accurate or Not?
Rapid prototyping, as its name suggests, was initially made for prototyping. In other words the parts created were primarily created for testing. It has since branched out into other fields but still remains heavily in the prototyping business. Test parts have to be exact in measurement in order for engineers to determine whether or not the part will be usable. While rapid prototyping has made drastic improvements in its accuracy over the years, it still misses the mark with many products. You can still find products that are printed within 0.1mm accuracy. Such an error may seem irrelevant to the untrained eye but this margin for error is a major risk in the engineering world.
Limits on Manufacturing
Rapid prototyping is great in its own field because it saves us a lot of money and time in the process of creating prototypes. Previously the prototyping process would take days due to lengthy processes in making each new prototype but after the advent of rapid prototyping, times have changed. It takes a mere several hours to make parts and if there are any deficiencies found they can be fixed using a computer-aided design file. This is of course a giant leap forward. But when it comes to mass manufacturing, rapid prototyping is not yet ready to take this leap. In certain manufacturing processes such as stamping, parts are created in minutes. 3D printing has a long way to go before it reaches such efficiency. Nonetheless, it is very likely this will be a fixed issue soon as mass manufacturing using 3D printing seems to be the future for manufacturing companies.
While the problems of rapid prototyping are not many, they are still noticeable and limiting. They need to be addressed in order for this technology to truly show its full potential. Once issues such as limits on manufacturing are fixed, there’s no telling how far 3D printing will go.
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