13 Pros and Cons of 3D Printing

3D printing is a manufacturing process that uses automation to build three-dimensional objects from digital models or blueprints. Because of a number of reasons, this technology has quickly become very popular among industries, even holding greater promises in the future. However, like most technologies, this printing process also has its own set of disadvantages. To better understand how 3D printing will work for you, it is best to assess its pros and cons.

List of Pros of 3D Printing

1. It allows for more manufacturing options.
Since this printing technology was introduced, it has been providing a wide array of manufactured products, including personal designs and customizable products.

2. It enables decentralization.
3D printing helps with saving on transport costs and cutting overall logistics expenses, especially for small or limited-mass production batches. In the future, this process would allow manufacturers to store replacement parts in virtual warehouses, instead of physical distribution centers, and then print them based on demand, which would significantly decrease the requirement of a huge amount of storage space and resources. It would also start the foundation for high-wage nations to bring production back near their shores and help them save on customs duties based upon the transmission of digital design plans for local production, instead of importing actual products.

3. It helps reduce costs.
Though the cost of its initial set-up will be high, 3D printing is said to have become cheaper than cheap labor in third-world countries, and the cost is still decreasing with the potential of 3D printers to be used in homes in the near future. Aside from this, the costs of customized goods are just the same with mass-produced items.

4. It allows for rapid prototyping.
Products can move from just a design to an actual prototype more quickly with this printing technology. Also, the manufacturing speed for a huge number of final products is equally fast.

5. It makes warehousing easier.
While it is fast and cheap to make additional products that consumers would eventually need with traditional manufacturing technologies, 3D printing would only produce products that are needed to be manufactured, whichi means that you will not be warehousing of excess inventory.

6. It has contributed to a significant development in medicine.
This printing technology has allowed for the manufacture of customizable human body organs and parts. While their usage is still under experiments, their potential advantages are big and promising. It is believed that doctors will be able to build and replace critical organs quickly, without the risk of donor rejection, since the artificial organs will be created using the unique DNA and characters of the patient.

7. It has created more jobs.
3D printing would require more engineers to design and build printers, as well as technicians to maintain and fix these devices. Also, the lower cost of manufacturing would mean that more artists and designers can deliver their products to the market. Moreover, more domestic jobs for shipping the products are also created.

List of Cons of 3D Printing

1. It is faced with limited materials.
At present, 3D printers can only create items out of resin, ceramic, plastic and certain metals. As you can see, 3D printing with the use of mixed technologies and materials, such as circuit boards, is still under development.

2. It has caused manufacturing jobs to decrease.
Similar with the impact other new technologies have, 3D printing will decrease manufacturing jobs, which means that it can have a huge impact on third-world economies, especially China that is depending on a large number of low-skill jobs.

3. It comes with copyright issues.
With this printing technology becoming commonplace, printing copyrighted products to create counterfeits of them will also become more common, and it would be nearly impossible to identify which is the original product. There will definitely be a challenge with intellectual property rights, especially with the value of a product residing in a digital file, where there is a question whether manufacturers would assign licensing rights and insert copy protections to protect their property.

4. It risks producing dangerous items.
It is said that 3D printing will allow for the creation of more dangerous items, such as knives and guns, with little or no oversight. In terms of regulation, this process also has the potential to undermine control mechanisms that make sure products are appropriate and safe. As you can see, customs regulatory bodies would lose their power to oversee goods when they are no longer transported across borders.

5. It creates more useless products.
Another huge danger of 3D printing is that it might be used to create more useless items, which will not do well for our pockets and the environment. Luckily, there are already new methods introduced to automatically recycle objects that are created using 3D printers, holding promise of improved recycling solutions in the future.

6. It has a lot of limitations.
It is still unclear to what extent that this printing method can outperform or even replace traditional processes of manufacturing and shipping. For one, it actually cannot compete with the speed of traditional manufacturing processes, thus it is not a good solution for mass production of goods. As of yet, 3D printers are still limited with product sizes that they can create. Aside from this, traditional mass production processes are significantly cheaper than using 3D print technology to produce large quantities. And for items that require their surfaces to be smoothened, they will still need finishing following 3D print production, as the process will still leave a rough surface structure on objects, especially those made of synthetic fiber.

With the perks 3D printing brings, we might be entering a new post-industrial manufacturing age, where goods are built faster and are significantly cheaper than ever before. However, this printing technology also has its own set of drawbacks that should not be ignored, better understood and mitigated. One thing is certain though—3D print technology’s market share will increase, and there will be a continuous trend for customization. Based on the pros and cons listed above, do you think that 3D printing is good for business and society as a whole, or not?

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.