The concept of 3D printing was initially met with enthusiasm and high expectations. However, the industry never took off as expected, and today 3D printing is still widely considered a hobby rather than a necessity to have in every house. This innovative concept didn’t translate as well into real life because 3D printers are still pretty inefficient.
Here are 4 main reasons why 3D printers are so inefficient:
- 3D printers have a low printing speed.
- 3D printers require expensive materials.
- The 3D printer technology is still inefficient.
- 3D printers require additional labor.
In this article, I’ll delve more into the reasons why 3D printers never became the breakthrough technology of the decade they were made out to be.
1. 3D Printers Have a Low Printing Speed
3D printers are still inefficient because of their sub-optimal printing speed. These devices operate much slower compared to other alternatives, especially considering the speed of machinery production. It takes a few minutes to make a complicated object using today’s machinery, while with a 3D printer, you’ll have to wait for about three hours for a simple design, such as a phone case.
However, you should keep in mind that some printers are faster than others, depending on their printing method (more on that below) and how sophisticated they are. More expensive printers can be somewhat faster, but how many of us can really afford them? Generally speaking, the average 3D printer that can be found in most medium-income households leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to speed.
3D printing is so slow because it prints individual layers one after the other, and it takes time for each layer to cool enough so that the next one can begin to be printed without compromising the structural integrity of the object.
You may try to speed the process up in different ways, but unless you’re very experienced, chances are, the more you increase the speed, the more the object quality will be affected.
There are various methods for 3D printing, with their own pros and cons, each contributing to the printer’s speed or lack thereof. However, it’s fair to say that no method has proven to be the best or most efficient yet, and this is due to several reasons that I’m about to explain.
First, let’s take a look at the two main methods of 3D printing: FDM and SLA/DLP. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is the most commonly used and cheapest method. In FDM 3D printers, there’s a moving head that melts plastic filament and deposits it on a surface, layer by layer. This method is relatively inefficient because it takes a lot of time and can’t be relied on for complex, precise structures.
Here’s a YouTube video showing detailed information about the fused deposition modeling:
Another method is SLA (Stereolithography), which is generally more expensive than FDM. SLA 3D printers have similar principles to FDM, but their printing is executed differently. They move a beam of light in specific paths in order to solidify resins and create layers. This method is faster, though not enough to produce on an efficient scale. What’s more, the range of materials it can currently use is minimal.
Here’s a YouTube video on how stereolithography works:
However, some other methods are available today, including EBM, DOD (Material Jetting), Binder Jetting, and SLS. These alternatives follow similar principles to the ones I’ve previously mentioned, and they’re all relatively slow.
So, considering the available options, there’s no one superior method that can be quick, precise, and use a range of materials.
2. 3D Printers Require Expensive Materials
Speaking of materials, their limited use can significantly affect the efficiency of your 3D printer. First of all, the range of materials you can use to 3D print objects is very narrow because, with the current technology, they need to withstand enough heat to melt and then be layered into a new object. This condition excludes most of the cheaper, more practical materials commonly used for mass production.
On the other hand, the most commonly used material in the industry is plastic, especially if talking about FDM printers. While plastic is cheap enough and can quickly melt, it’s unsuitable for a wide range of products you might want to print, as it isn’t sturdy enough. Metals can be used for 3D printing, but in most cases, they are used in more expensive SLM and EBM 3D printers.
There are other types of materials that can be used, and their price varies, though the more durable and practical options often are significantly more expensive.
Resin, for example, is durable and suitable for high-resolution designs, but it can be pretty costly, especially tough resin or specialty varieties. Additionally, it can often require more expenses, even for the cleaning agents necessary to remove residual material.
3. The 3D Printer Technology Is Still Inefficient
There’s a lot to be said about the technology of 3D printing when it comes to its shortcomings. Many aspects of this technology need refining and improvement for 3D printing to become efficient enough to become part of most households’ daily lives and be used to produce items in practical amounts.
A major problem with the 3D printers’ efficiency currently is that they can’t work on more than one piece at a time. You can try to set a printer to work simultaneously on two items, but you’ll find that problems will immediately arise.
Once a layer of the first item is finished, the printer will move on to a layer of the second item, but during this time, the first layer will cool too quickly. As you can imagine, neither of the products will turn out as expected, wasting a significant amount of time and material in the process.
Another issue is that, as it stands, 3D printers aren’t exactly user-friendly. Setting up the printer is a whole affair, not to mention all the expensive, specialized equipment you need to go with it.
For most people who 3D print, all this work is done for suboptimal results; unfortunately, there’s no way for you to achieve efficiency with the 3D printer you set up with so much effort at home. Even industrial, hundred thousand dollar 3D printers are far from efficient.
4. 3D Printers Require Additional Labor
No matter how precise the result of a 3D printer is, the chances are that for a relatively complicated object, you might need to put in additional labor after the process ends. The object might need polishing, painting, coating, or much more.
This will undoubtedly add to the cost and time spent making the object. As long as there’s a need for additional steps to complete the 3D printing process, the equipment will remain inefficient, making it hard for it to break into the mainstream market.