3D printing is an area of technology that has been consistently gaining popularity, especially in the last decade. Even though it’s individual and commercial use has been skyrocketing lately, this technology still doesn’t seem to have yet reached a peak. That’s why many consumers have cast doubt over the popularity and efficiency of this manufacturing method.
3D printing is still incredibly popular. The user base, composed of individuals and businesses operating in dozens of industries, has significantly increased in recent years. For this reason, experts believe that this technology is nearing its mainstream peak.
To further explain why this method has gained so much popularity following recent technology advancements, I will delve into everything you need to know about 3D printing in this article. From the process’s advantages and disadvantages to what the future looks like for the technology, you will better understand 3D printing’s unusual trajectory.
How Popular Is 3D Printing Today?
3D printing today is more popular than ever. Due to current market conditions and rapidly advancing technology developments, 3D printing is reaching all-time high levels of mainstream success.
According to a Smithers report, not only is the market for this technology experiencing substantial success currently, but further advancements can also be expected in the near future. The mentioned report predicts unbelievable annual growth rates, hovering at around 23%. This type of exponential growth is rare for any product or innovation, let alone for one that has been in the market for almost half a century.
The reason for this growth seems to be that the 3D printing industry is not only catering to big businesses anymore, as enthusiasts and home users are occupying more significant fragments of the market as time goes by. This means that for the first time in its 40-year history, the 3D printer is experiencing its first big waves of mainstream success.
Since the technology became more easily accessible for commercial use, the total number of users has been skyrocketing. This shift in perception made smaller businesses and individuals expand their understanding of what’s possible, as they finally had access to a type of equipment that could transform the manufacturing process entirely.
Users can now produce products and designs previously considered too ambitious or unachievable, especially for smaller enterprises.
3D printing is now regularly being used in a wide array of industries, including medicine, aero-mechanics, fashion, and nutrition, to name a few. With recent technology advancements, these instruments are becoming faster and more precise, giving them a competitive edge compared to traditional manufacturing equipment.
The printers are also becoming compatible with many more materials and processes than we could have expected in the past. They ensure a quick and precise production process, which delivers a durable and high-quality final product. Therefore, manufacturing complex and quality-sensitive products can be produced much more effectively today using a 3D printer. Doing so can help speed up design and production processes safely and sustainably.
Of course, challenges are still present in this technology, as it is still relatively new compared to most equipment we use today. Although the 3D printer may not have reached its mainstream success peak yet, most consumers are now aware of the efficiency and potential of this technology. The increased awareness has made 3D printing today more popular than ever, showing that this innovation is here to stay.
Although 3D printing has its well-known benefits in the manufacturing process, many challenges can arise when choosing to use this technology. For this reason, before deciding to make a purchasing decision that’s best suited to your professional or individual needs, you will need to consider all the pros and cons of using this innovative equipment.
Advantages of 3D Printing
3D printing offers a variety of practical advantages to its users, which have played a crucial role in the technology’s rise in popularity. Characteristics such as cost-efficiency, flexibility, reliability, and so on have made 3D printing a very sought-after manufacturing choice.
Here’s a breakdown of those advantages:
When it comes to producing products that require a high level of precision and complexity, there’s no more cost-efficient way to go about it than using a 3D printer. The cost of a highly involved manufacturing chain can be reduced to a fraction of its former sum. I should also note that with these types of printers becoming more mainstream than ever, their prices are now experiencing steep declines.
Further price declines can be expected in the future, as the increased demand will lead to more suppliers entering the market. The new supplier entries will make the 3D printer production industry more competitive, leading to the development of innovative processes that will lower production costs, which, in turn, will incite lower prices.
Even today, you can find high-quality models for as little as $200. And although depending on the specific type and model, the prices may go up to millions, they still present a more cost-efficient alternative than building and maintaining whole production chains in particular industries. Furthermore, 3D printers allow for significant savings in transportation and import fees.
Additionally, fewer workers are needed to operate this type of equipment than conventional factory lines, which means that adapting a 3D printer can notably decrease labor costs.
The technology supports the production of smaller, more individualized products instead of traditional manufacturing processes that rely heavily on economies of scale. Tweaks and changes in design are also more manageable and less costly when using a 3D printer. These qualities work wonderfully with industries such as medicine and aero-mechanics, where smaller quantities, highly-individualized products are often produced.
Alterations and changes require a lot of effort and added costs in a conventional manufacturing facility. On the contrary, when using a 3D printer, you have unlimited access to any design alteration, as it allows for the use of endless combinations of materials, colors, textures, and so on.
This quality makes the technology ideal for businesses whose products require constant customization. In many industries, being limited to a pre-set model or mold can complicate the manufacturing process. Therefore, opting for a more specialized and flexible alternative can significantly increase the process’ efficiency.
The technology also gives you endless possibilities when it comes to the shape and complexity level of your design. When going the conventional route, you may face some limitations regarding what you can and cannot produce. On the other hand, these printers can create even the most complex designs with quality and precision.
The rate at which a part or product is produced when using a 3D printer is one of the main advantages, along with cost-efficiency, making the equipment a rewarding investment for most businesses. Designs that would otherwise require days, weeks, or even months to produce can now be constructed within hours.
Quality and Consistency
The step-by-step approach used in 3D printing allows for a thorough screening and immediate correction of any possible design or production error. This process, consequently, will decrease the production error rate significantly, guaranteeing consistent, high-quality results every single time.
The high-quality output is the reason why 3D printers are becoming more widespread in medical research and production, as they are viewed as more reliable and precise than most manufacturing methods.
Manufacturing through these printing systems is a far more accessible alternative than conventional production setups. You can look at it this way; the average person is far more likely to be able to own a 3D printer than an entire manufacturing line. Businesses are also looking for this level of simplicity and efficiency in order to optimize their production process.
Using a 3D printer creates less waste, as well as reduces needs for transportation and outsourcing. This will result in lower energy needs, which can significantly affect a company’s carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing
Although 3D printing is reaching high mainstream success, it’s still an imperfect technology that comes with its drawbacks as well. Its concept is relatively new and still a work in progress, meaning that users can face several limitations when working with it.
Furthermore, the increased usage of these devices may even have the potential to negatively affect some economies.
Here are four of the most common disadvantages of using a 3D printer:
I previously mentioned the fact that 3D printers require minimal supervision as an advantage. On the flip side, this means that dozens of jobs created in a traditional manufacturing facility would be lost. Not only would many workers be left unemployed and in financial distress, but even those who remain working in the same facility would probably need to go through a stressful and expensive skill transition process.
Given that, for many countries, manufacturing is one of the biggest job industries, introducing a technology like the 3D printer can greatly affect the economy on a macro level as well.
Although incredible advancements have been made, especially in the last few years, 3D printing technology is still far from perfect, as it faces many limitations when it comes to its abilities.
First of all, the range of materials you can use with this type of equipment, although broad, is still limited.
Currently, printers can work with upwards of 100 different materials, with many more expected to gradually get into the market in the near future. Having said that, many raw materials are still not compatible with 3D printers, which can severely limit your production process.
Even though the equipment tends to be more cost-effective in the long term than other alternatives, the initial investment can get very expensive in many cases. Many businesses and individuals who can’t afford the initial price of the equipment are opting for more approachable alternatives, such as renting it or purchasing access to third-party-owned printers. These alternatives can be a cost-effective short-term strategy.
Not Ideal for High Volumes
3D printers can never generate the same economies of scale as their conventional manufacturing counterparts. Many printers aren’t even designed to produce higher quantities in the first place, making them a choice better-suited to specific industries and not a universal solution.
Is It Worth It To Buy a 3D Printer?
After considering every advantage and disadvantage, you may be able to decide on whether purchasing a 3D printer is the ideal choice for your business or personal needs.
It’s worth it to buy a 3D printer if your business produces low volume and highly-individualized products. Likewise, if you’re a design enthusiast who wants to experiment and expand their point of view, the technology could be beneficial to you.
Comparing your needs to what the technology can offer is essential in deciding whether purchasing it would be beneficial to you.
Future Possibilities for 3D Printers
According to experts, the future of 3D printing looks bright. With the expected technology advancements and the continuing individualization of customer demand, 3D printers are expected to transform the manufacturing process as we know it.
Material compatibility is one of the areas in which experts seem to expect the most significant improvements. The difficulty of using metal as a base material in 3D printing has weighed down the industry for years. Advancements in metal compatibility would greatly affect the popularity of these printers, allowing them to achieve a mainstream peak never reached before.
Alternative, more durable 3D printing raw materials are also expected to be introduced to the market. These materials will be affordable and accessible, making the technology more user-friendly.
This change will not happen overnight, as research and improvement take time. But with enough government and industry support, specialists believe that the 3D printer can advance manufacturers to a new, more efficient era.
According to these specialists, healthcare and transport industries will lead the way when it comes to the technology’s consumer base. They also expect environmental causes to prioritize the industry, which will make the equipment more eco-friendly.
Today’s customers are very well-informed and know exactly what they want. Each day, they are straying further away from mass production and searching for more complex and personalized alternatives. Individualized demand is expected to increase. To supply this type of demand, businesses will need to adopt 3D printing technology in order to optimize their production process.
Having said that, like any other manufacturing process, it comes with its advantages and disadvantages. 3D printing is a ground-breaking technology that allows the production of even the most ambitious inventions. With the recent technology developments and current market conditions, 3D printing has become more popular than ever.
Comparing your needs to what the technology can offer is crucial in determining whether or not purchasing the equipment would be beneficial to you. Whatever the case, keep an eye on this innovative technology, as it is projected to one day transform the manufacturing process entirely.