9 Benefits of 3D Printing

Makerbot Replicator

MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer

3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) has already been adopted by many big names to replace their current prototyping methods and even to be used as part of the manufacturing process. With an increasing popularity that is already spreading into the consumer market, additive manufacturing is certainly one of the technologies to follow in the 21st century. But what are the real benefits of 3D printing?

Cheap Manufacturing

As discussed in the first post of this series, 3D printing is increasingly being used by large companies such as Converse or Alessi to replace some of their traditional manufacturing methods with cost savings of up to 70%. This is achieved through lower shipping and packaging costs related to overseas parts suppliers, less human resource involved and cheaper and sometimes more reliable raw materials.

Although currently 3D home-printed objects are not necessarily cheaper than their mass-manufactured counter parts, printing your own object a priceless experience for many (at least until its novelty wears off). 3D printed objects are only expected to get cheaper with improved additive manufacturing techniques, cheaper consumables, main stream adoption and self-replicating practices.

Quick Production

The speed of 3D printing compared to traditional methods is similar to comparing a sports car’s top speed to a horse cart’s. They both take you where you want to go but the journey time differs considerably. With industrial 3D printers being able to ‘manufacture’ most objects in a matter of hours, the classical manufacturing methods, taking up to several days or even weeks (from prototype to end product), are slowly becoming obsolete.

Industrial 3D Printer

Industrial 3D Printer

This leads to massive cost savings and to an on-demand manufacturingmodel. Why should you have warehouses filled up with stocks of your products if you can create them according to demand? Even if this model might not work with the big offline manufacturers due to their dependence on offline retailers that usually buy in bulk, it can prove extremely efficient for an online business.

Less waste

Manufacturing metal and plastic objects in particular is usually a wasteful process with chunky parts and a lot of surplus material. For some aircraft makers, up to 90% of the material is being cut away and no longer useful. Making a similar object using additive manufacturing not only uses less energy but also reduces waste to a minimum. And sometimes, the finished 3D printed product can be up to 60% lighter compared to the machined part but still as sturdy according to the Economist. Significant cost savings can be achieved in this way and less waste also means a lower impact on the environment.

Better quality

Think about 3D printing ascake baking. You can make a cake by whisking some cake mix, pouring it in an oven tray and baking everything. The result may taste amazing but it can have unwanted air bubbles inside, different thickness and all nuts or fruits could be grouped to one side. However, if you could assemble the cake layer by layer similar to additive manufacturing, you could achieve perfection through a full control of where each layer is going and how it fits with the rest.

Avoiding most of the mass manufacturing faults does not only make better products but it also extends their life as they will break less often. This is not necessarily a great benefit for manufacturers who need the product life cycle to be profitable, but it is certainly a major benefit for the end consumer.

Accessibility

With more people getting access to 3D printing, it may not be long until we will all have our own multi-purpose contraption (with additive manufacturing being only one of the many functionalities) capable of creating the products we need, when we need them. This can seriously shake up the current consumerism culture built on the contemporary industrial supply chain; nevertheless, it remains to be seen if this is only an ideology or a possible transitional period in human evolution.

Sustainability

3D Printed Fabrics

3D Printed Fabrics

Less waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods is not only a cost saving feature of 3D printing but also a possible eco-friendly attribute. Add to this the multi-purpose characteristic of a 3D printer (can build different objects without the need of using specialised machines for each part) and their digital ecosystem (all 3D models are transmitted electronically so in theory they can be printed out where they are needed, minimising therefore transport costs) and you get a sustainable manufacturing process. Integrating additive manufacturing with more classic production methods – as is the case with 3D printed textiles in the clothing industry – adds another layer (excuse the pun) to the sustainability case.

New shapes and structures

3D Printed Shape

3D Printed Geometric Shape

Traditional manufacturing methods rely on moulds and cutting technologies to produce a finite number of shapes and structures, with more complex hollow ones having to be created from several parts and assembled together. But 3D printing changes this altogether – the 3D printer’s nozzle can build an infinite number of complex figures, being limited only by human imagination. This method gives them more durability and higher structural integrity. From medical implants that resemble bone to aerodynamic parts for the space industry and from unique-shaped furniture to 3D printed jewellery, the opportunities are endless.

New combinations of materials

Mixing different raw materials is not always possible with mass-manufacturing methods due to the sometimes high costs involved and to their physical & chemical properties that make them difficult to combine through traditional methods. 3D printing has removed many of these boundaries not only because of the initial dependency on plastic (being one of the few raw materials that melt at lower temperatures) but also because of a continuous innovation fed by enthusiasts believing that additive manufacturing’s potential has not been reached yet. As a result, many companies now offer tens of different materials with different finishes giving the look and feel of metal, ceramics or glass with various strengths and temperature resistance.

New business models

3D Printed Metal Art

3D Printed Metal Art For Your Home

With 3D printing gaining popularity fast, entrepreneurs have not lost any opportunity to get their foot into an industry deemed by many as potentially very lucrative. This is how 3D printing ‘shops’ were born. Imagine going shopping in a supermarket where you decide how your products will look and feel, and where everything can be personalised to fit your demanding tastes.

These fab(rication) shops are all benefiting from a manufacturing model made possible by 3D-printing: on-demand manufacturing. Two of these stores that target both business and individual customers are Shapeways and Sculpteo. In both of them you upload your 3D models or get access to their community for 3D modelling support, then you choose the materials and colours desired and then you wait for the finished product to be delivered to you.  With a multitude of pre-created 3D models already available to use, there will always be something to spark your interest.

With so many obvious and potential benefits for 3D printing there is no surprise that this technology is making its way through a varied number of industries with both life-saving applications and personal entertainment uses. What would you use 3D printing for in your day-to-day life? Please leave your comments in the box below.

Editor’s Note

This post is part of the 3D Printing series.

14 thoughts on “9 Benefits of 3D Printing

  1. Pingback: New way of printing – 3D printing | michellekuu

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  3. If you are using an interior designer, the 3D printer can create a real image of the design you make. If you are a civil engineer making plans for the buildings or any type of construction, a 3D printer can really prove to be helpful. Not only in professional field, but also you can even use 3D printer to take print out of pictures.

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  7. Pingback: Great article! Kyle Ephraim | Kyle Ephraim

  8. Very interesting slide deck! As a student at the University at Buffalo working on a Business Admin degree with a concentration in Supply Chain and Operations Management, as well as a minor in Environmental Studies, I am very intrigued by the concept of 3D printing as a way to help supply chains become more green. I can imagine the spare part supply process, at a minimum, will be impacted.

    As a student I wonder, though — how do you feel this technology will impact the Supply Chain / Logistics occupation? Seems like there is the potential for some significant changes in the future. I’m excited, but a little nervous!

    Kyle Ephraim

  9. Great article ! 3D printing is really amazing thing ! I can see that this is going to be more and more popular everyday and it has caught me too :) For real .. everyone now is trying to have a touch with 3D printing too.. I can just agree that 3D printing is really hot topic ! And in the very near future it will reach its golden age . I found more and more information about that 3D models marketplaces are trying to be on the scream of the fashion and work on expanding their websites on 3D printing too ! This is so cool. I could not imagine that life will turn in this side… :)

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  11. I would use 3D printing to make cheap and efficient, locally-sourced solar panels/paint, solar thermal units, led lights, solar roadways, and aquaponics systems, along with all other needed gadgets. The first few printers would be used to replicate themselves. The local hospital would have 3D printers as well. I’d like the whole project to be a nonprofit enterprise, where anyone in the region can invest but all members are subject to a one-person-one-vote democratic structure. Different departments would elect a member to represent on a board of directors. The enterprise would work with local businesses, not against them. Any staggering changes to the local economy will be a time of further socioeconomic development as the enterprise invests back into the community, possibly establishing offshoot cooperatives and nonprofits. Benefits would include more leisure time for civilians, more refined and cheaper education, better healthcare, more investment in social and unpaid labor, better access to quality food, near or entirely free energy. The goal would be to develop first and grow after. Growth would occur by establishing government cooperative coalitions that would share 3D printing resources.

    • Wow
      I have been having, literaly, the same thoughts, right down to the emphasis on modular aquaponics and solar panels. In fact that’s how I got here… its strangely encouraging to see other people thinking along the same lines at the same time, hopefully it points towards a large scale conceptual shift…
      By the way, does anyone know the limitations of 3D printing in terms of the useable materials? I mean, can current 3D printers actually work with the materials needed to create solar panels?

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