Dec.31, 2012

Innovation Investment published Peter Friedman's great article "The Achilles' Heel of 3D Printing" - Why 'additive manufacturing' isn't expected to take over large scale industrial production any time soon.

We all think that the more complex a thing is, the more it costs to produce it. But in 3D printing world, "The cost of creating things using a 3D printer 'goes down with complexity': the more complex the item being printed, the less it costs to print it."

greater complexity = more + bigger voids = less ink = lower cost


If fact, because the cost of printing an object depends almost entirely upon nothing more than the quantity of 'ink' (and comparatively little electricity) the more complex the shape, the more 'air' there is between the parts (designers call inter-component-spaces 'voids') the less 3D printer ink (which is usually plastic, but can sometimes be metallic) that is required to create the printed object and so, contrarily, the more complex the object, the cheaper it is to print.

Conventional automated manufacturing is used for massive production. It can make millions of simple products extremely quickly and accurately to meet the market need.

Comparing to that, 3D printing has its disadvantages, Peter Friedman listed all of them:

•agonizingly slow operation
•niche applications only
•extremely low throughput per station
•hard to scale
•mostly small items only
•unsuited to volume production
•still in its earliest stages of development
•mostly plastic-only products
•limited range of fabrication materials
•mostly low precision output
•mostly fragile, low durability products
•mostly single fabrication material products
•mostly only for products with no moving parts
•mostly low quality surface finish
•highest spec 3D printers (fastest, most flexible, finest detail) still dramatically lower throughput than conventional production line equivalents
•cheapest 3D printers can make small, decorative knick-knacks, but not much else
•just fun to watch
•best for educational and hobby use
•just cheap toys for making cheaper toys
•just a designer's fantasy about cutting out the middleman
•a great solution still looking for truly applicable problems
•serious cost issues on almost all large-scale applications
•unresolved technical problems on most fronts
•only really suitable for DIY or small startup usage
•only serious design role is prototyping
•only serious production role is for making molds
•suited to the desktop or garage, not factory operation
•CNC and robotics were also predicted to take over everything in manufacturing decades ago, but are still only niche

So even the fastest 3D printer today are thousands of times slower of traditional manufacturing. But on the other side, 3D printing has its great advantages:

  • less waste
  • new shapes and structures
  • new combinations of materials
  • reduce development cost
  • speed time to market
  • customization
  • high precision
  • embedded electronics

3D printing can speeds up the design process and is widely used by industrial designers. When normally outsourcing a prototype takes days or weeks while using 3D printer takes only hours and costs only $5~20. Designers are able to make multiple concepts based on these models and catch flaws in an early stage.

On the production side, 3D printing plays a growing role in helping to create molds, devices and components used in non-3D manufacturing.

What would need to happen in order for us to switch to 3D?

•3D printing to offer us a speed of operation that was at least one, probably two, but in most cases as many as three orders of magnitude faster than it is now, or

•that the number of 3D printing machines used in manufacturing would grow exponentially and (dis?)proportionately (for one of several potential reasons, see the robotics and integration issues in the sidebar) or

•that our need for (or ability to afford?) so many mass produced items would need to diminish (due to either reduced consumption or due to a widespread and unprecedented increase in the appetite for 'mass customisation'?)

all factored into the same equation.

Friedman concludes "Until one of these major changes occurs, but 3D printing still remains enormously slower than conventional manufacturing, it is reasonable to anticipate that 3D printing will probably extend each of its current niches and almost certainly find itself a few more, but that large scale manufacturing can be expected to continue to be dominated by other, non-3D technologies."

Read the full article here.




Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Drew Taylor wrote at 10/25/2013 11:58:20 PM:

I would disagree with it being a "Designers fantasy to cut out the middleman." Our site does exactly that... . We are a design marketplace that allows designers to sell print licenses to 3D printer owners. This exactly cuts out all the middlemen (manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.)

TommyRottn wrote at 6/4/2013 8:37:17 AM:

Sorry - I meant @Kevin Tommy

TommyRottn wrote at 6/4/2013 8:28:49 AM:

@Frank - such short sightedness. Like when we envisioned only needing 64, room sized computers to handle all the world's computational needs. Personally. I've moved from teletype, to dot matrix, to ink jet, to laser in my normal printing evolution. Some were at school or work or a printer or (even now) at home. When you can buy a 50K / mo duty cycle color laser printer for $650 now - when 10 years ago it was $100K - what can you say? Things get cheaper and things get faster. 3D printing will happen and it will happen in a big way. Pull out your mobile phone you used 10 years ago and tell me I'm wrong.

Frank wrote at 1/30/2013 3:37:11 PM:

3D Printing doesnt owe anything to anyone. It's doing fine, helping people do remarkable things. Yes there's a hype. Yes there are people like this guy going against the hype. But what does that matter?

Kevin wrote at 12/31/2012 10:39:06 PM:

3D printing is indeed a very cool technology, but until a greater diversity of "things" can be printed, it will remain a fringe tool for printing knick knacks as he says. We really need the ability to print combination materials including metals and plastics. But even then it is hard for me to imagine many reasons why I would need one. Even with printed electronics, they will still be far inferior to mass produced ones which I can readily buy now online or at WalMart. It seems this technology has great use for engineers to create prototypes and for artists to create nifty objects that would be hard to create otherwise, but for the regular Joe I cannot see near term usage of this technology. I'll note that one other very low volume but interesting market for such technology is for space stations or remote civilizations like on the moon or mars. You can't just go to Walmart on the moon or mars, so being able to receive an electronic description of something and print it with a printer locally makes a lot of sense in that scenarion.

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