Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is a groundbreaking technology that has revolutionized the world of manufacturing. From rapid prototyping to customized production, additive manufacturing offers a range of benefits that have caught the attention of industries across the globe. As with any innovation, this manufacturing process is not without its drawbacks. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of additive manufacturing is important for businesses looking to harness its potential.
In this blog post, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of additive manufacturing, shedding light on areas where it shines and the challenges it presents.
What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is a manufacturing process that involves building three-dimensional objects by adding material layer by layer. These are the steps involved in additive manufacturing.
Traditional manufacturing processes mostly involve the subtraction of material (milling, turning, etc.) or the shaping of materials (injection molding, casting, etc.). Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, creates an object from scratch by adding multiple layers of material.
Categories of Additive Manufacturing
There are 7 categories of additive manufacturing:
- Stereolithography (SLA): This technology uses a liquid photopolymer resin that is solidified using a laser or ultraviolet light source. The object is built layer by layer as the resin is selectively cured or hardened.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): SLS employs a high-power laser to selectively fuse powdered materials, such as plastics, metals, or ceramics, layer by layer. The unfused powder acts as a support structure during the printing process.
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): FDM involves extruding thermoplastic material through a nozzle, which moves in a controlled manner to deposit the material layer by layer. The material solidifies quickly, creating the desired object.
- Binder Jetting: This technique involves selectively depositing a liquid binding agent onto layers of powdered material, such as metal, sand, or ceramics. The binding agent solidifies the layers, creating a solid object, and additional post-processing steps may be required.
- Digital Light Processing (DLP): DLP technology uses a digital light projector to cure or solidify liquid photopolymer resins. The object is built layer by layer as the resin is selectively exposed to light.
- Electron Beam Melting (EBM): EBM is primarily used for metal additive manufacturing. It employs an electron beam to selectively melt metal powder in a high vacuum environment. The melted material solidifies to form the desired object.
- Directed Energy Deposition (DED): DED utilizes a focused energy source, such as a laser or electron beam, to melt or fuse material as it is deposited onto a substrate. This technique is often used for repairing or adding material to existing parts, as well as for creating large-scale objects.
Additive manufacturing is particularly useful for industries like automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, medical devices, and ecommerce. Combining the right set of tools for ecommerce with additive manufacturing, ecommerce businesses can offer personalized or customized products to their customers, improving their bottom line.
4 Advantages of Additive Manufacturing
Here are the benefits of additive manufacturing.
1. Speeds Up Prototyping
Prototyping is one of the most popular manufacturing industry trends because it allows manufacturers to test and validate their designs before moving into full-scale production. Manufacturing methods like injection molding or CNC machining require you to first create tools or molds, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, allows for the quick and cost-effective production of prototypes directly from a digital design. Therefore, it significantly reduces the time taken to create a prototype, saving time and money, and helping you better manage business expenses.
2. Provides Greater Accuracy
Instead of relying on humans to manually shape or build something, additive manufacturing relies on machines that follow precise instructions. These machines create objects layer by layer, adding material where it’s needed.
Since the process is automated, there are fewer chances for errors caused by human factors, like fatigue or oversight. The machines follow the instructions precisely, so the end result is usually very accurate.
Personalized products have emerged as the latest trend in ecommerce marketing. Additive manufacturing can help you offer customized and unique experiences to customers by tailoring products to their individual preferences and needs
3. Generates Very Little Waste Material
Waste reduction in manufacturing contributes to cost savings and environmental conservation. It not only enhances operational efficiency but also promotes sustainability.
Additive manufacturing builds objects by adding one layer at a time. Instead of starting with a big block of material and cutting away what’s not needed, this method only uses the exact amount of material required for each layer.
Since there is no need to remove excess material, there is hardly any material waste. The money you save can be invested in product development and experience management, improving the overall customer experience and satisfaction.
4. Saves Energy
Traditional manufacturing methods involve cutting, shaping, and assembling, which often requires huge amounts of energy to power equipment and machinery.
In contrast, the additive manufacturing process builds objects by adding layers of material, which consumes less energy overall. Also, 3D printers used in additive manufacturing require less power to operate. They are designed to be energy efficient, using only the necessary amount of energy for the printing process.
Another advantage of additive manufacturing is that it eliminates the need for extensive transportation or shipping of pre-made parts. This further reduces energy consumption associated with logistics. The cost savings that this offers can be used for other vital business activities. The money saved can also be used to invest in tools that help generate more sales leads.
3 Disadvantages of Additive Manufacturing
Here are the limitations of this method of manufacturing:
1. It is Limited to Certain Materials
Additive manufacturing is a great method for producing objects during the prototyping stage. However, it might be limited to a handful of materials during the final assembly of products, as shown in the image below. Not all materials can be easily used in 3D printers. Additive manufacturing is not suitable for materials like wood and glass.
2. The Cost of Production Can Be High
The additive manufacturing process requires specialized raw materials, which can be costly to produce.
To ensure the desired results, specific materials are required for each type of 3D printer. These materials often undergo specialized manufacturing processes themselves, making them more costly. Additive manufacturing, therefore, can be a lot more expensive than traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection molding.
3. Not Very Suitable for Small Businesses
Additive manufacturing may not be the best option for small businesses looking to improve cash flow. The upfront costs associated with acquiring 3D printers and specialized software can be quite high. These expenses can pose a significant burden for small businesses with limited budgets. They may also not have the necessary resources or personnel skilled enough to handle the complexities of additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing is undoubtedly a great method for companies with financial resources to acquire the necessary equipment, software, and expertise. For companies with a limited budget, it may not be a viable option. Also, additive manufacturing is suited to some use cases, but you cannot use this method in a broader perspective as you would with conventional manufacturing.
Author Bio – Reena Aggarwal
Reena is the Director of Operations and Sales at Attrock, a result-driven digital marketing company. With 10+ years of sales and operations experience in the field of e-commerce and digital marketing, she is quite an industry expert. She is a people person and considers human resources as the most valuable asset of a company.