Tipped to reshape manufacturing in the U.S., 3D printing remains a powerful topic among manufacturers. On an industrial scale, design engineers only need a CAD software package to design prototypes that can be sent to a 3D printer to manufacture. The 3D printer then uses an additive process by building up layers of raw material to create the product. Easy as-can-be.
However, 3D printing is not as simple as it’s presented. Like any manufacturing process, there are 3D printing challenges manufacturers need to address.
3D Printing Challenges
Training manufacturing workers
3D printing has the potential to be used to supply highly customized products on demand to local geographies. Though, for a manufacturer to move forward with 3D technology requires workers with the required skills, and there is little formal education around the subject. Today’s innovative manufacturing companies are already creating training exercises in 3D printing with hope employees will understand the new technology and customize it to their production mode.
Printing at home
Joshua Pearce, a materials science and engineering professor at Michigan Technology University, conducted a research study that showed that an investment in a 3D printer for the everyday household would become economically viable. For instance, households creating 20 items per year could save anywhere from $300 to $2,000. How will manufacturers be impacted if individuals will be able to, essentially, manufacture products on their own, in their own homes?
Obviously, the potential future of 3D printing within the everyday household is an industry-wide manufacturing challenge that needs to be addressed. According to MakerBot, their digitized drawings for a “robot-hand” were downloaded 55,000 times in just a year.
Companies that give out their designs for 3D printing have expressed concern that they may be responsible for faulty products printed within a household. For example, if a manufacturer sells the CAD file for a safety helmet, and a helmet is produced by a household 3D printer, who is responsible for the end product? Is it the design manufacturer or the printer?
Additionally, it would be easy to purchase a design, scan it, 3D print it as many times as you would like, and then sell it to the local market. Manufacturers want to protect their trademarks and authentify their products; however, manufacturing may face the same difficulties as the music and film industry has with copying of products. Therefore, the manufacturing industry will have to take protocols against individuals launching their own mini fabrication operations.
3D Printable Materials Cost
There is a compelling argument that 3D printing will be an inexpensive solution for manufacturing highly customized products. Nonetheless, 3D printing materials market value is expected to increase by 11 percent, from $142 million in 2012 to $579 million in 2025, due to the entry of new suppliers marking up materials. Currently, manufacturers are only using 3D printing for low-volume and highly specialized products that cannot be manufactured by traditional manufacturing techniques, such as automobile parts and aerospace engines. 3D printing production of these parts will increase from $1 million in 2012 to approximately $1.1 billion in 2025.
Read more: Take a look at our list of the growing number of labs and organizations embracing 3D technology inClick Print: Innovators Leading the Way in 3D Printing.