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Top 5 Misconceptions About Additive Manufacturing

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The rapid development of 3D printing technology has greatly benefited a myriad of industries, including aerospace, automotive, healthcare, mold-making, and even cosmetics, with faster production of components and lower costs.

By 2025, it is projected that the industry will surpass a commercial value of $5.5 billion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Many large corporations in the Asia-Pacific have established mature R&D teams, yet the adoption of additive manufacturing technology is still in its infancy. This is likely due to misunderstandings about the additive manufacturing industry.

Top 5 Misconceptions About Additive Manufacturing

Misconception 1: Additive manufacturing is suitable for all businesses

A decade ago, when 3D printing first gained popularity, the limitless possibilities of the technology understandably captivated many. 3D printers were touted as household items, dominated headlines, and were considered capable of anything.

Gartner refers to this as the start of the “Hype Cycle.” Initial expectations skyrocket with technological breakthroughs.

Unfortunately, as time passes, disillusionment about technology grows just as rapidly, especially when reality fails to meet overly optimistic early expectations. The danger lies in taking the hyperbolic portrayal of 3D printers at face value, assuming that simply pressing a button will print the needed items.

Maturity curve of 3D printing technology

In reality, 3D printing technology has thrived in professional industrial applications. It has revolutionized manufacturing processes, enabling the production of lightweight, customized individual components.

However, businesses must evaluate whether to implement this technology. They should thoroughly investigate how to use it and manage expectations.

Factors such as cost, design, delivery cycles, and the impact of 3D printing technology on manufacturing processes must be considered. For parts manufactured using traditional processes and 3D printed components, compatibility issues regarding assembly should be addressed.

Misconception 2: Additive manufacturing is only suitable for prototyping

Rapid prototyping is one of the earliest applications of 3D printing technology and is still widely used today. This application is particularly useful in R&D, where prototypes with the same material properties as the finished product can be tested. As a tool-less process, the technology facilitates easy and quick changes, completing them at minimal additional cost.

Using 3D printing to create prototypes has advantages over CNC, but it is not limited to just making prototypes.

However, the belief that 3D printing is only suitable for rapid prototyping is a common misconception. In the early years, the technology could not achieve its full potential due to the limited performance of computers and lasers.

Today, the desire to revolutionize traditional design and manufacturing methods continues to inspire more solutions. 3D printing technology offers outstanding flexibility in the manufacturing process, creating highly customized structures with less material and effectively avoiding bulky product issues.

The tracheal stent printed in 3D is used to treat pediatric tracheobronchomalacia.
The tracheal stent printed in 3D is used to treat pediatric tracheobronchomalacia.

Misconception 3: Additive manufacturing is very expensive

There are two ways to consider manufacturing costs: one focuses on short-term unit costs, and the other takes a broader view, focusing on long-term costs.

Although 3D printing has made many advances in the past decade, for some industries, the technology still lags behind traditional manufacturing methods in terms of unit costs of components. Nevertheless, as productivity increases, unit costs will inevitably decrease.

3D printing reduces costs in a comprehensive way.
3D printing reduces costs in a comprehensive way.

However, other important aspects shouldn’t be overlooked, such as seeking disruptive changes in manufacturing. Traditional methods often rely on mold-making, which can be costly in terms of price and time.

This is especially true for smaller production quantities, which makes “single-piece production” an almost unattainable demand.

3D printing technology reverses this by eliminating the need for molds, thus creating vast possibilities for manufacturing customized products in small batches. Solutions once deemed too costly are now worth re-evaluating.

Previously, the 3D printing technology project NextGenAM, a collaboration between Premium AEROTEC, EOS, and Daimler, was introduced. They used additive manufacturing technology to produce aluminum parts for the automotive and aerospace industries, successfully reducing manufacturing costs.

The manufacturing process was significantly shortened, and production lines could easily be replicated to expand workshop capacity.

Misconception 4: Additive manufacturing has no design limitations – “unlimited complexity”

In fact, the design capabilities of 3D printing are “not infinitely complex,” and the parts it produces still encounter design limitations. Designers using 3D printing technology need training to fully understand the feasibility and limitations of the technology and to learn how to successfully design, optimize, build, and apply 3D printing technology.

There are five 3D printing design rules to follow, including attention to wall thickness and gap size. Parts manufactured using 3D printing should minimize aspect ratios and surface resolution to ensure stable production cycles. Therefore, designs should avoid unnecessary complexity and always keep the five design rules in mind.

The design of 3D printed parts still needs to follow rules.
The design of 3D printed parts still needs to follow rules.

In summary, compared to the limits faced by current traditional manufacturing technologies, 3D printing still offers a high degree of design freedom, enabling many applications that were previously unmanufacturable. This has fostered a design-driven mindset, prioritizing problem-solving first and then considering basic manufacturing constraints.

Misconception 5: Additive manufacturing is only suitable for small parts that don’t require assembly

This common misconception about 3D printing is the cumulative result of the aforementioned misunderstandings. If people believe the technology is both expensive and only suitable for prototyping, then it’s not hard to understand why they mistakenly think 3D printing is only applicable to small parts.

Of course, the reality is that there are now 3D printers capable of producing large parts, with high-quality plastic parts nearing one meter in size and metal 3D printing exceeding 500mm.

Regarding the need for assembly, the question to explore is “is assembly necessary, not whether it can be done.” 3D printing can produce parts that don’t require assembly, often with the goal of making the parts lighter or reducing assembly costs.

In conclusion, 3D printing will not replace all traditional manufacturing technologies in the future. Its role is to expand the possibilities of manufacturing, enabling manufacturers to create products that were once unachievable.

As a new technology, companies new to the additive manufacturing sector should partner with trustworthy additive manufacturing partners to prepare for a new journey.

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