Sure, the potential of 3D printing is there. But it will not be as life-changing as forecasted and not even close to how personal computers changed our lives. It will maybe fine-tune additive manufacturing (AM) but not overhaul the system entirely.
Consumer 3D printers are just emerging in the U.S. market. The Industrial counterpart of this technology has long been part of the manufacturing front. So will it transform the Industry? Hopefully. But the Industry is still in the process of assessing its growth potential. This early though, manufacturers of 3D printers are convinced that 3D printing will go mainstream just like computers and digital printers. The lackluster acceptance rate for this technology contradicts this assessment. The reason could be the limitation 3D printers pose.
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Certain factors limit the acceptance of 3D printing in Manufacturing. First, not everybody is engaged in designing so that general purpose 3D printers will never find utility in a number of industries. Second, 3D printers run on limited applications owing to a few materials available that meet 3D printing processes. Additive manufacturing (AM) is perhaps the only phase that benefits greatly from this technology. This is because of the ability of a 3D printer to create parts that are accurate and at the least cost.
Medical and Aerospace Industries could however benefit from 3D printing greatly since components are beastly complex and must be custom built. Besides, these industries have low volume requirements and do not need to be developed and produced by competing technologies. When it comes to overall industrial application 3D printing has a long way to go. It cannot compete with existing manufacturing technology, particularly if it involves assembly works.
In conclusion, many believe that 3D printing is just another form of manufacturing system designed to augment current practices. But, we must admit that 3D printing is a disruptive technology. It created a splash, not just a stir in the manufacturing system. However, the contribution of 3D printing will be limited to additive manufacturing and geared only towards certain markets. In passing, 3D printing will never cause a general overhaul of traditional methods.
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The 3D printing industry will definitely streamline or even revolutionize traditional manufacturing practices, but in no way can it overhaul manufacturing entirely.