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Misconceptions About 3D Printing

3D printing isn’t new, but it is getting a new wave of media attention. At this point in its 30-year history, 3D printing is finally getting a serious look. With that attention comes new, and often uninformed, scrutiny. As much as we know about this revolutionary technology, there’s much that the general public doesn’t quite understand yet. The result is a host of misconceptions.

While some doubt the cost effectiveness or general quality of 3D printing, those opinions don’t jibe with reality. Here are just a few misconceptions about 3D printing.

3D Printing is a Passing Fad

Not even remotely true. While critics have argued that the surge in media attention surrounding 3D printing amounts to hype, the fact is that this technology has been around for three decades and we’re only recently realizing the major implications for manufacturing. And as manufacturers are leading the charge toward economic recovery, we’re seeing it firsthand. Manufacturers in countless industries are ramping up their efforts to be leaders in 3D printing. Already, the 3D printing industry is valued at $2.2 billion worldwide, according to the Economist, and nearly a third of that is chalked up to growth in just the last couple of years.

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing are Not the Same

It’s subtle a semantic difference more than anything else. Both processes refer to creating items by laying one layer at a time. In general, the two terms can be used interchangeably, although 3D printing is a more popular term to use with the general public.

3D Printing is Exactly What it Sounds Like

Not quite. The phrase “3D printing” is a bit of an oversimplification, although it gets the point across that your end product is a three-dimensional object. In fact, 3D printing is not so much printing as it is layering. A 3D printer must be programmed to lay a single layer of material down at a time and continue in succession until the product is completed. That means that 3D printing is limited to the manufacturing of free-standing items that are made from materials that are easily manipulated, like plastics. What makes 3D printing so valuable to the manufacturing industry is that it all but eliminates the need to cut and drill certain items. That reduces waste and errors.

3D Printing is Cost-Prohibitive

Maybe at first, but it’s an investment that pays for itself relatively quickly. And it’s an investment more and more manufacturers are eager to make, because it’s simplified, it reduces waste and ultimately increases a company’s profits. You must also consider the range of options. This is no longer a one-size-fits-all technology. 3D printers are available in multiple sizes. And because they are being customized for different work settings, the level of resolution varies as well. All of these factors mean that small businesses can shop around and find affordable equipment specifically suited for their needs. In coming years, expect prices to fall even more as 3D printing becomes more integrated in manufacturing.

The Quality of 3D Printing is Worse than Traditional Manufacturing

This misconception likely is the result of 3D printing’s previous reputation as a prototype-only tool. Until recently, the process was used to generate models, and manufacturers would follow up with more traditional means to create the final product. However, it’s more common today for 3D printing to make final products. It varies from application to application, but the medical field is a strong example for 3D-printed tools becoming commonplace. Modern Healthcare estimates that 50,000 people around the world have been treated using surgical equipment made from 3D printing. Add to that dental devices and a range of prosthetics, and you can see that 3D-printed products are highly regarded in medical circles.

3D printing isn’t going anywhere, so it is important for the public to be well informed. This is a technology that is already impacting every sector of manufacturing. The more we all know, the better we can shape the future of 3D printing and its implications.