3D printing: beyond the hype

In collaboration with Additive Manufacturing expert at Sirris, Benjamin Denayer, we’ve outlined some of the main barriers hindering the adoption of 3D printing and ways we can overcome them in the next few years.

by Maarten Buysse, Benjamin Denayer & Ignacio Magallon

Additive manufacturing (AM), perhaps more commonly known as 3D printing (3DP), was coined over 30 years ago. Gradually gaining traction over the years, the real hype surrounding 3D printing didn’t start until around 15 years ago. It was hailed as the groundbreaking technology that would disrupt the manufacturing scene, playing a major role in the 4th industrial revolution and bringing decentralised production to every business and even every household.

After all these years, 3D printing has established itself within the manufacturing ecosystem, consisting of many technologies such as stereolithography, fused deposition modelling and selective laser sintering. Compared to the more conventional subtractive manufacturing techniques, 3D printing has clear benefits; such as design freedom, reduced lead time, customisation, cost-effective production of low volumes and on-demand production. It can also handle materials such as plastics, metals, ceramics and even certain polymer composites. Building on these advantages, 3DP has found its main application and unique selling point within many low-volume and highly complex production processes

The increasing number of metal 3DP processes is leading the shift from typical prototyping applications in design to full-scale production. However, it’s safe to say that 3D printing has not yet fulfilled its role as the promised holy grail of manufacturing, we are still in the early stages of adoption. 

What is limiting the further adoption of 3D Printing at the moment?

All challenges that hinder companies in their adoption can be split into 4 general categories:

 Trade-off between high precision + surface quality and speed of production process + time consuming post-processing

Limited selection and combination of materials as well as product size

Quality assurance and certification of the production process to improve e.g. residual stresses in products

High cost of printers and materials used to print (especially for metal printing)

Extra costs that appear in the production process compared to conventional techniques

  • Extra cost of quality assurance of printed pieces
  • Extra cost of post-processing 
  • Extra cost of redesign for AM
  • Extra cost of expensive AM-specific software

Lack of different business models to access technology

Technical feasibility within their current production process

Opportunities and the potential it can have for their product

The business case behind the technology

The lack of quality assurance compared to conventional techniques being a critical aspect in the aerospace and automotive industries

The lack of safe test environments

The lack of employees with experience in AM technologies

While the technical challenges have been the focus for a long time, it is especially interesting to focus on the other challenges, as they are often not prioritised or even overlooked. 

What should be the focus in the next years to overcome barriers?

3D Printing still has the potential to make a big impact on the entire manufacturing ecosystem but for it to thrive in the future, the focus should not only be on the technical developments but also awareness creation, increasing the trust of companies within the sector and offering them these technologies in an affordable way. One of the most crucial steps to be taken is further research in enabling full chain quality assurance and control, to finally reach European certification of products and processes. It is promising to see that 3DP ecosystem studies and national AM strategies are highlighting similar results and starting to shift the focus in this direction. By successfully combining all these measures, the slow adoption rate of 3D printing will be accelerated.

If you want to join us in accelerating the adoption of 3D Printing, or would like more information on the above, get in touch.

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