Advantages, disadvantages, and types of the 3D printing process

3D printer and products

3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing since it adds layers on top of others to create objects. Imagine you using utensils in your house and then they slip and break. Instead of going to the store for a new one you move to a printer and print a new better version.

This will be the future of 3D printing. 3D technology enables users to design an object by use of CAD software and then using a 3D printer they can generate the design into a physical object.

3D printing processes are, binder jetting, directed energy deposition, material extrusion, material jetting, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination, and vat photopolymerization. They will help have faster prototypes that can be customized to user needs. The disadvantage of 3D is it requires post-printing activities and currently is use limited types of material.

Types of 3D printing process per ISO standards ISO/ASTM 52900:2015

To standardize how 3D technology is used ISO produced a document to ensure control in the industry. It has among many others details about the printing processes which have led to different types of 3D technologies. You can read more on the standard ISO/ASTM 52900:2015.

Below we discuss different 3D printing processes recommended by the standard and the type of technology that has been generated from them.

  1. Binder jetting process

In this process, the liquid agent is used to bind powder materials together to create the item. The technology doesn’t use heat to bind material rather it uses liquid. This makes it a relatively cheap process of producing 3D products. The main technology from this is a binder which can use ceramic, polymer, or metal to mold products.

  1. Directed energy deposition (DED)

The process involves direct melting of material and depositing them where they are required to create the product. They use heat to melt can be laser, plasm arc, or electron beam. They are used with metal materials. Since it can melt material directly where it is deposited, it makes it good technology to repair products. The technologies from this process are:

  • Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS)
  • Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM)
  • Aerosol Jet Technology 
  1. Material extrusion

The material that is used to create the product is passed through a nozzle where it is heated and dispersed on the platform to form layers. It is the most common type of 3D printing process. Materials that can be used are carbon fiber and plastic filaments. Technology used is

  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 
  1. Material jetting process

It is a type of additive manufacturing where the material is jetted to the platform in droplets or continuous to create a product. They operate like an inkjet printer but now instead of ink, they deposit material. Material jetting printers are more accurate and require less after the printing process. They use materials such as wax or photopolymer. The technologies adopted from this process are:

  • Drop on Demand (DOD)
  • NanoParticle Jetting
  • PolyJet 
  1. Powder bed fusion

The technology uses thermal energy from either laser or electron beam to lay and fuse material to create products. The fusing is done selectively depending on the product design. The material used can be metal and plastics. There are man technologies that have emerged from this process which include:

  • Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
  • Electron beam melting (EBM)
  • Selective heat sintering (SHS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Selective laser sintering (SLS)
  1. Sheet lamination

This is where very thin sheets of material are laminated together depending on product shape to create a product. The joining of material can be done by ultrasonic welding or using an adhesive material. 

They can use polymers of metal as the material. It is a relatively cheap technology but requires a lot of after-printing processes to get a finished product. The technologies from this process are:

  • Ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM)
  • Laminated object manufacturing (LOM).
  1. Vat photopolymerization

It is addictive manufacturing where a liquid photopolymer in a container (vat) is hardened by UV light. This is repeated layer by layer until a product is generated. The technologies from the Vat photopolymerization process are:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital light processing (DLP)
  • Masked stereolithography (MSLA)

Advantages of 3D printing

  1. Customize objects

3D printing offers the user an option to design and produce that otherwise would be hard to produce with traditional methods of manufacturing. Users can customize to their desire and needs in terms of colors, features, etc.

  1. Rapid prototypes

The technology help to come up with a prototype that can be used to decide on the final product very fast. Rapid prototypes mean the decision to produce the final product will be faster.

  1. On-need-bases production

Products can be produced when they are needed. This means parts don’t have to be manufactured and then wait in store until when they will be required. The part can be produced when it is necessary since it needs a short time.

  1. Low cost of manufacturing products

Since 3D reduces the labor and time of production, then automatically the cost of producing the item is significantly reduced.

  1. Reliable and consistent production

Since the machine is doing almost all the work, then 3D printing ensures that the product will be of the same interim quality. The product will have the same production quality and be consistent in all manners.

  1. Reduced work-related injuries

Since the machine produces in a confined area, it means worker injuries will be reduced.

Disadvantages of 3D printing

  1. Post printing activities

To get a fine final product, most 3D technology will require you to carry out post-processing activities. These can include cleaning, sanding, and assembly, among other activities.

  1. Lower strength compared to traditional objects

The technology involves adding a layer to another to create a product. This type of manufacturing can create a product that under a lot of pressure and tension they will break down.

  1. Health and environmental issues

The material that is used to manufacture the product such as polymers can cause health issues. Also, they have environmental hazards when the waste is disposed of.

  1. Limited choice of material

Currently, most technology uses heat to mold products or change their shape. This means the technology is limited to materials that can be changed or modified by heat.

  1. New technology

The technology has not developed to advanced levels so it still suffers issues with new technology. The issues include acceptance of new technology and fear of change among others.

  1. Limited space for manufacturing hence limited size of the product.

Products are mostly produced in a confined printer casing that is small in size. This will change later as the technology grows and is accepted by mainstream users.

7 application areas of 3D in real-life

  1. Automotive: 3D is used in automobile industries to manufacture spare parts and also to come up with new prototype designs.
  2. Medicine: in Medicine technology is anticipated that will be used even to create synthetic body parts. If this will be achieved then it will save many lives of people who are in critical conditions and they cannot get donor organs.
  3. Aerospace: since technology creates a product that is lightweight compared with contemporary technology then it becomes ideal for airspace parts. They can be manufactured light-weight and of the right shape.
  4. Building and construction: architects can use 3D technology to produce realistic prototypes of structures that they can bring into reality. Currently, we also have some companies that are training to construct fully functional buildings using the technology.
  5. Education sector: cheap technology means learning institutions can now produce prototypes that they can use to demonstrate in class. The technology will also enhance research in different areas of learning. Learners and trainers can create a cheap small scale version of a real object for learning.
  6. Robotics: Robotics parts can be created using 3D technology. They can be made of different sizes, and shapes and can be easy to assemble.
  7. Home and personal use: as the technology becomes cheaper and more accepted by the masses it will move to home production. The individual user will own the printers and they can be able to print home appliances and equipment. They can be new complete items or repair parts for existing tools.

Top 3D printing service providers and manufacturers

Currently, we have companies that are manufacturing 3D printer which uses a different type of technologies as we have discussed. The companies listed offer 3D printers, printing services, print design, and some other 3D-related services. Some of the most common names in 3D printers manufacturing are:

  1. Stratasys: they are among the pioneers of 3D printing companies in the world.
  2. 3D Systems: according to their website they started in 1986 with headquarters in South Carolina
  3. CELLINK: they deal with 3D bioprinting which involves the production of Bioink and printers.
  4. Makerbot: founded in 2009, they specialize in printers. They produce the Cupcake CNC printer. MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys in the year 2013. 
  5. nTopology: it is a software company that deals with software to design and print additive manufacturing products
  6. Desktop Metal: they use a binder jet and DLP polymer for printing. It is headquarters in Burlington. 
  7. Protolabs: founded in 1999 the offers 3D services by use of injection molding envelopeXometry
  8. Glowforge: they use subtractive instead of additive manufacturing. The technology they use is a CNC laser cutter engraver.

List of the best 3D software for 2022

  1. Tinkercad
  2. Blender
  3. Wings3D
  4. DesignSpark Mechanical
  5. FreeCAD
  6. AutoCAD
  7. OpenSCAD
  8. 3D Slash
  9. Autodesk Fusion 360
  10. Rhino3D
  11. Cinema 4D
  12. SolidWorks
  13. Maya
  14. 3DS Max