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The Pros and Cons of 3D Printing

3D printing is the fully automated manufacturing process of building three dimensional objects from a digital blueprint or model. Because of several reasons that we will explore below, 3D printing has quickly become extremely popular and hold even more promises in the future.

However with all new technologies, the advantages and disadvantages are seldom well understood. So, I have decided to list all the known pros and cons of 3D printing. If I am missing anything, please let me know.

The Advantages of 3D Printing
  1. Manufacturing Options: 3D printing provides a wide variety of manufactured products, including customizable products and even an individual's personal designs.
  2. Rapid Prototyping: Products can more quickly go from just a design to an actual prototype.
  3. Manufacturing Speed: Just like the previous advantage, the manufacturing speed for a large number of final products is equally fast.
  4. Reduced Costs: Even though the initial setup costs are higher, 3D printing has become cheaper than cheap labor in third world countries. Additionally, the costs of 3D printing are still decreasing, with the potential of 3D printers in homes in the near future. Furthermore, the costs of customized products are the same for mass production products.
  5. Warehousing: With traditional manufacturing technologies, it is much faster and cheaper to manufacture additional products that you probably know that you will eventually need. However with 3D printing, only products that are sold need to be manufactured, thus warehousing of excess inventory is significantly less needed.
  6. More Jobs: More engineers are needed to design and build 3D printers, and more technicians are needed to maintain, use, and fix 3D printers too. Additionally, with the lower cost of manufacturing, more designers and artists would be able deliver their products to the market. Even more domestic jobs for shipping these products should be created too.
  7. Medical: One of the innovative products that 3D printing may provide is the manufacturing of customizable human body parts or organs. While these usages are still experimental, the potential advantages are huge. Imagine doctors quickly building and replacing critical organs, such as the heart, lungs, or liver that will have almost no chance of donor rejection, since the organs will be built using the patients' unique characters and DNA.
The Disadvantages of 3D Printing
  1. Fewer Manufacturing Jobs: As with all new technologies, manufacturing jobs will decrease. This disadvantage can and will have a large impact to the economies of third world countries, especially China, that depend on a large number of low skill jobs.
  2. Limited Materials: Currently, 3D printers only manufacture products out of plastic, resin, certain metals, and ceramics. 3D printing of products in mixed materials and technology, such as circuit boards, are still under development.
  3. Copyright: With 3D printing becoming more common, the printing of copyrighted products to create counterfeit items will become more common and nearly impossible to determine.
  4. Dangerous Items: 3D printers can create dangerous items, such as guns and knives, with very little or no oversight.
  5. More Useless Stuff: One of the dangers of 3D printers is that they will be used to create more useless stuff that is bad for the environment and wallets. Fortunately, there are new methods of automatically recycling objects made by 3D printers that hold promise of better recycling in the future.
  6. Size: Currently, 3D printers are limited with the size of the products that they can create. Ultimately, large items, such as houses and building, could be created using 3D printers.
With the advantages of 3D printing, mankind may be entering a new post-industrial manufacturing age where products are significantly cheaper and built quicker than ever before, however the disadvantages of 3D printing needs to be known to be better understood and mitigated against.

by Phil for Humanity
on 02/11/2013

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