Can 3D printing alone deliver finished parts?

It’s not unreasonable to expect that 3D printers will become a staple on factory and job shop floors in the near future. But will they ever replace factories and job shops entirely?

One of the most well-known 3D-printed parts: a fuel nozzle for the CFM LEAP engine. (Image courtesy of General Electric.)Ten or twenty years ago, many engineers would have answered enthusiastically in the affirmative. Nowadays, this possibility seems much less likely.

To be sure, additive manufacturing is still an exciting prospect for many engineers—especially the latest generation. However, several factors have conspired to restrain the once unbridled enthusiasm surrounding this technology, including cost, speed and quality of 3D-printed parts.

These barriers could be overcome as additive manufacturing technology improves. However, even if this becomes the case, efficiency might still dictate that the best way to use 3D printing is as a starting point.

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