Why 3D printing won’t replace traditional technology

Despite 3D printing’s continued growth, there are some limitations that the technology isn’t able to surpass

3D printing has already been used in what can be considered mass production. Boeing is printing more than 200 parts into its planes, Airbus will be 3D printing in excess of 30 tons of parts a month next year, and GE has its Leap Engine.  Recently, Stratasys and Formlabs produced machines that automatically replace the build platform in the companies’ respective printers. This can make 3D printing more attractive to larger volume batches.

Recent Machine Design articles have discussed how 3D printing is disrupting different markets, including automotiveaerospaceelectronics, and gaming. And yes, it’s a fascinating time to see how far 3D printing will go, but the current technology isn’t capable of replacing traditional technologies. Ron Hawley, the chief science officer of Integrated Composite Products Inc. (ICP) offered the following example: “Imagine the first four-wheeler. It was probably made with a lot of metal. Its maker may have had access to a mill and some bending equipment, so it seems logical. However, as sales increase, you need to make things faster to keep up with demand. If milling a part takes 20 minutes, molding it with a thermoset might take five minutes. In this example, it wasn’t necessary to save weight or cost—it was imperative to fill orders.

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