Despite the media hype that 3D printers can be used to make literally anything, and that they will disrupt all kinds of present day processes and systems, professional users have a number of frustrations with this technology. These frustrations can be overcome with further R&D, assuming the media hype doesn’t inflate expectations to a point that frustrates the most enthusiastic users. But here are some of the frustrations shared by experienced users on various sites:
Material limitations, including:
• The 3D printing process and how fast a previous layer of material cools before you can deposit the next layer.
• Temperature. Many 3D printers experience considerable temperature variation in the build chamber throughout the build process. For some materials, these temperature changes affect the grain structure of the material, affecting the part’s final properties. A number of engineers are calling for better control of the temperature, perhaps through the use of a closed-loop control system.
• The famous “razor blade” business model, where you give away the razor, or in this case the 3D printer, for minimal cost and make your profits through the supplies, which for 3D printers is materials. A number of people are frustrated by the cost of materials, and even more by the fact that they can only purchase the manufacturer’s material offerings. While there are some technical reasons for restricting materials to specific 3D printing machines (better control over part tolerances, resolutions, and accuracies), could it be possible to open this up? Larger industries, such as aerospace and automotive, may help here, as they tend to insist on multiple sources of critical material, components, and so on.
• Which is affected by materials and the temperature of the printer itself. But a number of users would like faster builds.
• A data base on mechanical information on parts printed in various materials with various 3D printing processes. Manufacturers will resist full acceptance of this technology for manufacturing without data confirming that parts hold up to their designed function.
Better CAD programs:
Many novice users are finding that you must have a good CAD program to move to the next steps of printing your 3D part. The designed part must be built in the CAD program properly, often referred to as “water tight.” Novices are finding out that downloadable programs are often missing critical data needed for a good printable part. And just scanning data into a CAD program is often not quite enough to deliver a good part. Some tweaking and massaging of the scan data is often necessary, although several companies are developing enhancements to their programs that shorten the time for this.
• The time it takes, and the need for more, easier options to finish a part.
These are just the most popular frustrations. If your favorite frustration is not mentioned here, drop me a note!