ZMorph listed three common misconceptions about 3D printing. I’m adding three more to their list.
ZMorph is one of the more popular desktop 3D printers available today, and their popularity attracts the public. But that same public frequently suffers from serious misconceptions about the replication technology we call 3D printing or additive manufacturing.
In their report, ZMorph listed these three major misconceptions:
- I can 3D print everything
- Every printer prints the same
- Everyone should have a 3D printer
Anyone who’s actually attempted 3D printing can certainly recognize these misconceptions. People seem to believe that 3D printing is completely analogous to 2D printing, which aside from a few similarities, is actually quite different. While your can 2D print any arbitrary document, you cannot print any 3D object.
Based on the questions I often receive about the technology, I would like to add three more misconceptions.
3D Prints are Fast
Nearly everyone asks “how long does it take to print X?” and when I respond with “two” “eight” or “ninety-six” hours, they are baffled. They have no conception of how a piece of plastic could take 96 hours to create on an otherwise magic machine.
3D printing is in fact a tremendously slow process, particularly in plastic extrusion machines, whose hotends must laboriously trace over every single voxel of each layer of the 3D model. It’s even slower when higher resolution is required.
There have been some developments in resin 3D printing lately by several vendors who have found ways to speed up photo-curable resin 3D printing substantially. However, those methods are still staggeringly slow compared to conventional injection molding, for example.
3D Printing is Cheap
I’ll always recall the fellow who wanted me to 3D print a plastic connector and was surprised to discover the entire activity would cost him dozens, if not hundreds of dollars to execute. Most of the cost was to develop an appropriate 3D model , but yes, that IS part of the cost of 3D printing.
Printing of multiple objects is rarely financially effective, unless your object happens to have some very unique characteristics solvable only by use of 3D printing approaches. But even in those cases, the per unit cost is still expensive.
For those expecting Wal-Mart level pricing for 3D prints, it’s not going to happen.
I Can 3D Print Internally Complex Objects
“Can I 3D print my smartphone?” No, you cannot. This is because unlike a loaf of bread, most useful objects have complex differentiation inside. There’s electronics, mechanical elements, fluids, varied materials and more. Just because you can see the outside of a functioning object doesn’t mean it can be printed.
This constraint may eventually change in the future, when machines capable of printing in many practical materials all at once are available, but for now, most 3D printers can produce mono-material objects only.
Like any making tool, 3D printing processes include a variety of constraints. You CAN print anything – so long as it fits within the constraints. Know them well before you begin.