There's recently been a lot of interest in the idea of 3D printing, especially in the media. It has been hailed as a game changer in the manufacturing sector, with major imprints across multiple domains. With speculation and limited information blurring the line between reality and fiction, it is critical to analyze the key challenges 3D printing technology faces.
3D printing is breaking the barriers of conventional manufacturing and opening up new possibilities to create highly personalized products on demand for consumers in the aerospace, automotive, healthcare, consumer goods and similar industries. However, there are certain limitations of 3D printing that need to be kept in mind before qualifying a product for this process. This in turn opens up the need for a framework that can help qualify a particular product, part, or assembly for 3D printing.
The Current State of 3D Printing: Limitations and Challenges Faced
3D printing was initially conceived to verify or validate products early in the conceptualization and engineering phases. It has now matured into an alternate form of manufacturing, though with certain limitations. The limited range of materials that can be 3D printed, as of today is one of the biggest challenges faced. Also, most 3D printing processes today cannot produce excellent surface finishes. Another big challenge with 3D printing is the lack of a regulatory framework to protect intellectual property and also control the printing of unregulated medical devices and surgical equipment.
Leveraging a Framework to Determine Eligibility for 3D Printing
Although 3D printing can be a very useful manufacturing option, the main challenge lies in identifying the right candidate (or the right product) for it. This paper proposes a simplified qualification framework to do this.
This framework offers many advantages.
- Objective identification of potential items for 3D printing
- Separating the myths of 3D printing from actual facts, helping avoid disappointment much later in the product
life cycle when the change in process would be costly and time consuming.
- Lesser dependency on 3D printing vendors, and hence unbiased and neutral qualification.
- Identification of more items that could be 3D printed and hence personalized.
- Identification of parts that could be printed close to the point of use, rather than in a far off location, thereby
reducing time and shipping costs.
- Distinguish parts that can be 3D printed economically without incurring tool costs and the related long lead times
As the lines between traditional manufacturing methods and 3D printing methods blur, it is very important to have a clear cut framework for qualifying components or products that can be manufactured using 3D printing techniques. This framework should also be dynamically updated to be in sync with the latest developments in 3D printing processes. Such a framework can open up more possibilities for 3D printing and, at the same time, screen products and parts for 3D printing and monitor developments in the field.