What’s Wrong With 3D Printing?

The idea that houses could be constructed with just a click of a button through 3D printing technology has excited many, including the CEO of Alphabet and quirky inventors building a village in Italy, one of the global largest companies. 3D printing designers are today producing a range of eye-catching 3D printed structures, riding on the technique’s ability to create exotic designs out of metal, salt, plastic, or even plastic.  3D designs look nice and have a naturally futuristic impression. Some people claim 3D printing technology is the solution to the global housing and ecological crisis, with almost no waste and cheap housing.

3D printed houses are similar to the traditionally built concrete buildings in many ways. However, it is crucial to note that 3D-printed homes should meet local state laws and regulations. They are required to meet the set standard code in order to get a clean bill. Like any other structure, safety is always a top priority. 

A 3D printer is very useful for certain contemporary tasks such as personalization and rapid prototyping. However, 3D printing technology may not replace conventional manufacturing methods any soon. As things stand, 3D printing technology is nowhere close to being capable of reproducing complex models.

Most 3D printers are only capable of depositing one or two materials concurrently. Therefore, it is an uphill task to manufacture products such as smartphones that has plastic, glass, and metal, among other materials inside them.

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On the contrary, 3D printing is not an efficient means of producing simple objects. For instance, injection-molding techniques enable people to produce a thousand matching copies of plastic models in a few minutes with very minimal human intervention.

Conventional manufacturing techniques will prove more economical than 3D printing technology when dealing with simple products that are manufactured in bulk. This should not be too surprising, as even printing a book using the old fashion has in most cases proved to be cheaper than printing it at home.

Major risks associated with 3D printed houses

While the potential of 3D printing technology across all industries may seem almost limitless, it is important to trade with caution as the risks involved also continue to grow. All parties involved should have a well-set plan to minimize their exposure to possible risks that may come with 3D printing technology. You need to ensure that all your 3D printed products meet all the set rigorous testing requirements.

Here are the four major 3D printing risk categories that companies need to clearly understand, with each category clearly illustrated:

Property Damage Risk

In case a 3D printed object or model causes property damage due to a failure to work as intended or a defect on the object, this may lead to a lawsuit. Individuals or companies involved in the product’s distribution chain or manufacturing may find themselves listed as defendants.

For instance, if a 3D printing construction company constructs a building that poses danger to occupants due to negligence, the contractor is answerable and could be subjected to a lawsuit to answer on the risk or damage caused.

Bodily Injury Risk

Although very few injury risk cases involving 3D printed products have been registered in court, it is possible that liability may fall upon the manufacturer, the raw material supplier, or the product designer. Here are some of the scenarios that could form the foundation of liability in a lawsuit involving bodily injury results.

  1. Defective design: In case a 3D designer engineered a 3D printed product in a substandard way, or a 3D printed product is designed poorly, an allegation of the defective design may be made in an attempt to sue the company or engineer involved. 
  2. Failure to warn (defective marketing): In case a 3D printed product is designed and manufactured properly, but users are not properly instructed on how to use it, or they are not warned about possible dangers of using the product improperly, an allegation could be made on failure to warn the clients.
  3. Defective manufacturing: In case a 3D printed product was incorrectly manufactured or was damaged in the process of manufacturing in a manner that strays from its original design, rendering it unsafe for use, an allegation of defective or substandard manufacturing could be made.

Intellectual Property and Cyber Risk

3D printed products are designed using CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting) software, which processes files that could contain proprietary information. Theft or loss of these crucial files could be disastrous for 3D printing companies, possibly leading to design theft of digital sabotage. The 3D printing company or individuals could be sued for such loss of crucial files, posing a great risk to the 3D printing industry.

Technology Errors and Omissions Risks

In case the 3D printed product fails to function as intended, the 3D printing company or individual may be held liable for the economic loss, when it is due to an error, negligence, or omission subject to a lawsuit. Additionally, 3D printed product failures may interrupt the business continuity of your clients and damage your reputation as a 3D printing company.

What are the key challenges of 3D printing?

Just like any other process, 3D printing technology also has some drawbacks that we should consider before deciding to use it. Some of these challenges include:

Limited material

While it is possible to create models in a selection of metals and plastics, the available selection of the printing raw materials is not quite exhaustive. This is because not all plastics or metals can be controlled enough in terms of temperature to allow 3D printing. Also, a few of these printable materials are safe, while most of them are food unsafe.

Although large parts of the model require post-processing, most 3D printed parts require some cleaning up in order to remove any support material from the build and smoothen the print surface to meet the desired result. Post-processing methods deployed here include a chemical soak and rinse, assembly, sanding, water jetting, heat, or air drying among others.   

Some of the factors that determine the amount of post-processing required include the intended application, the type of 3D printing technology, and the part being produced. Therefore, while 3D printing technology enhances the fast production of parts, the manufacturing speed may be slowed down by post-processing.

Part structure

3D printing (Additive Manufacturing) involves producing parts layer by layer. In as much as these layers stick together, they can also deaminate under certain orientations or stresses. This challenge is mostly experienced when manufacturing items using FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling), while multijet and polyjet parts also appear to be stiffer. In some cases, it is advisable to use injection molding as it produces homogenous parts that are not easy to break and separate.

Design inaccuracies

Another potential challenge with 3D printing technology is directly related to the process or type of machine used. Some 3D printers have lower tolerances, meaning that the final result may differ from the original design. You can fix this in post-processing, however, you must consider that this will increase the cost of production and time.

Restricted build size

3D printers have small print chambers that restrict the part size that you can print. Any model bigger will involve printing separate parts and joining them together after production. This will likely increase the time and cost of production for larger parts, which involve printing more separate parts before involving manual labor to join the parts.

The decline in manufacturing jobs

Another key disadvantage of 3D printing technology is the high possibility of reduction in human labor. This is because most of the production processes are automated. However, most Third World countries still rely on low-skilled human labor to keep their economies stable and running. 3D printing technology puts these jobs at risk by scrapping off the need for production abroad.

Large volumes

Unlike conventional techniques such as injection molding, where large volumes of parts may be cheaper to produce, 3D printing technology is a static cost, hence may be costly with large volumes of prints. While the initial investment cost for 3D printing is lower than the other manufacturing methods, the cost of production per unit may not be lower when scaled up to carry out mass production of large volumes.

While 3D printing technology is becoming more accessible and popular, there is a higher possibility that people have started creating counterfeit and fake products. This will make it almost impossible to tell the difference. Quality control and copyright issues have therefore emerged as a major challenge with 3D printing technology.

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