Top 3D Printing Challenges And How to Overcome Them

The future of 3D printing is bright—nearly every report published in the last decade investigates the potential of additive manufacturing and how it can help transform parts of the manufacturing process. The optimism is justified. In recent years, technology has grown at an unprecedented rate. However, it would be naive to ignore the most significant 3D printing challenges and how they change as technology advances.

Jabil has surveyed over 300 product brands about their 3D printing service cost, capabilities, adoption, current challenges, and future plans since 2017. Since our first survey, additive manufacturing has come a long way—discussions of potential benefits have translated into real-world business outcomes that hold promise across all industries. As an example:

  • Using 3D printing for jigs and fixtures at Jabil’s Auburn Hills site has resulted in a time reduction of 80% (from months to weeks) and a 30% reduction in tooling costs.
  • A fan in an aircraft cooling system can be reduced from 73 labor-intensive and time-consuming parts to one using additive manufacturing.
  • HP increased the breakeven point for production parts using 3D printing from 5,000 to 40,000 units.
  • The 3D printing process can significantly simplify traditionally machined manifolds in medical devices.

These examples demonstrate the transformative power of additive manufacturing. While many product brands have seen significant time and cost savings in prototyping, design, and production parts, others are still waiting for the technology to be ready for use in their industry.

Regardless, 94% of survey respondents admit to having difficulties with 3D printing. Those challenges have shifted in recent years, demonstrating technological advancements to production readiness, revealing new obstacles to overcome.

Critical 3D Printing Problems and Solutions

Respondents in the 2017 survey said their biggest additive manufacturing challenges were related to costs (of pre- and post-processing, system equipment, and materials), whereas respondents in 2019 said 3D printing material issues were the most difficult. Today, however, the challenges appear to vary: the cost of pre- and post-processing, a limited selection of materials, and technological limitations are the most significant 3D printing challenges of 2021.

Due to a lack of materials, 94% of respondents in the 2019 survey said their design and engineering teams frequently prefer traditional manufacturing methods over additive manufacturing. It all makes sense. Although the cost and availability of 3D printing materials are significant barriers, material performance is also a significant barrier.

As I previously stated, part quality—integrity, strength, aesthetics, and so on—is a challenge for many manufacturers. While some industries, such as the dental and hearing aid industries, are doing well and transforming their customer experiences, others have yet to move beyond prototyping to part production. Because certain industries (such as healthcare and aerospace) require certified materials or specific qualifications for materials to be used beyond prototyping, this is the case.

Although these 3D printing issues are the most common in industries such as consumer electronics, healthcare, heavy equipment, automotive, industrial machines, and packaging, there are some minor differences when we look at the details by industry.

According to Jabil’s survey results, the most significant challenge for the consumer electronics, heavy equipment, and industrial machines industries is the cost of pre- and post-processing, while the healthcare, automotive, and packaging industries are most likely to struggle with a limited selection of materials.

When asked what is preventing product brands from using 3D printing in mass production today, 54% say materials issues (cost or availability of materials) are the most significant. Another 43% mention workforce issues (such as the lack of qualified personnel or subject matter experts). Finally, 42% report platform (availability or cost of 3D printers) and process issues (design or post-processing issues).

While most of the mentioned challenges have remained relatively stable over the last two years, there is one notable exception: ecosystem issues, which increased by 13% between 2019 and 2021. This could be due, at least in part, to the vulnerabilities revealed by COVID-19’s supply chain impact. Companies in all industries were forced to assess the speed and agility of their operational processes, as well as how well everything interacted.

Navigating Challenges with Additive Manufacturing Materials

Due to a lack of materials, 94% of respondents in the 2019 survey said their design and engineering teams frequently prefer traditional manufacturing methods over additive manufacturing. It all makes sense. Although the cost and availability of 3D printing materials are significant barriers, material performance is also a significant barrier.

As I previously stated, part quality—integrity, strength, aesthetics, and so on—is a challenge for many manufacturers. While some industries, such as the dental and hearing aid industries, are doing well and transforming their customer experiences, others have yet to move beyond prototyping to part production. Because certain industries (such as healthcare and aerospace) require certified materials or specific qualifications for materials to be used beyond prototyping, this is the case.

Polymers are the most commonly used 3D printing materials today, according to the Jabil survey, but participants are most interested in using metals next. Currently, 3D printing is best suited for complex, one-of-a-kind parts that are expensive and difficult to produce using traditional methods. Metals for additive manufacturing will become much more accessible to product brands as advances in material cost reduction and faster machine throughput are made.

Keep custom engineered materials in mind when deciding which additive manufacturing materials to use. Product brands can gain access to custom powders and filaments via engineered materials, with manufacturing rigour applied to each specialised material. As a result, your part’s performance and requirements will be perfectly aligned. Some of the advantages of using custom materials include increased availability of unique materials, shorter time-to-market, and lower costs for part development.

Given how far additive manufacturing technology has advanced in recent years, I don’t think material challenges will last much longer. Our ability to produce 3D printed parts that meet our expectations will improve as new materials are introduced. Because 3D printing technology allows us to reduce the number of parts we use, the opportunities are ripe for the taking.

Six out of ten survey respondents said that as more cost-effective, certified additive materials become available, the types of applications that use 3D printing will expand. Furthermore, 59% plan to 3D print more production parts.

Budgetary Limitations in Additive Manufacturing

Manufacturers require a dependable additive manufacturing system that can deliver the quality that their operations demand and promise. However, quality comes at a cost. As a result, it is not surprising to hear that the costs of system equipment and materials are cited as a barrier to 3D printing adoption.

You must first develop your strategy before pursuing additive manufacturing as a practise. Analyze your supply chains and the parts you manufacture, create a business case, and incorporate it all into your strategy with a budget. For your organisation, additive manufacturing is a long-term investment, if not a complete manufacturing transformation. Although the systems and materials appear to be expensive, they may offset or lead to significant cost savings in productivity, efficiency, and part and mechanical property.

Working with an external partner (such as Jabil) is always an option for those who do not want to take on 3D printing in their own supply chains. In fact, nearly half of survey respondents say outsourcing will play a significant role in their future 3D printing plans.

Addressing the Lack of In-House 3D Printing Expertise

Given the rapid advancement of additive manufacturing, it can be difficult to find the right talent to grow the technology in your organisation, as indicated by the survey results.

In reality, you can rely on your team members. You can cross-train your existing talent to get them up to speed with 3D printing, whether it’s injection moulding or design. As they learn to design for additive manufacturing, your design teams may require more assistance. According to the survey, companies that focus on training their teams on how to use technology see positive results such as a more excited team, increased creativity, and pride of workmanship.

Investing in your experienced and incoming talent, as in any other case, will be critical to overcoming this challenge. Furthermore, your organisation may want to consider collaboration opportunities with universities that have already established 3D printing labs to provide engineering students with training.

Whether you are new to additive manufacturing or a seasoned user, the competition for skilled talent will be fierce. 3D printing Malaysia has become huge and many people are taking it as hobbies.

Opportunities to Advance 3D Printing Technology to Scale Operations

Speed is one of the primary characteristics you can use to differentiate your business. In this age of instant gratification, speed to concept, prototype, and production are all critical. As technology advances, additive manufacturing will be able to meet these demands.

Finally, because traditional manufacturing methods require significant investments in tools, moulding, and equipment, 3D printing lowers the barriers to getting a product to market or conducting a test market. Additive manufacturing can benefit organisations ranging from startups to multinational corporations.

Industry collaborations are already yielding significant results and bringing additive manufacturing much closer to production for a variety of industries. Innovation will flourish as technologies become more open to 3D print service Malaysia.

Product Brands are Optimistic About 3D Printing Problems and Solutions

The good news is that 98% of respondents believe we will be able to overcome the challenges associated with additive manufacturing. In fact, 55% believe these challenges will be overcome within the next three years.

To overcome these obstacles, we will need to concentrate our efforts on the following:

  • Strategy creation
  • Recruitment and training
  • Financial investments
  • New additive manufacturing technology and innovation
  • It is time to change the manufacturing process and attitudes.

Time is one aspect on which we haven’t spent much time. While manufacturers have not always been known to embrace change, we live in an ever-changing world. Manufacturers must now demonstrate their ability to manage change.

In need of a 3D printing service in Malaysia? Here at Dezpad we are known as to have 3D printing service Malaysia and will strive to produce work that is of your standards. Contact us and be apart of the creative journey now.

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