3D Printing: The Pros and Cons of the Mass Custom Product

3D printing has brought the equivalent of the cottage industry into mainstream manufacturing and design. Innovation is at the heart of every designer, and whether 3D printing is seen as viable or not, there is one thing for certain: 3D printing is here to stay. 3D printing is the the process of using liquid formed plastic, ceramic and other materials as printing “ink” to create and manufacture objects. There is no definitive answer on how 3D printing will develop in the future, as the technology is so new and bold, however there are some trends in 3D printing that are telling us that it might soon be used for mass production of many items that were previously produced using other technologies.

The Market for 3D Printing is Ripe for Change

Although the market for 3D printing is rift with home hobbyists and collective designers with a DIY penchant, there are several distinct advantages to mass production of objects through 3D printing. The custom nature of these objects bring rise to a new type of economics: consumer-driven design. Modern manufacturing can essentially be driven by consumers with personal styles. In 3D printing, a lack of certain limiting factors allows home designers to make a ‘custom’ object more easily. For example, test versions of a product are easier and cheaper to produce. Faulty parts can be instantly fixed or improved upon. If a consumer has a new idea for a product launch, there is a greater chance of it seeing the light of the day. However, the question of the improvement of the ratio of quality versus quantity in 3D printing is still very much open for debate.

The impact of 3D printing is a game changer for many designers. Most 3D printers are home quality, or perhaps semi-industrial in nature. However, printers capable of mass production are being developed at incredible speeds. The new CartesioLDMP by MaukCC already uses technology that will allow us to produce faster, high volume 3D printing. Its advantage is the use of more extrusion appliances to print identical parts.

Ford Motor Company revolutionized the world of production by introducing easily manufactured, interchangeable parts. In retrospect, 3D printing is again revolutionizing the idea of interchangeable parts for almost everything. The problem associated with mass production, is usually the cost, time, and the lag in terms of innovation. For example, manufacturers are constantly changing small parts for plastic components in electronics. The 3D printer can recreate these unique parts in a timely manner after each change.

3D Printing and its Distant CAD Cousin

CAD, or computer-aided design, is, as you probably already know, a drafting technology for designing any object. A 3D printer can take a CAD file and interpret it into an object for printing. This is what has made the 3D printer so popular with mass production of common parts that may be rare or that need a quick improvement. The results of access to a database of CAD files can essentially change the industry in terms of available technology.

Medical devices, aviation technology, and even prototyping for architecture can all be mass produced with great ease using 3D printing. The burden is lessened with healthcare companies, architects, and specialists dealing with 3D-printable parts that play a critical role in various functions. For example, a physician can order a suitable, customised prosthetic device for a patient with prosthetic limbs. Instead of waiting on the prosthetic company, he an order a specific part that is produced for quick replacement or improvement on the patient’s behalf. Since these printing purposes involve customisation, there is currently more talk about using 3D printing for creating customised, unique objects. However, 3D printing can and will bring significant improvements to mass products as well as to small scale production, also introducing a more personalised and customised feel to previously exclusively mass produced items.

Mass Production Requires Mass Deduction

Finally, mass production of 3D printing will need to not only provide a profit, but also prove to be viable for future applications. By looking closely there needs to be a careful examination of the pros and cons and their purpose. Mass production can create protocols in consumer technology that allows semi-customization of products as well as improve efficiency. On the other hand, it may bog down efficiency by creating basic “prototypes” that will be staples for some time, when custom, smaller scale production can give consumers more control over the final product. What is your opinion about the future and the application of 3D printing in mass production?

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