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Ask a 3D Printing Expert: When does it make sense to 3D print vs. use traditional manufacturing methods?

May 30, 2023 News

3D printing has gained much popularity in recent years, but traditional manufacturing still holds its ground. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, it’s essential to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches in order to determine the right tool for the job.

3D printing truly shines when it comes to prototyping. It allows for rapid iteration, enabling designers to quickly test and refine their ideas. Traditional manufacturing, although capable of producing high-quality end products, often requires expensive molds or tooling, making it less feasible for early-stage prototyping or design iteration.

Another major advantage of 3D printing is its ability to produce customized and one-of-a-kind designs quickly and easily, making it ideal manufacturing tooling in addition to prototyping, where multiple iterations may be necessary to perfect a design or tool before mass production begins. Additionally, 3D printing can be used to create highly intricate geometries that may be impossible or too difficult to achieve using traditional manufacturing methods. 

Economies of scale are a factor when it comes to mass production, where traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding become cost-effective as production volume rise. When you take into account the speed and precision of these methods, they can be highly efficient for large-scale production. However, the initial investment in tooling for traditional manufacturing can be quite expensive, making it less viable for small production runs. Additive manufacturing is a suitable option for low to medium volume production, as it eliminates the need for tooling and reduces costs.

Another advantage of 3D printing is the reduced waste generated during the production process. Traditional manufacturing techniques often result in substantial material waste from removing material rather than adding it. With 3D printing, only the necessary material is added exactly where it is needed, minimizing waste and environmental impact.

If time is of the essence, and production needs to happen at a rapid pace, traditional methods, like injection molding or CNC machining, can be more efficient.  On the other hand, 3D printing’s strengths lie in its ability to create intricate designs and prototypes without the need for expensive tooling.

To sum it up, 3D printing is great for prototyping, low to medium volume production, complex designs, and producing manufacturing tooling quickly, whereas traditional manufacturing excels in high-volume production, strength and durability, speed, and cost-effect. Ultimately, it is important to consider all factors before making a decision and often a combination of both technologies can be best applied to specific situations. Feel free to reach out to the AdvancedTek team with any questions you may have to help determine the best method for your project.

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Meet Alan Soriano

Alan assists clients in the great state of Wisconsin to unlock the hidden potential of additive manufacturing.  He has more than 15 years of operations management experience in manufacturing which he couples with his 3+ years of additive manufacturing experience to help customers solve their product development and manufacturing support challenges.

On the weekends, Alan can be found road biking, participating in philanthropic pursuits as a Freemason and a Shriner, and spending time with his wife and two kids. 

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Posted by Heather Adams