Having the world at your fingertips might seem like the best thing since sliced bread. And it is! The ability to make anything your hobby heart desires does come with a few disadvantages though. So, what are the disadvantages of 3D printing?
Most of the disadvantages of 3D printing pop up when you try to mass-produce items. The print area size, the (lack of) speed at which items are 3D printed, and inconsistent print quality are some of the bigger disadvantages. There are a couple of disadvantages for hobbyists to consider, such as energy consumption, and having to figure out copyright issues.
Restricted Build Size
If you’re a hobbyist, or even if you’ve started a business selling 3D printed items, you’ve probably noticed your imagination is limited by the printing space.
By design, a 3D printer can only move so much, therefore creating it’s very own personal creation bubble. It is only within this space that items can be 3D printed, and no amount of creativity can get the 3D printer nozzle to print plastic outside of this space.
That being said, if you want to 3D print an item that is bigger than your space, you just have to design your item in multiple parts and attach them after they are printed. This must be how IKEA designs their furniture.
This is still a disadvantage however, as designs will take more time to make, the individual pieces will take longer to print, and it’ll take more of your time putting your final piece together.
Unless you buy many, many 3D printers, don’t expect them to be a good tool to mass produce items. They take an incredible amount of time to print even the smallest items. An item the size of a coin can take over an hour to 3D print!
If you’re business depends on creating many items quickly, you may want to look into a different production method or you’ll fall behind on your orders.
If you are just looking to use a 3D printer for a hobby, and you don’t mind waiting for the machine to finish, this isn’t as much as a disadvantage for you.
High Energy Consumption
Each 3D printer uses a different amount of electricity, and the temperature and fan settings also play a role in how much your print will cost.
With average nozzle, heating bed, and fan settings, a 3D printer uses 50-100 times more energy than injection molding.
If you’re using your 3D printer often, either for yourself or for a business, please consider the environmental impact of this production method.
Quality of Print
Not all 3D printers are created equal. Cheap 3D printers are cheap for a reason, and it;s because they don’t have the technology that higher end 3D printers have.
This means that each time you print with a cheap 3D printer, you risk having your prints end up with errors.
3D printers have to be very carefully calibrated. The nozzle heats up to the correct temperature, the nozzle knows exactly where it should be depositing the thermopalstics, the heating bed should be at the right temperature to allow the plastic to bond to it without cooling too quickly, and they all have to work at the same time.
Even if the nozzle is off by 10 degrees, your plastic may not melt properly and you’ll end up with a pile of slightly melted plastic that looks like a miniature haystack.
If you don’t have the time to watch your prints and make sure everything is printing properly, you may run into problems like this where you not only waste time, but also electricity and materials.
Copyright Issues and Piracy
Copyright issues apply mostly to people who are selling their 3D prints. A big company that people everywhere love is Disney.
You might think of a wonderful idea to 3D print a unique pair of Mickey ears to wear to Disney World.
People might notice these ears and ask if they can buy them from you. You agree, print another pair, and ship them off.
You have now violated copyright laws. Believe it or not, this happens all the time. Just because you made the design, doesn’t mean you are allowed to sell it.
If the item you are making references a licensed company, movie, or another item, you shouldn’t sell it.
To protect yourself, look into copyright laws for your area, and the license agreements that companies have in place if you want to sell items that resemble theirs.
If you aren’t looking to profit off of these types of items, and you want to make them for yourself, the general rule is that’s okay.
Wrapping It Up
While owning a 3D printer is a wonder, there are a few disadvantages, but you might find a reason why each one doesn’t bother you.
The limited 3D printing space might be a disadvantage you’re willing to overlook if you like putting things together by hand.
If you’re not looking to mass produce items on a 3D printer you won’t have to worry about how long it takes.
Buying a slightly better 3D printer will reduce the amount of imperfections you might have.
And finally, if you don’t plan on selling copyrighted items, you won’t need to worry about any legal actions taken against you.
Despite the disadvantages listed, the pros of having a 3D printer at home are still definitely worth it.