It is said that 3D printing will usher in the fourth industrial revolution and bring with it dramatic changes to the world. In this article, industry experts share their insights on the latest buzzword on the Internet, newspapers and magazines.
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London-based Nick Allen, founder of 3D Print UK, said 3D printing is a rather simple name for the technology, the actual term for which is rapid prototyping.
Allen, whose company creates thousands of models for individual and corporate clients, also offered a realistic point-of-view regarding the technology. “The printed layers are stacked on top of each other and this stacking theory is inherently defective, just like constructing a wall with building bricks, which is strong top-to-bottom but can easily be pulled down from the side,” he said. “The printed parts are not always smooth and bright, and need surface finishing that in turn requires additional manpower and chemicals. This is why 3D printing consumables costs are very high.”
Further, Allen said 3D printing is not as fast as people think. A product is printed layer by layer and takes usually hours or even days to finish. “The practicality of 3D printing falls below expectations because firstly, CAD modeling is a difficult technical task.”
Allen and his team’s dedication to 3D printing are evidenced by their clear understanding and continuous fascination over the technology as it exists today. A 3D printing service provider, 3D Print UK has helped many designers bring ideas into fruition and sees the technology’s potential in helping people create, invent and share.
China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance secretary general (now executive chairman) Luo Jun’s remarks were straight to the point. “From the point of view of 3D printing, complex and difficult products that traditional manufacturing methods cannot carry out can be easily made through 3D printing. On the other hand, mass production and lean manufacturing, where traditional manufacturing have an advantage, are the very weakness of 3D printing technology.
“3D printing excels in personalized, complex and difficult production while traditional manufacturing is good at mass and scale production. The two have a complementary rather than a substitutional relationship. Therefore, 3D printing cannot and will not replace traditional manufacturing.”
Luo and Allen agree on some points, namely 3D printing has the advantage in product design and creation, and that the technology still has to rely on traditional manufacturing to turn prototypes into mass-produced items.
Current 3D printing applications prove Luo and Allen’s point. 3D printing enthusiasts and fans use MakerBot desktop 3D printers to produce small items such as toys. Materialise adopts 3D printing to turn out fashion pieces and women's shoes for designers, unique art pieces for artists and clinical devices that match specifically a patient's body structure for medical researchers. These practical applications of 3D printing, which mass manufacturing cannot achieve, satisfy the unique requirements of certain industries and end-users, allowing them to turn their creativity and designs into reality.
This article was written by Song Daxi and was originally published in Chinese on zol.com.cn. Translation published with permission.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.