Additive manufacturing compared to traditional manufacturing

  • 8. septembra 2020

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process in which an object is assembled layer by layer using specialized equipment, a computer and a 3D model. Compared to traditional production, it has several advantages.


First, additive manufacturing allows production costs to remain the same, with different numbers of pieces being produced. This has several implications: it makes production accessible to small businesses that do not have access to expansive financing and do not know in advance whether they will have many buyers; shortens the time between production and sale; allows each piece to be customized and unique; enables risk reduction by reducing production failure costs.


Second, additive manufacturing reduces lead times for short production runs and enables the creation of very complex shapes without additional costs.


However, additive manufacturing is still less competitive than traditional manufacturing in terms of mass production, perfectly smooth surface, production of very large objects and use of certain materials. In order to make the most of this technology, it is important to understand its specifics. When is additive manufacturing the best choice for manufacturing?


Advantages of additive manufacturing


Cheaper for small and medium series

Traditional manufacturing, such as injection molding, requires mass production to offset the overhead costs of tooling, assembly labor, and production (an injection mold can cost thousands of euros). Conversely, with additive manufacturing, the cost of producing one item remains the same regardless of quantity, so it is cheaper when the quantity is small.


More customizable

Because the price is almost the same for each unit added, an unlimited number of changes can be made to the product. It can be used for prototyping: you would use 3D printing to create a prototype and update the prototype until you are satisfied. This is a crucial step before putting the product into series production. It can also be used throughout the rest of the manufacturing process to create unique pieces that can better respond to your needs, concept progress and consumer feedback.


No additional complexity costs

Creating complex mechanical structures through traditional manufacturing requires precision and skill, especially when assembling complex parts, which means the price increases with complexity. This is not the case with 3D printing, which creates the entire piece in one process, rather than creating each component before assembly. Therefore, there is no additional complexity cost.


Get your product fast

Traditional manufacturing technologies require making molds and speeding up factories. As a result, it can take up to 15 to 60 days (and sometimes more) to have the first part in hand. For 3D printing, the part can be printed on demand and shipped without any delay, resulting in a delivery time of only 2-3 days.

The combination of reduced lead time and a more efficient prototyping process reduces time to market. This is a great advantage because delay creates uncertainty. Shorter time to market means being closer to trends and having a better ability to be successful.


Avoid waste

3D printing is incredibly resource efficient because the only material consumed is what goes under the laser (or through the extruder, etc.), while traditional manufacturing requires the use of additional materials (injection molds, scraps for mounting perforated sheets, etc..) . The fact that manufacturers do not have to produce large quantities of a given product to reduce extraction costs also reduces waste.


Lower costs mean better innovation

Adaptability means that if the initial prototype is not satisfactory, or if changes need to be made after launch, it will not incur large customization costs, as would be the case with traditional manufacturing. This makes it possible to take more risks and therefore be more innovative.


What are the (so far) disadvantages of additive manufacturing compared to traditional manufacturing


Competitive prices for production in large quantities

After a certain amount (see graph above) it becomes cheaper to mass produce through traditional manufacturing and we know that mass production is still a big part of being competitive in the global market. While 3D printers don’t need to be rebuilt between production runs, the speed at which a 3D printer can produce an object is often slow compared to a traditional assembly line.


The use of certain materials and the technical point of view

Traditional manufacturing options such as injection molding and molding can offer a wide selection of materials. When it comes to 3D printing, the choice of material is still smaller, which can be a limiting factor in the need for specific materials for a given part and must be taken into account when deciding what technical features you want your product to have.

As 3D printing technology matures, a greater variety of materials with different properties are being introduced, slowly bridging the gap in technical properties between traditional and additive manufacturing. The materials used by 3D manufacturers can already replicate the performance of certain technical plastics (PEEK, PEKK, ULTEM, PMMA, PA, PC, PP…).


Perfect finish

3D printing is an additive process, which means that surfaces will not be as smooth as processes such as molding and plastic molding, and that it will not be as easy to produce the desired surface textures. However, there are a number of part post-processing tools to mitigate this difference in production and offer a really good looking finish.


Wide range

Producing certain large-scale parts can be very difficult with 3D printing compared to traditional manufacturing processes, as you are limited in size by the area of ​​the print bed.


Who will win?


There is no clear winner in the battle between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing.

3D printing gives the manufacturer a huge advantage for small, one-off production runs and the production of complex pieces. It also allows for more risk-taking, product customization, shorter lead times and time-to-market, and less waste.

In some areas, however, traditional production is still a more suitable way. And while 3D printing will most likely improve in the future and be able to use more materials, provide better surface finishes, and lower unit costs, its mission is not to completely replace traditional manufacturing, but to complement it. In order to increase the value of production for producers and consumers.


Source: HP, BNT Machinery