In the early days of technology, lots of people were skeptical about how far additive manufacturing could go. At it’s best, it was a prototyping novelty tool that could create one-off pieces but it was nowhere near the level of conventional manufacturing methods. Gradually, 3D printing got better and better. In just the last few years, we’ve seen it embraced by numerous industries, from aerospace to footwear.

As 3D printed objects were once limited to very specific polymers and now include some of the most useful and sophisticated materials, the power of this technology may seem unlimited, which is why it’s perhaps a little surprising to learn that there are still many traditional manufacturing methods that remain the better approach to production.

Some Of The Limits Of 3D Printing
One of the primary limits of 3D printing is the production of metal parts. It is currently possible to print metals, including aluminum, steel, and titanium, by using specialized additive manufacturing processes. Indirect Metal Printing and Direct Metal Laster Sintering are two examples of 3D printing that can automatically produce metal forms that are useful in many applications.

While the results of metal 3D printing are becoming increasingly precise, the cost to implement the technology is quite high compared to the output, making it less than viable for manufacturers of various metal components. Even in the production of certain plastic parts, conventional manufacturing methods like injection molding are considered better options for standard production needs.

The Problem With Metals
Metal stamping is another production method that still provides advantages over current 3D printing limitations. For example, when producing belleville washers in all sizes, whether standard or custom, stamping them out is typically faster, cheaper, and more reliable than printing them out layer by layer.

Traditional stamping and metalworking also doesn’t encounter limitations in terms of materials, such as spring steel and stainless steel. If however, you wanted to create a metal part or component with a precise geometric structure that couldn’t be easily achieved through stamping or casting, then 3D printing may offer many advantages over conventional production methods.

A Production Replacement Or Manufacturing Asset?
There’s no way to tell how additive manufacturing will impact traditional manufacturing in the future, and whether or not it will upset or outright replace conventional and proven manufacturing methods. 3D printing, however, has shown itself to be a useful prototyping and design tool and a potential manufacturing asset. It can be combined with other production methods to enhance and streamline results, but it’s important to remember the technology is still being explored and therefore there are a number of limitations when it comes to manufacturing.