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Pros and Cons of 3D Printing

This article will explore the pros and cons of the 3D printing process. It will also explain how Xometry is a great fit for 3D printing, along with other manufacturing processes like CNC machining, injection molding, sheet metal cutting, and urethane casting.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
 12 min read
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What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is an umbrella term that encapsulates many different manufacturing technologies that are unified in one way: The ability to generate custom parts by gradually building them out of base material. 3D printing is an essential technology in modern manufacturing, helping users create custom parts quickly. These parts can be made with complex geometries and can serve a variety of applications within the aerospace, defense, automotive, and medical industries. Additive technologies carry unique strengths and weaknesses compared to subtractive technologies, like CNC machining, where a bulk material is reduced to its final shape through forming or cutting methods. 

This article will explore 11 “pros of 3D printing”, along with 7 cons. Afterward, we will explore some of the unique benefits you can gain when you choose to order with Xometry. You may discover that 3D printing is the perfect production process for your next project!

The Pros of 3D Printing

3D printing technology possesses a variety of applications and advantages when compared to other manufacturing processes. And unlike other firms, Xometry gives customers the ability to order from 9 different 3D printing processes, each with its own advantages and disadvantages when compared to one another. The following list is meant to discuss the benefits of 3D printing broadly rather than by individual process. If you want to learn more about the specifics of each process, we encourage you to explore our 3D printing service page to learn more about our offerings.  

We will collectively summarize the advantages of 3D printing as a process under these main categories:

  • Process advantages
  • Cost and time advantages
  • Product advantages

Process Advantages

The 3D printing process offers several advantages over traditional manufacturing processes, which include the following.

Speed and Agility

After a 3D platform is set up, the vast majority of parts can be printed in less than a day. In fact, many 3D printed components can be produced in less than an hour! 3D printing owes its speed to its simple setup. Unlike traditional manufacturing technologies, which require a time-consuming machining setup, a 3D printer only needs time to build preparation software. 

Purpose-Driven Designs

Nothing is more frustrating than having to make concessions for manufacturability and cost reduction. Functional features often need to be adjusted to allow for production. The “optimal” design is often too impractical to manufacture through traditional methods. With 3D printing, you do not have to suffer from this. 3D printing opens up exciting design opportunities for all-in-one, topology-optimized, and lightweight parts.

Click-and-Go

Your selected process and parameters determine a 3D printed part’s pricing. Xometry’s Instant Quoting Engine allows you to get an instant quote and lead time with a simple click of a button. It’s much easier to source a part with us than trying to source a part through traditional methods. Get your next project started without having to send detailed engineering prints. All you have to do is upload a CAD file.

Rapid Prototyping and Iteration

With less time needed to manufacture parts and less stringent design restrictions, 3D printing allows designers to rapidly design and improve their prototypes. Traditional methods can require a significant time investment before you can get a physical prototype in hand. With a 3D printer, you can often get a part in hand within a week. This advantage allows designers and engineers to test and change their ideas on the fly, leading to more rapid prototyping and better overall designs.

Sustainability

Although traditional manufacturing processes are gradually becoming more sustainable over time, 3D printing has a couple of advantages over its older counterpart. 3D printing is constantly improving, and experts predict an exciting future where consumers can order custom parts based on their needs while reducing material loss from their purchases. 3D printing’s ability to minimize material loss and unnecessary surplus makes an ideal process if we hope to create a more green economy and improve sustainability in the manufacturing industry. 

Cost & Time Advantages

In addition to process advantages, 3D printing can generally reduce the costs and production time associated with manufacturing a part or product.

Cost-Effective

The overall cost of a part stems from its associated material cost and machining time. This applies to all manufacturing processes. 3D printing has the edge over other processes because there are no costs related to machine setup and finishing, unlike traditional manufacturing processes. For example, subtractive manufacturing processes can drive up costs with material procurement, programming tool paths, setup configuration, the cost of running and monitoring the machine, and paying for any finishing services like deburring or sanding. Injection molding also carries unique costs because of the relatively expensive tooling required before any parts can even be produced. Thankfully, none of these additional costs apply to 3D printing, resulting in considerably cheaper parts.

Slide 1 of 1
  • an opened shipment box

Just-in-Time Inventory

3D printing allows you to create and stock parts on-demand right when you need them. Parts can be 3D printed rapidly, which means you never have to worry about ordering an unnecessary surplus. They can be made, shipped, assembled, and sold as needed, making inventory management a breeze. This efficient production helps you save money, rather than wasting it by overstocking a product or part.

Product Advantages

3D printing gives designers and engineers several product design advantages that are significantly more difficult to achieve when those parts are created using other manufacturing methods. These advantages are summarized below.

Mass Customization Options

3D printers can produce many different parts with multiple configurations, often in a single session and with no additional setup fees. For example, BMW’s MINI Yours Customized campaign allowed customers to create personalized vehicle trims using 3D printing. Traditional processes would have required expensive tooling for each design, making it an utterly unfeasible approach.

Slide 1 of 1
  • a complex 3D printed parts

A complex 3D printed part made using the SLS process and dyed blue.

Complexity Without Increased Cost

Manufacturing processes like injection molding and CNC machining can impose strict design requirements due to the nature of their cutting tools and the direction of their pull. This means that parts produced through these means can become more expensive as they become more complex. 3D printers operate differently. 3D printers build the three-dimensional part gradually, layer by layer. This process means that costs are not affected by increasing complexity.

Durability

3D printing can produce parts with impressive impact strength, average flexibility, and high resistance to environmental factors. To see 3D printed materials endure various challenges, from high impact to scorching heat, we encourage you to check out our "Will It" series. Will it Melt is an especially enjoyable watch and a great showcase of which 3D printed materials can take the heat! 

High-Precision

Modern 3D printers can create parts with a high level of surface detail and precision. This is especially true depending on the 3D printing process chosen. Xometry's stereolithography service, for example, is an excellent choice if you are looking to 3D print parts with extreme accuracy and high resolution. The high level of CAD accuracy makes it an ideal choice for your next prototyping project. 

Cons of 3D Printing

Despite the many advantages of 3D printing, it is not an ideal production process for every situation. How can you know if the cons outweigh the benefits? 3D printing may not be the perfect process for your project if you cannot compensate for the following disadvantages.

Uneven Surface Finishes

Because 3D printers typically build parts layer-by-layer, they often show visible steps on vertical surfaces. These layer heights can be significant for specific processes. This can be frustrating if you hope to make a more aesthetically pleasing part. Some post-processing technologies can remedy this issue, like vapor smoothing, but keep in mind that the natural surface finish of most printed parts can’t compete with parts produced through injection molding or CNC machining.

3D Printer Limitations

Not all 3D printers are created equal. Desktop 3D printers are often built out of a kit and are tuned by hand, which can produce inconsistencies from print to print. Thankfully, Xometry can provide more consistency from part to part because we utilize high-end industrial 3D printers with OEM-driven machines, materials, and parameters to provide you with a consistent product.

Limited Material Selection

Xometry is constantly adding new materials to its list. Unfortunately, 3D printing, particularly on the professional and industrial level, offers far fewer materials when compared to the thousands available on the market for other processes like injection molding. This is a significant trade-off to consider when using 3D printing.

Size Limitations

3D printing isn’t well suited when you need parts at the extreme ends of the size scale; you run the risk of creating a part that is too tiny or too big. For example, it is difficult for 3D printing platforms to produce parts smaller than a peanut and larger than a soccer ball. Unfortunately, the larger or smaller the part you need, the less availability there will be for that part because few 3D printers can print at that larger or smaller scale. 

Slide 1 of 1
  • a large number of injection molded parts

An array of injection molded parts.

Not Ideal for Mass Production

Although there are ways to reduce 3D printing costs, 3D printing generally tends to lower in value as you order parts past the low hundreds. After that, many traditional technologies like injection molding or casting will become much more cost-effective. If you are interested in high-volume production, consider using Xometry's injection molding service instead.

Prohibitive Cost for In-House Production

Although 3D printing has become more affordable over time for desktop printers, the price of larger, more comprehensive 3D printers is often too high for most companies to justify. Even when a company has plentiful financial resources, many choose to outsource their parts because it is more cost-effective. Thankfully, you do not commit considerable financial resources to 3D printing when you trust 3D printing services like Xometry. We have access to impressive 3D printing technology through our supplier network, like our Fortus 900MC (F900) platform, which can produce parts with sizes up to 36", and our SLS platforms, which can create hundreds of parts per build per evening.

Slide 1 of 2
  • a CNC machined part

Examples of CNC machined metal parts.

Fewer Metal Options

Although Xometry does offer metal 3D printing processes like our direct metal laser sintering service, there are far fewer metal options for 3D printing when compared to other subtractive processes like CNC machining. We encourage you to watch our webinar that compares 3D printing to CNC machining to learn more about which process is better well-suited for your project needs.

Unique 3D Printing Advantage When You Work With Xometry

3D printing comes with its distinct advantages and disadvantages. If you want to 3D print a part, consider ordering with Xometry. Xometry’s network empowers our 3D printing capacity, which expands your options and helps you save time and money. Here are some of the unique advantages you can leverage when you order with us.

Slide 1 of 1
  • the Xometry partner map

  • Network Capacity - Our partner network integrates seamlessly with over 5,000 vetted manufacturing facilities across 46 US states and 22 countries. This allows our customers to dynamically scale their product development and product output by sending manufacturing orders through Xometry’s Instant Quoting Engine. 
  • Large Material Selection: Xometry has an impressive list of 3D printing material options compared to the rest of the industry. Our materials range from flame-retardant printed plastics to highly detailed Somos PerForm. We encourage you to check out our webinar titled selecting the right 3D printing material to determine which material is best suited for your next printing project.  
  • Xometry Quality Guarantee -  When you order with Xometry, you can rest easy knowing that the Xometry Quality Assurance Lab will back every part with our Quality Assurance Guarantee. The Quality Assurance guarantee ensures you will receive timely communication from our team of quality engineering professionals for design feature confirmation, tolerance and datum scheme confirmation, design value optimization (VA/VE), sharing of crucial quality documents, and more. See our service agreement for more details.
Slide 1 of 1
  • Xometry Go Green Initiative
  • Xometry's Go Green Initiative - 3D printing already "supports sustainable manufacturing through reduced material waste, energy use, and carbon emissions." (Source). We love this aspect of 3D printing, but we decided we needed to take it a step further. Xometry's Go Green Initiative has been offsetting the carbon footprint of shipping since early 2020. The Xometry Instant Quoting Engine even gives you a turnkey option to offset up to 100% of the carbon footprint generated by your order. This includes the carbon emissions produced from raw material extraction and processing, the transportation of materials and goods along the supply chain, the energy consumed in fabrication, and the manufacturer's operations.
  • Instant Quoting for 9 Additive Processes - With the Xometry Instant Quoting Engine, you can get an instant quote when you order from one of our 9 additive manufacturing processes. Unlike with other manufacturers. Take the hassle out of project planning. You don't have to go back and forth just to get a quote or lead time; you can simply upload a CAD file to get instant pricing and lead times.

Summary

This article discussed some of the many pros and cons of 3D printing. 3D printing may not be the perfect manufacturing process for every custom part, but its unique advantages may make it the ideal fit for your next project. We encourage you to get printing and see how additive manufacturing can accelerate your product development. If you want to learn more about 3D printing, we encourage you to download our complete 3D printing design guide. Afterward, we encourage you to head over to the Xometry Instant Quoting Engine to get an instant quote and see how much time and money you can save when you order with Xometry.

Disclaimer

The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.