Dunvegan Thought Spot


In the research The Dunvegan Group conducts to support our CCR™ (Customer Care & Retention™) programs, we discover articles, blog posts and videos which, although not directly related to our work, are thought provoking or concern matters you may want to think about.  ‘Thought Spot’ covers a broad range of subjects.

The posts in ‘Thought Spot’ are selected by Olev Wain, Ph.D., VP of Research at The Dunvegan Group. 

We welcome your feedback!


3D Printing – What Are The Current Limits?

 What is 3D printing? 

3dprinting.com describes it as:

 The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is for instance a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. This CAD file is created using a 3D modeling application or with a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner can make a 3D digital copy of an object.

Much has been written about the promise of 3D printing or manufacturing; however, there are practical and economic limits.

Writing on hbr.org (Harvard Business Review) on 23 June 2015, Matthias Holweg points out some limitations:

3D printing simply works best in areas where customization is key — from printing hearing aids and dental implants to printing a miniature of the happy couple for their wedding cake.

Using a combination of 3D scanning and printing, implants can be customized to specific anatomic circumstances in a way that was simply not feasible beforehand.

However, we also know that 99% of all manufactured parts are standard and do not require customization. In these cases, 3D printing has to compete with scale-driven manufacturing processes and rather efficient logistics operations.

The simple fact is that when customization isn’t important, 3D printing is not competitive.

A second point often overlooked is the labor cost that remains. Counter to common perception, 3D printing does not happen “at the touch of a button”; it involves considerable pre- and post-processing, which incur non-trivial labor costs.

Printing metal parts also remains a challenge. As David Rotman explained on technologyreview.com on 25 April 2017:

Making metal objects using 3-D printing is difficult for several reasons. Most obvious is the high temperature required for processing metals.

The most common way to print plastics involves heating polymers and squirting the material out the printer nozzle; the plastic then quickly hardens into the desired shape.

The process is simple enough to be used in 3-D printers that sell for around $1,000.

But building a 3-D printer that directly extrudes metals is not practical, given that aluminum melts at 660 °C, high-carbon steel at 1,370 °C, and titanium at 1,668 °C.

Metal parts also have to go through several high-temperature processes to ensure the expected strength and other mechanical properties.

Advances are currently being made in creating metal components using 3D laser-driven printing but the technologies are very expensive and slow compared to conventional manufacturing.

Nevertheless, 3D printing holds great promise.

Photoshop, for example, became commercially available in 1990 and has improved immeasurably in a quarter century.

I think 3D printing, particularly when creating metal objects, will see improvements at least as great as with Photoshop.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of hopsalka at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Relevant links:



Return to list


    Leave a Reply