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3D Printing vs. Traditional Manufacturing: Time Savings Analyzed

January 2, 2019 at 9:15 AM / by TJ Russell - Director of 3D Printing

3D printing has promised game-changing disruption of the manufacturing industry for years. From the perspective of most business owners, however, it does not yet seem like 3D printing has generated the kind of widespread change that its most enthusiastic devotees expected.

However, that isn’t quite true. 3D printing has made enormous strides in certain industries, although it has yet to become a common fixture in every home. 3D printing is actually much older than most people realize.

The fact is that 3D printing is already far more efficient than traditional manufacturing in many contexts. Many manufacturers are quietly introducing 3D printing to their workflows and maximizing time savings in the process.

But in order to determine whether a particular business is well-suited to 3D printing vs. traditional manufacturing, it’s important to cover industry-specific details. Manufacturing executives and managers need to look at the data their industry generates before improving performance metrics.

3D Printing vs. Traditional Manufacturing: Components & Industries

As with almost any business enterprise, the specific nature of a 3D printing project will change depending on the components being printed. It stands to reason that certain materials are easier and cheaper to work with than others, and this can influence both 3D print time and the relative advantages of 3D printing over traditional manufacturing.

For instance, one of the most famous examples of 3D printing success is in the medical field, where it improves hip replacement cost, quality, and overall outcome. This points to one of the main 3D printing benefits that manufactures are looking for – cost-effective mass personalization and customization.

Any industry that relies on mass customization will find 3D printing better suited to meet its needs than traditional manufacturing methods. This makes it an ideal solution for prototyping new products, building novel electronics, and more.

3D printing is also ideally suited to innovative developments where lattice architectures are desirable, like in lithium-ion batteries. It is almost impossible to create an economically viable small-scale lattice architecture using CNC machining, leading electronics manufacturers and a wide variety of other professionals in the industry to look to 3D printing to solve their most challenging design problems.

The specific problems that 3D printing benefits are called topology problems. Topology studies the shapes of objects in terms of their dimensional complexity. For instance, since both a coffee cup and a doughnut have a single hole, they are considered simple, topologically equivalent structures. Lattice architectures, on the other hand, are highly complex.

In these cases, 3D printing offers a significant time-efficiency difference compared to traditional manufacturing methods. The amount of time it takes to create a topologically complex structure – like a lattice – is only marginally higher than the time it takes to create a simple one. On the other hand, in traditional manufacturing, complex topologies increase production time exponentially.

Environmental Differences Between 3D Printing & CNC Milling

One of the immediate benefits that 3D printing offers manufacturers is the ability to waste far less raw material when creating new products. Since traditional manufacturing methods like CNC milling are subtractive in nature – they take a mass of raw material and subtract parts from it to arrive at the desired shape – they end up producing a significant amount of waste.

By contrast, 3D printing is additive. Instead of taking a large piece of marble and sculpting Michelangelo’s David from it, 3D printing adds innumerable tiny slices of precisely measured materials to create the desired shape, and nothing else. The process uses the exact amount of material in the finished product.

According to a study made by the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), these benefits are even greater when manufacturing hollow parts and components. The extra level of topological complexity means that 3D printing ends up produces far less waste than any subtractive method could.

How Long Does 3D Printing Take?

Without knowing the size or complexity of the product in question, it’s impossible to say with any certainty how long 3D printing takes. This also depends heavily on the size and power of the 3D printer.

Most consumer-level 3D printers can print out small objects at low quality settings in a manner of minutes. But printing large or complex objects at the highest possible quality can take hours. However, the degree by which large, complex items extend print time is far lower than the degree by which size and complexity affects traditional manufacturing methods.

Many manufacturers opt for traditional manufacturing for simple parts and objects, and use 3D printing for complex ones. This hybrid approach allows organizations to optimize their workflow based on the relative advantages of each manufacturing method.

Are you ready to implement the latest 3D printing equipment in your manufacturing workflow? Talk to ImageNet and our team will help you find the equipment you need.

Topics: 3D Printing , Additive Manufacturing , 3D

Written by TJ Russell - Director of 3D Printing

TJ Russell is the Director of 3D Printing at ImageNet Consulting. He began his career at ImageNet working in Marketing and transitioned over to leasing to gain a better understanding of the business. After spending 2 years researching 3D printing and strategizing how ImageNet could move into the 3D print space, the company decided to open the 3D printing department. Once the opportunity opened, the company felt TJ's background in design, high interest in the technology, his research in 3D, and motivation to build a successful program would fit well in jump-starting the 3D Printing division. TJ has now successfully built the 3D team from the ground up, hiring and training our 3D consultants, while simultaneously securing partner contacts with top 3D companies, such as HP, Ultimaker, and Markforged!

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