3 Problems The 3D Printing Industry Must Overcome
As 3D printers have become more popular, media attention has focused on products made using the technology.
That's what makes a recent research report from PricewaterhouseCoopers so interesting. According to the firm, there are at least three major challenges the industry must overcome.
1. The Speed Problem
Print speed is a common technical challenge among different 3D printer makers. As PwC explained, a combination of high-quality components and design innovations used during the manufacturing process can improve efficiency.
A majority of consumer 3D printers, for example, work in the Cartesian plane: horizontally and vertically. This constrains movement, increases the amount of time required to print objects, and increases the possibility of an error. Movement in delta planes, the report said, spreads material across a broader area and improves speed.
Boosting the number of printheads used in the machines can also help, the research noted.
2. The Material Problem
Unlike 2D printing, where paper is the primary medium, its 3D-focused counterpart can work with different kinds of materials ranging from plastic to wood. So far, however, these materials cannot be combined on the same printer.
Although it does not provide a specific timeframe, PwC said inkjet 3D printing will lead the way forward in material mixing. It is already being used in several 3D printing technologies, such as Selective Laser Sintering, or SLS.
The technology can handle multiple materials within a range that can be delivered as a powdered "base," the report added.
3. The Finished Product Problem
Some 3D printers have a failure rate of up to 70 percent according to one Autodesk executive. Because of this, many of the most popular uses for 3D printing are related to prototyping finished products.
Although the technology can reduce lead time for overall manufacturing, rapid prototyping plays only a small and limited part in the product lifecycle.
Placing a greater focus on the production of electronic circuitry could be the key to solving this puzzle because, put simply, 3D printers are adept at making such products.
Optomec, for example, partnered with Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ: SSYS) in 2012 to print complete airplane wings for military drones. Optomec's aerosol jet system was used to print sensors and circuitry directly onto the wing.
The Trading Idea
It's likely none of these problems will be solved overnight, but if investors can focus on the companies doing their best to address them, it could be a useful long-term strategy.
Image credit: Keith Kissel, Flickr.
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