The 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry is projected to grow to $35 billion in market size by 2026, but as technological advances in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) mature, is 3D printing still the best solution for product development collaboration and ideation? Maybe not. Recent innovations in imaging, graphics and computing have made AR rendering a more desirable medium for a variety of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, defense, education, and retail. Moreover, the devices that humans use to interact with these virtualizations, also known as digital twins, have become more powerful, less expensive, and accessible to larger audiences.
However, it’s not only the improvements in technology that have made [XR] a preferred solution. There are still critical drawbacks that have plagued 3D printing since the beginning. Let’s look at those, focusing on the utility of 3D printing for rapid prototyping for iterative product development, ideation, and collaboration.
Drawbacks of 3D Printing
Limitations of 3D printing materials
While additive manufacturing (part production) now enjoys a greater availability of raw materials such as powdered metals and composites, 3D printing is limited to a selection of plastics or polymers. Few metals or plastics can be sufficiently controlled to allow for 3D printing.
The limited number of materials directly impacts the ability to replicate the finished product, leaving stakeholders to imagine intended colors, materials, and textures.
3D printers have relatively small production vessels limiting the size of parts that can be printed. Larger objects must be printed as separate components and joined together after production. Practicable renderings are limited to parts that are “smaller than a breadbox.” If you consider the entirety of all manufactured parts, most are not candidates for 3D printing.
Post Processing requirements
Most 3D printing and additive manufacturing applications require some level of post-processing, meaning procedures to remove support material from the build to achieve the required finish. Post processing methods can involve sanding, water jetting, a chemical bath and rinse, and hot air drying. The amount of post processing depends on several factors, including the size or complexity of the part being produced, the intended application or the type of 3D printing technology used for production. The speed of manufacture can be slowed by post processing operations. Which brings us to our next issue; 3D printing can be expensive, time consuming, and it’s not as green as you’d think.
Additive manufacturing impacts the environment
The most popular material used for 3D printers is plastic filament. While this plastic is high quality and relatively inexpensive, it’s not environmentally friendly because its byproduct ends up in landfills. Another issue is that 3D printers consume about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy compared to, for example, injection molding when creating an item of the same weight. Additionally, desktop 3D printers release potentially harmful nanosized particles in indoor air. To avoid adverse health effects, 3D printers for industrial use must come equipped with exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories and be used in an adequately ventilated environment, adding considerable equipment cost.
Lack of efficiencies at scale
3D printing has a fixed, static cost unlike more conventional techniques such as injection molding, where large volumes may be more cost effective to produce. While the initial investment for a 3D printer may be lower than other manufacturing methods, it is impossible to realize efficiencies at volume scale. If we look at the impact in early phase product development, any design changes must be reprinted. If there are multiple stakeholders in distributed locations, copies of the latest iterations must be produced and provided individually for collaboration.
Copyright, Intellectual property and version control concerns
Since additive manufacturing designs can be printed by anyone at any time, IP concerns must be addressed to protect their rightful owners. As 3D printing is becoming more accessible there is a greater possibility for individuals to create counterfeit products that are indistinguishable from genuine articles. Piracy, independent of the intended quality or design measures, can create liability issues for the designer, compensatory damages notwithstanding. This fundamental lack of control has implications in versioning. Once printed objects are no longer in possession, how is version control maintained and, for that matter, how are previous versions removed from circulation?
How Augmented Reality Can be used to Overcome Drawbacks in 3D Printing
Digital Twins are Iterable, Reusable, Immersive
3D printed parts have a finite utility. They are immutable objects possessing a fixed size, color, and texture; an end-product that cannot be altered in any way.
With Augmented Reality, any changes required to a digital twin can be executed quickly, often in minutes, and redeployed instantly to customers or remote teams anywhere in the world.
Digital twins are dynamic and have a life beyond ideation use cases. From a single CAD model, 3D product demonstrations and visually engaging, immersive experiences can improve outcomes in sales, marketing, training, and service. These models can be deployed to HoloLens, IOS and Android tablets and phones, webpages, or embedded in learning management systems.
Preparing for the Future
More than anything else, a fundamental shift is underway integrating the physical world with a digital visualization of physical assets, equipment, systems, facilities, and processes as part of Industry 4.0 initiatives. Digital twins are necessary to optimize performance throughout a product or system lifecycle. As this technology becomes more commonplace, additional economies will be realized.
Speaking of economies, that CAD file you used for 3D printing?…. it can also be used to create a digital twin.
SphereGen is a unique solutions provider in that we offer full-stack custom application development in cloud-based applications, RPA, and Extended Reality (AR/VR/MR). Using SphereGen’s extensive specialty knowledge in these areas, our customers have access to a broad range of options in employing innovative technology to solve business problems.
We would be happy to help you learn more about what SphereGen can do for you in meeting your business needs.
SphereGen is a unique solutions provider that specializes in cloud-based applications, Intelligent Automation, and Extended Reality (AR/VR/MR). We offer full-stack custom application development to help customers employ innovative technology to solve business problems.
Learn more about what we do in XR: https://www.spheregen.com/extended-reality