How 3-D Printing Works

Downsides of 3-D Printing

Historically, 3-D printing has been an expensive technology. PTCAM's SLA, described earlier in the article, cost more than $250,000; the liquid plastic costs about $800 per gallon. Organizations that owned this type of equipment might sell stereolithography services to others or allow companies to purchase blocks of time to use the equipment.

Today, many large industrial AM machines are still pricey, though less so than before. For example, in September 2019, 3D Systems' ProJet CPX 3000MJP 3600 was selling for less than $100,000 and could produce models in high definition up to 11.75 inches by 7.3 inches by 8 inches (298 millimeters by 185 millimeters by 203 millimeters) [sources:BasTech].

In addition to price, there are some other drawbacks with 3-D printers. They use a lot of energy, about 100 times as much electrical energy as regular manufacturing. Researchers also found that they can emit a lot of carcinogenic particles and volatile organic compounds, particularly when used in a small space such as a home. The plastic used for most 3-D projects also has its own problems. Plastic remnants from 3-D projects likely will end up in landfills and contribute to the Earth crisis with disposable plastic. Further plastic's strength varies and may not be best for all component parts of a project. 3-D printers are also slow and a project could take several days or hours to print [source: 3-D Insider].

It is likely that many of these problems will be remedied over time, as the technology improves. But other problems may persist. For instance, people have already made guns using 3-D printers, including one man who was denied a gun permit earlier. Can steps be taken to prevent people from using 3-D printers to make guns, knives and other weapons? There is also concern about copyright violations. People could get hold of blueprints and print an object rather than purchasing it from the patent or copyright holder. It may be difficult for a patent holder to track down the person (or hundreds of people) who print something patented and claim copyright infringements.