Limitations of 3D Printing | May be harder than you think.

FDM 3D Printer Printing Benchy

3D printing technology may seem very attractive to get yourself into and It may seem like almost anything can be 3d printed with ease as often advertised by the makers of 3d printers. While this is true to some extent there are also many limitations in 3d printing industry that you should be aware of.

In this post I will go over some of the obvious and not so obvious 3d printing limitations that I wish I was aware of before I bought my first 3d printer. First, lets start with the fact that not everything can be 3d printed.

Not everything can be 3d printed.

While this may seem very obvious you should be aware of the things that can not be 3d printed.

Can not be 3d printed

  • polished surfaces can not be achieved yet
  • large overhang (requires supports)
  • glass
  • wood
  • rocks
  • paper
  • cloth
  • fruits and veggies
  • leather and fabric

Can be 3d printed

  • prototypes
  • replacement parts
  • houses
  • food
  • gadgets
  • functional mechanisms
  • castings
  • prosthetic 
  • skin-cells

Build size limit.

Another limitation of 3d printing is the build size limit. While large, very expensive 3d printers do exist in the commercial space they are not commonly available to the general public.

Desktop 3d printer build size limit is starting at 110mm x 110mm x 120mm on a Monoprice Mini Delta to the largest offered today by Anycubic Mega X with build size limit of 300mm x 300mm x 300mm. Some homemade 3d printers may exceed these numbers.

3d printers are constantly improving and maybe at the time you are reading this post there may be even larger build size limit 3d printers available but there is a downside to that as well.

Larger prints will take more time to print and if anything goes wrong it can result in a whole lot of wasted 3d printing material as well as lost time that can not be recovered and this brings us to the next topic.

Speed vs. Quality

In 3d printing, the speed and quality is what determines the perfection of 3d printed model. If you care less about the quality perfection and just want to get the prototype model 3d printed. There are several settings that can be adjusted without compromising the structural integrity of the model.

Speeding Up 3D Printer

  • Increasing layer offset will drastically reduce printing time but as a result the quality of the surface finish will show some layer lines and no impact to the structural integrity of the part. Good example of this would be an engineering part like gear.
  • Replacing the hot end nozzle with a larger opening hole will be dispensing more material. As a result the printing time will be reduced and also the quality. This may work well for a large models with no fine details on the surface or maybe layer lines could be used as an intentional design. Good example of this could potentially be a vase.
  • Reducing the infill percentage. Benefit of this is reducing the amount of material and time used by a little bit vs. drastically reducing the structural integrity of the model. This may be okay for 3d printing figurines but will be an absolute disaster for 3d printed functional mechanical components.
3D Printing Hollow Object
3D Printing Hollow Object

Long overhangs and Bridges

It is critical to know that 3d printers are not capable of printing long overhang “T” or long bridges without support.

Good design practice would be to avoid them all together when possible. Make your design 3d printer friendly by implementing fillets and chamfers for overhangs and use “Y” type design overhang instead of “T” whenever possible.

If you already own a 3d printer you can download a “All In One 3D Printer Test” on thingiverse to test the limits of your particular 3d printer. I personally try to print one of these every time that I switch to a new brand or material type. It will save you a whole lot of filament and frustration knowing these simple limits.

Next, we can talk about skills, time, and dedication.

Skills, Time, Dedication

3D printing is a very unique industry that requires a special skills. While some 3d printers are ready to use right out of the box, most will require some assembling.

  • Mechanical hands on skills are a must, not only to assemble the 3d printer out of the box but to also tinker with it as you learn more about 3d printing. 3D printer will require a lot of adjusting to achieve perfect results, some may require to upgrade mechanical or electronic parts for better performance.
  • Computer skills will come in handy. No, 3d printers do not require a computer to run but the two work hand in hand with each other. In order to 3d print something, one must have a 3d model first. Then, the model needs to be sliced in the slicer software to generate a g-code that the printer can read. Save the g-code on a memory card and print that file on a 3d printer. Computer skill are required to create 3d models as well as to slice them.
  • Starting out with a new hobby of 3d printing will be a learning curve that will take time and a whole lot of it. It’s easy to get lost in your imaginations with expectations out of reach for a newbie. So, set your expectations reasonably and little by little you will be a pro before you know it.
  • To become a pro at any task first you must dedicate yourself and your time to learn from mistakes and welcome any challenges that will come your way.

Large volume 3d printing

Large volume printing is not impossible with 3d printing although it is not very practical for an individual with a single printer. 3D printing is a very slow process and large volume 3d printing or mass production can be done with a 3d print farm.

3D printing farm is a setting where a large group of 3d printers work simultaneously and continuously with minimum downtime to increase throughput and efficiency of 3d printed parts.

3d print farm
3d print farm

Printing fine details

3D printing fine details also has its limitations. Regardless of what you are printing, lines can not be smaller than the nozzle opening. Smaller nozzle in combination with a minimum layer height will result in a higher resolution prints and will show all the fine details on the 3d printed model. This is perfect solution for a detailed landscape or a figurines but will consume a lot of time printing.

3D printing metal

Last on the list is one of the limitations of 3d printing I hope will soon be resolved is 3d printing metal. Metal 3d printing does exist in the industry but not readily available to general public. Today you can 3d print plastic filament with metal powder additives and that is about as close as you will get to 3d printing metal at home.

Keeping my eyes open for metal 3d printing desktop printers to hit the market soon.

detail of 3d printer printing a metal piece

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