3-D printing has amazed us with its transformative power, but there is real hype around the technology. Here are some 3-D printing related myths busted.

April 25, 2014

4 Min Read
Some 3-D Printing Myths Busted


3-D printing has real transformative power in healthcare and other industries.

Leveraging this new technology, a little girl with a congenital condition got “magic arms” that gave back the use of her arms. A Dutch woman was saved from a life-threatening condition when surgeons implanted a custom, 3-D printed skull.

Swedish company Arcam has also taken the world by storm (and has seen its stock price increase many times over) by building 3-D printers able to make 3-D printed hip implants out of titanium powder

But as real and as amazing as the above examples are, there are some myths that have emerged from the hype surrounding 3-D printing.

For instance, 3-D printing will close down factories.

That won’t happen says Mike Moussa, founder and product development engineer at PartSnap, a Texas-based product development and design services company.

“The most common myth that’s propagated by the media is 3-D printing will replace entire manufacturing and it’s clearly not. Moussa says in a recent interview. “We will never, ever be able to produce plastic parts as cheaply in 3-D printing as you can in injection molding. In volume and customization and in prototyping, there is just no chance at all to be as efficient or productive as mass manufacturing techniques. ”

Mike Moussa will be talking about advances in applications of 3-D printing, from inoperative to functional prototyping on May 7, at the  MD&M Texas Conference & Exposition, Fort Worth, Texas.

There's another prevailing myth as well - that soon enough every home will have a 3-D printer. Sure Staples has begun selling 3-D printers in their stories, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the average Joe or Jane is going to go buy one in the same manner that they would buy a Brother printer from Amazon.com.

"If someone is a tinkerer, if somebody has a welder in the garage, they might have a 3-D printer in their home office," Moussa says. I don't think it's going to be as prolific as a 2-D, paper printer."

That is echoed by a researcher at the Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group at the University of Nottingham in a YouTube video. 

Another hyperbole associated with 3-D printing is its ability to be able to manufacture human organs that can be used in transplant procedures. This is not out of the realm of possibility but it will take many, many years before it can be accomplished.

In fact an executive with a California company that has developed bio-printers to create 3-D printed tissue believes that it is a mistake to think that his company - Organovo - would be able to some day create a organ that looks exactly like a human organ. Rather, the goal is to make functional human tissue. Maybe have a liver that may not look like the human liver but function similar to it. 

The fact that we won't be seeing any 3-D printed organs in transplant procedures any time soon, is a thought echoed by Brian Derby, professor of materials science at the University of Manchester in this YouTube video: 

Yet, while 3-D printing is a nascent industry, with a lot of hype, says a Gartner analyst, it is on a path of growth. Total consumer and business spending on 3D printers will increase 62 percent, reaching $669 million this year, with enterprise spending of $536 million and consumer spending of $133 million, according to a Gartner report issued in October.

"Most businesses are only now beginning to fully comprehend all of the ways in which a 3DP can be cost-effectively used in their organizations, from prototyping and product development to fixtures and molds that are used to manufacture or assemble an item to drive finished goods," said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, in a news release accompanying the report. "Now that many people in the organization, not only the engineering and manufacturing department managers but also senior corporate management, marketing management and others, have heard the hype, they want to know when the business will have a 3D printer."

 [Photo Credit: iStockPhoto.com user BrianAJackson]

-- By Arundhati Parmar, Senior Editor, MD+DI
[email protected]

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