Strengths and weaknesses of 3D printing in crises situations and in general

in StemSociallast year

3D printing is not the perfect tool for every usage and we are going to see through this article why you should use it or not and how 3D printing can be useful during crises through my experience with the Covid-19 lockdown in early 2020 in France. This article follows my introduction to 3D printing at home, feel free to read it if you want to learn more about the processes.


First large delivery of face shields to Strasbourg Hospitals, France, photo by Cristians Gonzalez

Why should you use 3D printing and why you shouldn't

As we saw in the previous article, 3D printers are very versatile, you can print in one day, parts for a robot, then a ring, and finally a spare part for your bathroom by just changing the file on an SD card or USB stick. But this great flexibility also has some compromises, if you want to manufacture a part in large quantities or have your production certified, this method is not optimal. Printing a part takes a lot of time. A stack of 10 face shield like this one can take up to 11 hours to print :

Of course, this time can be reduced to a few hours on some machines by reducing the quality, but it will not be possible to approach the speed of a manufacturing process such as plastic injection for example, which can easily produce 2 face shields every 40 seconds or so:













A fantastic report, great to read! I knew people with 3D printers had organized to design and print PPE so I was really curious to hear more about the experience of doing this.

One thing doesn't make sense to me. It is repeatedly said that 3D printing doesn't work for high-volume manufacturing. What doesn't make sense is that 3D printers, as a general manufacturing tool, can be owned by millions of people on the planet. And if there's a need to produce something rapidly, then millions of printers can manufacture that thing simultaneously. Hard to beat by traditional manufacturing models. Does this make sense? I understand that there would be challenges with sourcing materials but nothing that can't be overcome, I imagine. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Thank you @borislavzlatanov !

Yes, what you are saying makes sense and that's what happened during the lockdown. But today, there are way too few 3D printers per capita to meet the demand we had when the outbreaks started. Printing hundreds of face shields at home takes a lot of time to set up the printer before each print, check the progress regularly, clean the models, send them, and fix the machine. All of that for a relatively low quantity produced and a higher price per piece compared to injection molding.
And we had a big shortage of filament and 3D printers during the lockdown.

I totally agree with you, if more people can have access to easy to use 3D printing technologies, it could be a great alternative to mass production for simple objects. But apart from the learning curve pretty steep for a lot of people and the price, the biggest obstacles for the PPE are the regulation, you have to get your production certified, and the quality between 2 prints can vary a lot (unlike traditional manufacturing).

Great, thank you for the info! And keen to read more about 3D printing if you have plans to post more on this topic. :)

That's an interesting article. I never knew people use 3D printer for commercial purposes to be honest. I think they are best suited for some DIY stuff. That's an eye opener.

Thanks, yes and it goes from big corporations to some smaller companies like Out Of Darts who use 3D printers to manufacture their products

I recently heard about a contest and the winner received a 3D model of the object they wanted. The company that organized it also makes 3D models of pet collars. 3D printing is becoming normal. Interesting publication, greetings!

Our library district has 3D printers, and the tech team used our shutdown as a chance to bring everything they had together for PPE production. It was small-scale, but they could do something to fill the sudden void in the market.

That's so great! Every effort counts and I'm so thankful that there have been so many people who have mobilized to help :)

 last year 

What do you use for a 3D printer?

I have Anet A8 modified with AM8 kit and a CR-10. Been wanting to get a Prusa really bad.

I have a Tevo Tarantula and an Anycubic Photon Zero. I understand, Prusas are great but way out of my budget ^^ I imagine that the AM8 kit increase considerably the stability of the frame, have you seen any significant changes in quality after the mod?

 last year 

Yes it prints better. It already printed good though just endless leveling problem with the cheapo bed. I bought a heavy duty bed frame but never installed it.

I had the same problem with the Tarantula, but I choose the lazy way and designed a mount for a capacitive sensor on the print head : And it works well when printing PLA :)

My library has a Prusa derivative and several Dremel commercial machines, all running PLA filament. The Dremels are not bad for FDM machines, but the RFID-equipped proprietary spools are not ideal IMHO. On one hand, they tell the machine what it is using so it can auto-adjust its settings and simplify setup. The quality seems good, too. On the other hand, you're locked into a proprietary supply chain.

I feel the same way, we may need this kind of solution, that prevents handling mistakes, to bring 3D printing to a wider population but we need an open standard shared by most companies (unlike ink cartridge for normal printers).

Thank you for this interesting article!

You're welcome, thank you for reading it :)

Again (as I already mentioned it in the French post 3 weeks ago), congratulations for your participation to this great initiative!

You have a good memory! Again, thank you ^^

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Inspiring. I thank you again for helping out in this crisis. Makes me stop and ask, "What am I doing to help?"

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