HKTDC: 3D Printing ‘not a panacea’

3d.printingA 3D printing research expert today told the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council’s Electronics Fair attendees that the technology held huge promise, but still had severe limitations.

Louis Sze, Assistant Engineer, Technology Applications in BioMed Unit, Industrial Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, attempted to shed light on the future of the technology.

“The reality is that people who believe that 3D printing will make everything better have watched too many sci-fi films,” he said. “The reality is that it can currently print things partially, slowly and expensively.”

Sze went on to discuss the factors that are holding back widespread adoption of 3D printing. “The materials that can be printed, cost of hardware, ease of use and performance are the key issues,” he said. “Right now the affordable printers aren’t good enough and the printers that are good enough are not affordable.”

He also touched on current research that is being carried out into the technology, highlighting how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is investigating “lego-like” building blocks which can be used to create larger modular designs. The materials involved are carbon fibre composites with a lightweight structure, and are “ten times” stiffer than average 3D printing materials.

Summing up, Sze said that 3D was at the beginning of a long journey. “The reality is that it’s only in its infancy,” he said. “The current market is only $3 billion, and when you consider that HP spends $2 billion a year alone on research and development in 2D printing, that shows you how far it has left to go. 3D printing is not a panacea; it cannot replace traditional manufacturing.”

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