The Smarter 3D Printing Series: Embracing Additive Manufacturing for Traditional Manufacturing

The series is presented by 

The earliest synonymous term for 3D printing was additive manufacturing indicating that even in its earliest incarnation, manufacturing was the intended target for this new technology.

The uptake of this technology has come at a time of upheaval for traditional manufacturing. Labour costs have begun to rise making automation more attractive and threatening job security. Focus has also shifted from mass produced products to customised products particularly in the field of consumer products. Fortunately, 3D printing is able to mitigate these changes and allow manufacturing to shift from traditional to advanced production.

This part of Stratasys’s presented feature on 3D printing will discuss the technology’s impact on traditional manufacturing.

Additive vs Subtractive Manufacturing

3D printing is an innovative technology but in the context of manufacturing, it is an
operational paradigm shift. To understand the extent of change, we should understand the inherent differences between traditional and additive manufacturing.

Traditional/Subtractive Manufacturing


Traditional manufacturing makes use of subtractive manufacturing where excess material is removed from the starting raw material to obtain the final product. This process can be illustrated in the flow diagram below.

Source: US Government Accountability, 2015

This form of manufacturing has persisted through history and has been used for all materials ranging from wood to metals and plastics. Subtractive manufacturing remains the conventional form of manufacture and is the keystone technology for
mass production. However, this method of manufacture carries several inherent problems. These, as noted by CSIRO 1, are as follow;

  1. Wastage
    Production by trimming excess material creates the obvious problem of material wastage. While most manufacturing companies have robust systems in place to recycle and continuously optimise waste rates, wastage remains an expensive
    production problem.
  2. Speed
    Most manufacturing companies invest large sums of money to optimise and speed up production within companies. These measures are fairly successful relative to repetitive mass production and large volumes. When changes need to be made either to the production process or product design, the time taken to incorporate these changes can be long and often subject to many iterations.
  3. Costs
    Project management tools such as Kanban have helped to optimise and streamline traditional manufacturing processes. However, traditional manufacturing suffers in its ability to conduct research and development and implement at reasonable costs. The general dependence on customized tooling and the need to adjust standard manufacturing processes to accommodate design and product changes often leads to a high-cost penalty.

Additive manufacturing is not just an innovative paradigm shift in the world of manufacturing, but directly addresses the issues associated with traditional manufacturing according to RMIT’s Advanced Materials Manufacturing. Professor Milan Brandt, Technical Director from RMIT’s advanced materials manufacturing notes that the most obvious improvement would be the economy of material. 3D printing relies on the deposition or measured use of materials to build the product rather than stripping material away from a raw material block. This means that 3D printing inherently uses less materials and produces a lot less material wastage.

3D printing also addresses the long times associated with prototyping in traditional manufacturing. 3D printers are able to manufacture prototypes in time frames ranging from a few minutes to overnight 2. This speeding up of the prototyping endows organisations with flexibility and agility in dealing with product and design introductions.

Time frames associated with conceptualisation and implementation of novel designs often run into roadblocks with buy-ins. In addition to the changes required to processes, competencies and tools, new designs have to be explained and be approved by various stakeholders. 3D printing speeds this process up by producing a cheap yet precise and detailed 3D product. This increases the ability of stakeholders to visualise and therefore be more invested in the new products.

These above-mentioned advantages all add up to confer significant cost advantages to companies who adopt 3D printing. This is further compounded by the relatively low cost of 3D printers and their associated software compared to conventional manufacturing hardware. 3D printers, even the most sophisticated versions often retail at prices comparable to conventional office hardware. Software associated with these are often open-source further reducing cost margins.

This value of 3D printing to traditional manufacturing has been consistently illustrated by cost savings and profitability. The benefits can be illustrated in the Forbes infographic below;

Figure 1. Benefits observed by traditional manufacturing companies who have adopted 3D
printing. 3

Marrying Additive and Subtractive Manufacturing

It should be noted both these types of manufacturing are not mutually exclusive. In fact, there is still value inherent in traditional manufacturing. While initial and low volume costs of 3D printing are lower than that of traditional manufacturing, this trend changes with increasing volume. This trend reverses as the complexity of the item increases as per the trends below.

Figure 2.Breakeven analysis, 3D Printing vs Traditional Manufacturing 4

This allows for manufacturers to tie in 3D printing to their existing manufacturing systems by prototyping and conducting R & D with 3D printing and then manufacturing via conventional means once designs are approved.

This collaborative use of the two manufacturing methods is already in use in various manufacturing industries. Consumer electronics in particular, have a need to quickly adapt to market trends and introduce innovative products to align with market expectations. Researchers at the University of San Diego California have used Stratasys printers to print soft form electronics to allow for non traditional circuitry.

Aerospace and defence have also adopted this methodology due to their need to speed up prototyping. PFW, a German Aerospace company, manufactures their aircraft component parts with 3D printing prototyping and provides parts to projects such as the Boeing Dreamliner 5.

Adoption Considerations

Despite the advantages conferred to traditional manufacturers by adopting 3D printing, there is still widespread reluctance to adopt the technology. Part of the reluctance stems from lack of information or misinformation. Manufacturers expect that adopting 3D printing will require external technical expertise to adopt. Manufacturers also often perceive the need to retrain staff and invest in expensive hardware and software in order to reap the rewards.

Stratsys’ latest F123 series helps to demystify 3D printing for new adopters. These printers can be placed within office spaces and link directly to designers’ CAD software. This eliminates the need for a dedicated expert. Furthermore, the printers are able to produce precise and quick prototypes with minimal technical requirements from users. This allows Stratasys’ printers to integrate seamlessly into extant manufacturing options to enhance capabilities. To find out more about industrial design printing and the F123 series, click the link below to read the “Breaking the Barrier” whitepaper.

Read the whitepaper


1 Green, A. 2018, The unexpected intersection between art and science, CSIRO
Scope,, retrieved 26/9/2019

2 Bird, Jane (8 August 2012). “Exploring the 3D printing opportunity”. Financial Times. Retrieved 30/09/2019.

3 Columbus, L. 30/05/2018, The State of 3D Printing, 2018, Forbes,
/#1b632fce7b0a, retrieved 26/9/2019

4 Ma, Li, Yang, 2017, State-of-the-art of 3D printing technology of cementitious
material—An emerging technique for construction, Science China Technological

5 Infoholic Research, 2016, pp. 1-118, 31/05/2016, MAMR52141290, Market research
report,Worldwide 3D Printing Market in Aerospace and Consumer Electronics – Technologies (FDM, SLS, SLA, Others), Materials (Plastic, Ceramics, Rubber, Metal, Wax, Others), Regions – Drivers, Opportunities, Trends, and Forecasts, 2016-2022

6 Simon Véronneau, Geoffrey Torrington, Jakub, Hlavka, 3D Printing: Downstream Production
Transforming the Supply Chain, Technical Report, Aug 2017