Comment: Are we unlocking the true potential of 3D printing?

The disadvantages of 3D printing, such as material limitations and post-processing edits, can be tackled through further research and the embedding of AI capabilities, says Alan Hayward, sales and marketing manager at SEH Technology.


3D printing holds immense potential for the future of the manufacturing industry. It offers numerous benefits, including reduced levels of waste, reduced costs and more streamlined levels of efficiency. The disadvantages, such as material limitations and post-processing edits, can be tackled through further research and the embedding of AI capabilities.

The technology has paved the way for 4D printing, with the value of both options rising as appetites for innovations continue to grow. Despite this, questions emerge surrounding the true potential of 3D printing and whether it is currently being truly unlocked by businesses today.

A Growing Market

3D printing has a multitude of potential uses for businesses, such as exploring new design ideas and creative concepts that traditional printing and manufacturing technology cannot operate. A recent survey conducted by HUBS predicted that the global 3D printing market will grow by 17 per cent to reach a total of $19.9 billion by 2023, highlighting the immense potential of the industry.

This survey also found that 71 per cent of businesses surveyed used 3D printing more in 2022 than in 2021, reinforcing how although the technology has been commercialised for over four decades, its value for businesses is continuing to grow. One of the key factors in the success of the technology is its cost-saving advantages, with 83 per cent of respondents stating how 3D printing helped them save substantial costs in their manufacturing pipeline.

A Cost-Effective Solution

Additive manufacturing can drastically reduce an organisation’s production costs by minimising material waste, as only the correct and required materials are used in the manufacturing process. This means that regardless of the volume produced, they will almost have the same cost per unit, compared to more traditional manufacturing which often requires an expensive tooling stage that is only justified if products are mass-produced.

A Prototype for Success?

3D printing enables companies to quickly and cost-effectively create prototypes of new products or components. This can be leveraged to test the market for new products with low initial investment, helping them to gauge demand and make informed decisions about large-scale production and the allocation of resources.


Additive manufacturing technology does have several disadvantages that must be brought into the equation, one of which surrounds the limited choice of materials. These prototypes and products are only possible if the 3D printers have access to the required and compatible resources.

Material Limitations

3D printing materials, such as liquid or powdered plastic, metal or cement are not as diverse or readily available as those used in traditional manufacturing. The selection of materials can be limited in terms of strength, durability, and suitability for specific applications.

Some 3D printing materials may have inferior mechanical properties compared to traditional manufacturing materials, making them less suitable for certain high-stress applications. Certain manufactured products will need to be used in an array of conditions, such as under immense pressure or temperatures, making resilience a key factor in their overall utility.

One area which may hold the potential to resolve these issues lies in the field of artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence - The Key to 3D Printing’s Future?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has undergone vast developments in recent years, with the potential to revolutionise the 3D printing industry. Firstly, AI holds the potential to learn from past lessons and information, allowing businesses to become far more efficient as they continue to use the technology, highlighting how its value is set to continue rising rapidly.

Furthermore, through the use of generative AI, designers can explore numerous iterations and alterations of designs instantaneously. This provides the opportunity for organisations to maximise their creativity and innovation, helping them to create a larger competitive edge to stand out in the market.

3D Printing - The Gateway to 4D?

4D printing is an advanced form of additive manufacturing that focuses on the creation of objects using smart materials that can transform their shape and properties over time. These objects evolve in tandem with their surroundings, being influenced by external factors such as temperature, light, pressure, or other stimuli.

3D printing is the gateway to 4D printing, the technology simply would not exist without it. The two forms of additive manufacturing are closely related, with developments and advancements made in the 3D printing industry also creating additional value and functionality for the future of 4D printing.

Unlocking the True Potential of 3D

3D printing has faced significant developments since its initial creation back in the 1980s, posing as a highly valuable form of technology to be used internationally. While the technology does have its weaknesses, these are set to be reduced through the implementation of emerging technology such as AI and its vast array of functionality.

3D printing and its more recent 4D evolution continue to evolve and although its maximum potential may not yet have been realised, the future of 3D printing is looking increasingly bright.

Alan Hayward, sales and marketing manager at SEH Technology