3D Printing Vs Traditional Manufacturing

Post By: Ryan King On: 09-05-2024 - Industry Trends - Manufacturing

The difference between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing lies in its core construction method. 3D printing builds up, whereas most traditional manufacturing cuts down. 

That’s why 3D printing is also called additive manufacturing. It piles on successive layers of material to create a three-dimensional model, programmed by computer-aided design (CAD). These designs can be original, or a digital reconstruction of an existing 3D object. 

Traditional manufacturing techniques start with raw materials like metal, wood or plastic, which are shaped in subtractive processes such as casting into a mould, or machining, grinding or drilling away to arrive at the desired shape.

Advantages Of 3D Printing Over Traditional Manufacturing

3D printing offers many advantages in manufacturing over traditional methods. These include reducing waste, greater speed and design flexibility, a wider range of materials and lower costs.

Reducing Waste 

Since 3D printing creates an object by adding materials layer-by-layer, it produces significantly less material waste. The subtractive method of most traditional manufacturing processes cuts out what’s needed from a larger block, leaving behind the rest of the material. 

Greater Speed And Design Flexibility

3D printing offers the increased flexibility of CAD or replication modelling from an existing object. Most 3D printed products also require only one machine to make them, unlike traditional methods where a single part can demand many different machines and processes. This makes production much faster, especially for small to medium-sized objects, since no tooling is required for traditional casts and moulds. 

Without these restrictions, designers are no longer hampered by standard geometries or material stress parameters. This provides them with greater freedom to experiment with ground-breaking designs. Even large-scale designs are becoming feasible, such as Amsterdam’s innovative bridge and the potential for customisation is greatly enhanced. 

It’s also possible to combine 3D printing with other production methods like injection moulding, to form a style of hybrid manufacturing.

3D Printing Vs Traditional Manufacturing

Wider Range Of Materials

3D printing offers a variety of approaches, including material jetting or extrusion, sheet lamination, direct energy deposition, powder bed fusion and resin-based printers. This means that many types of material can now be used to print objects, such as thermoplastics, newly-developed polymers, resins, wax, powders, ceramics, carbon fibre and some metals. It’s even possible now to print furniture using a wood residue biomass.

Lower Costs

Traditional manufacturing demands the sales volume of mass-produced items to recoup its tooling, production, maintenance and labour costs. Manufacturing costs using 3D printing are not dependent on the quantity produced, which makes smaller volumes more economical. 3D printing also enables in-house printing, saving further costs on third-party vendors and logistics. Since products require no assembly of separate components, printing saves on machining time, materials and labour. The process is completely automated so labour requirements are low.

Advantages Of Traditional Manufacturing Over 3D Printing 

Traditional manufacturing processes still have the edge over 3D printing in some areas: 


Mass production systems were set up over a century ago and were popularised by the first appearance of production line cars. They offered good repeatability and the opportunity for batch quality checks, whereas 3D printing is more suited to one-off items or low-volume production runs. 3D printers aren’t yet 100% guaranteed to produce identical items, time after time. 

Quality Control

Because many of the materials used in 3D printing are new, each manufacturer of ingredients like polymers or resins may use different production formulas. Supplies from different manufacturers may contain unique compounds and additives. This results in variances in the material properties, especially if one manufacturer’s quality requirements differ from another’s. Quality control parameter variances might be found in the diameter of filaments or the homogeneity of resins or powder particles. This reduces the potential of 3D printing for large-scale production of identical items.

Material Selection

Selecting materials at this early stage of development may carry risks. If the source or quality is unknown or unstable, it will affect the final performance of printed parts. Some manufacturers demand identical, quality-controlled parts for critical equipment. For example, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and medical equipment production rely on the integrity of sensitive precision items. 

It’s still possible to argue that traditional manufacturing processes make use of more and different materials. But this is changing rapidly as 3D printing technology becomes more established and researchers discover how to manipulate chemicals and fibres differently. 

Some Comparisons Between 3D Printing And Traditional Manufacturing


This factor is dependent on how many units are required. The initial costs of setting up and launching traditional production processes are quite high, but these can be offset by the economies of large-scale production. 3D printed items are not dependent on unit volume, as there’s a flat rate per unit.  


While 3D printing doesn’t yet achieve mass output, its reputation lies in small-batch production, customisation and rapid prototyping. 3D printing was originally invented in the late 1980s specifically for rapid prototyping. The design phase of traditional processes might require multiple iterations of a product before it’s accepted as viable. The flexibility of 3D printing enables rapid design troubleshooting, incorporating several minor tweaks before an item is finalised.


3D printing is typically much faster than traditional manufacturing. This is mainly because there are several preparatory steps involved in traditional processes, such as casting or moulding. 3D printers produce an object straight off the CAD model, so actual production time is faster. 

Will 3D Printing Take Over From Traditional Manufacturing Methods?

Traditional manufacturing methods still excel at mass production and surface finishing, especially for simple objects. However 3D printing currently works best for small-scale manufacturing.  Additive manufacturing was initially intended for prototyping, but its development has provided the manufacturing industry with many benefits, like fully-assembled components, rapid production, complex designs and customised parts. Many industries are already taking advantage, including the automotive, medical and dental sectors, as well as aerospace, robotics, sports and consumer goods. With likely advances in volume production and quality control, 3D printing may well become the preferred manufacturing system of the future.

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