5 Ways That 3D Printing Crushes CNC Machining

We recently posted a blog on the various ways that CNC Machining currently kicks 3D Printing's butt. However — as a Digital Manufacturing company that offers both technologies — it's only fair that we spend a few moments explaining how and why 3D Printing crushes CNC Machining. We will examine this point on the grounds of organic geometries, internal features, lattice structures, one-offs, and mass-personal customization. 

3d printed heat sink dmls

Organic Geometries

Both 3D Printing and CNC Machining are driven by CAD files. As a result, generating tool paths can be largely automated for both processes. That being said, 3D Printing excels at creating organic geometries — curved surfaces, high degrees of complexity, and similar builds. CNC machines generally struggle with gently arcing surfaces, requiring extra time and tool changes to deliver this complexity. On the contrary, due to the additive nature of 3D Printing, the issue of including additional detail during the manufacturing process is almost of no temporal consequence.

Internal Features

3D Printing can uniquely deliver internal features in its build parts. With CNC machines, the tool needs access to the feature to be machined. As a result, the interior areas of CNC parts are filled and solid; hollow only when machining two or more pieces that will be welded together in a post-process. The additive nature of 3D printers, on the contrary, simply skips the vacant areas during the phase of deposition. A notable exception to this rule is the requirement for internal support structures in certain hollow designs.

3Diligent Metematerial Lattice Structure

Lattice Structures

Another feature that 3D printers can deliver is the lattice structure. These builds are generally impractical to machine and, when they are internal to a part, feasibly impossible. 3D Printing is basically the perfect lattice building technology. Because these processes place materials layer by layer in mostly any location, they're able to build up lattice structures and customize their shape to deliver particular performance characteristics like stiffness, elasticity, or failure modes.


CNC Machining and 3D printing are the two leading technologies when it comes to one-off designs. Both are driven by CAD files and are capable of creating singular parts with relative ease — compared to the tool creation required by casting an injection molding technologies. However, 3D Printing generally gets the nod when it comes to one-off production. While machining generally does not require the creation of tools, there are circumstances when custom fixtures need to be created for a machined part to allow for the machinist to access all relevant features of a design. In contrast with this, 3D Printing is a completely tool-less technology; simply fit in a design and get an output. As noted previously, the output may have supports that require a degree of post-processing effort, but nevertheless, a single unit comes very easily from a 3D Printing process.

Medical 3D Printing

Mass Personal Customization

Following on two of the earlier points about organic geometries and one-offs, 3D printers outperform CNC machines in the domain of mass personal customization. There is a strong trend toward providing customers unique opportunities to customize products that meet their very personal needs. This is especially notable in the medical field when we talked about custom orthodontics, teeth aligners, and more. When it comes to these sorts of applications, 3D Printing definitely crushes CNC Machining. Because 3D Printing delivers an extreme variety of different geometries, with limited care to the complexity or geometry at hand, even at quantities of one, it has emerged as a leading tool for mass personal customization. You need only look to the success of Invisalign or Smile Direct Club as examples of 3D Printing's ability to deliver mass personal customization. 

Inventory Flexibility

A last area where 3D Printing outperforms CNC Machining is in inventory flexibility with regards to raw stock. CNC Machining requires a workpiece from which the design is carved away. This is one reason why blocky shapes tend to be better suited for CNC Machining. You simply need to chip away a little bit of material and you will arrive at your end part. With CNC Machining, however, you need raw stock that is in the shape of your final product to be economically viable. If your part has an extremely high scrap ratio, which is to say that you are carving away a lot of excess material from your starting work piece, the project can become highly uneconomical for your business. As a result, you need to have the right raw stock pieces to deliver CNC parts economically; and if you work with a wide variety of different parts, you need to stock a variety of material options to be efficient with your machine. In contrast, 3D printers are immensely flexible when it comes to their manufacturing process. Generally speaking, 3D printers operate off of filament or powder inputs that are basically one-size-fits-all. A highly condensed container of powder or filament can be delivered and stocked, and that in turn can create basically any geometry.


3D Printing outperforms CNC Machining on a wide variety of applications and use cases. As we touched on today, 3D Printing crushes CNC in many cases, but just as CNC Machining kicks 3D Printing's butt in its own universe of applications. It's all a matter of use and — thankfully at 3Diligent — we are capable of supporting you with whichever path you choose to go down.

3Diligent Speaking Schedule

It's been an exciting year of speaking for 3Diligent that picks up steam again in a few short weeks.

3Diligent's CEO Cullen Hilkene will be presenting the kickoff keynote address at the 3D Metal Printing Experience and Tech Tour in Novi, Michigan. Arguably the leading conference dedicated to 3D Metal Printing, the conference provides attendees the opportunity to hear from industry leaders on the state of the industry and develop a better perspective on how 3D Metal Printing can be used in the furtherance of their business goals.

In the presentation, Cullen will be speaking to the growing list of metal 3D Printing technologies, their advantages and tradeoffs, and providing a few anecdotal stories from 3Diligent.

If you can't catch Cullen in the Detroit area in a couple weeks, be sure to have a look at our complete speaking schedule below!

3D Metal Printing


August 6 — 8:45 A.M.

Metal 3D Printing: An Overview of Trends and Processes

3Diligent at ILMA Annual Meeting

ILMA Annual Meeting

Colorado Springs

September 23 — 2:30 P.M.

Presentation regarding how additive manufacturing is impacting metalworking fluids, as well as manufacturing in general.

3Diligent at WESTEC 2019


Long Beach

September 24 — 2:25 P.M.

An overview of the state of metal 3D Printing as well as a case study on how metal 3D Printing was used to complete the unique look of an impending Seattle high rise.

3Diligent at FABTECH 2019



November 11 — 2:00 P.M.

How Metal 3D Printing Helped Manufacture Unique Look of Seattle High-Rise has been accepted in the 3D Additive Manufacturing track. Presentation Title: How Metal 3D Printing Helped Manufacture Unique Look of Seattle High-Rise
Track: 3D Additive

Four Ways CNC Machining Kicks 3D Printing’s Butt

There has been a lot of hype in the last few years for 3D Printing. This is understandable, given its capabilities of delivering geometries that other technologies cannot, and to do so without external intervention — like fixturing. That being said, 3D Printing is not the be-all, end-all for Digital Manufacturing. In fact, CNC Machining, the longtime-standard for Digital Manufacturing, surpasses 3D Printing in a wide variety of tasks — sometimes even at quantities of one. In this article we will lay out four ways that CNC Machining still kicks 3D Printing's butt.

Better at Tight Tolerance Parts

cnc machining, cnc millingCNC Machining is generally better than 3D Printing at creating tight tolerance parts — for a handful of reasons. First, and most notably, CNC Machining's been around longer. That means that precision control has been refined to a point where regularly delivering tolerances of .005" is commonplace; additionally — in the 3Diligent network — certain precision machinists can deliver .0005". In contrast, the 3D Printing processes are all relatively new and, as a result, have not been refined and optimized over as many decades to deliver super tight tolerances. It's worth noting that certain 3D Printers have been built to service micro-scale parts, and these can and do deliver tight tolerances, but that is limited to tiny parts, and more than just an exception for the technology than the norm.

Beyond sheer technological maturity, most in-market 3D Printing processes will struggle to ever achieve tolerances consistently on par with CNC machines because of the thermal nature of the printing process. Typically, 3D printers melt material from one form (e.g., filament, powder) and reconstitute it as another (the final shape). This means rapid heating and cooling, and therefore the possibility of warpage (among other potential microstructural impacts). In contrast, machining takes a hard part and simply chips away at it. All the while, the coordinates of the main work piece don't materially change — in shape or temperature.

Excels with Bulkier Shapes

3Diligent Industrial Machining, 3Diligent Machining.The second area where CNC Machining outperforms 3D Printing is in bulkier designs. Quite simply, CNC machines are capable of processing a wide variety of stock materials that come in standard shapes (e.g., block, sheet, rod). CNC machines can simply chip away from these shapes and provide you a solid part in short order. 3D printers, by their very nature, additively construct parts. At their very fastest, you're laying down one thin layer of material on top of another. At their slowest, the 3D Printer is basically etching the part geometry one voxel at a time.

To use an analogy, imagine you're tasked with creating a black circle for your niece's grade school art project. You're given some white paper, some black paper, a black pen, and some scissors.  What approach would you take?  Sure, you could grab the pen, draw a circle, and start filling in the blank.  But you could alternatively just grab those scissors and cut your circle out. You'd finish faster. And to the earlier comment, you'd be assured a degree of consistency that might not come if there were slight variances in the way you precisely filled in the circle shape.

In brief — big, blocky shapes do not print fast, but they tend to cut quickly. Additive would better shine on those designs where you'd pick the pen instead of the scissors.

Gives Consistent Material Properties

The next area where CNC outperforms 3D printers is in delivering reliably consistent material properties. To extend our grade school crafts analogy a step further, you may end up with a perfectly black circle if you precisely filled it in with your pen. However, there's also the possibility that the ink didn't flow quite right at a given moment, or you missed a spot ever so slightly because you had a hiccup. In contrast, if you cut the corners off of a piece of paper that you already can see is black, there's not much guess work.

With 3D Printers, you are oftentimes melting material on the fly. Sometimes you're setting a shape with a binding agent and curing that part's material properties in a secondary step — there are a few other ways as well. However, the main takeaway is that additive manufacturing typically establishes the material characteristics of the part on the fly as you reconstitute the matter in the build chamber. In contrast, with machining, you are simply chipping away from a forged piece of material billet. The material properties of that raw stock are already checked and confirmed.

All of this is not to suggest that 3D printers cannot deliver production parts that can meet and exceed the needs of many real-world applications. In fact, 3D printed parts consistently deliver material properties on par with or superior to cast parts, and you likely know that castings are literally EVERYWHERE. But it is to say that there are variables in play with 3D Printing (and casting) that don't exist to the same extent with CNC Machining. Microstructural features (like porosity and grain orientation) matter much more, especially as it relates to parts that experience high cycle fatigue. You may want to consider post-process solutions like Hot Isostatic Pressing.

Offers a Better Material Selection

3Diligent Water JettingA fourth way in which CNC Machining still kicks 3D Printing's butt is in material selection. It should be noted that 3D Printing is making tremendous strides in this area — and in fact certain materials that cannot be manufactured with any other process are now becoming available to 3D printers. Things like custom alloy powders are being developed just for the powder bed fusion 3D Printing process, for instance, that outperform conventional stock casting or CNC materials. With that being said, machining still currently offers a much wider variety of material options than 3D Printing. Materials like brass, for instance, are machinable and not generally available to the world of Additive Manufacturing. The same holds true in the polymer world. Whereas polyethylene, polypropylene, and acetal (Delrin) are viable options for a capable machinist, printing in those materials is still not heavily commercialized. To the extent that those materials are available in market, it is on a relatively niche basis for specific machines.  The tradeoffs of different 3D Printing processes is a discussion for a different day though.

So Is CNC Machining Better Than 3D Printing?

In truth, anybody who tells you machining or 3D Printing is "better" is just offering their own opinion, based on their own applications. But suffice it to say, CNC Machining does currently outperform 3D Printing on a number of dimensions. From delivering tight tolerances right off of the machine, to delivering bulky shapes faster and cheaper, to providing more reliable material properties, to offering a broader range of materials: CNC Machining remains an incredibly useful technology that is driving Industry 4.0 forward.

Powder Bed Fusion vs. Binder Jetting


Powder Bed Fusion and Binder Jetting are two of the most common classes of metal 3D Printing technology. Each one provides unique advantages and considerations as it relates to meeting the needs of different applications. Powder Bed Fusion has grabbed headlines in the industry for the longest, but binder jetting's emergence has grabbed its fair share of headlines as well. Could either process be the solution for one of your applications? Here we provide a quick tale of the tape, comparing these two popular metal 3D Printing process families.

Process Overview

Powder Bed Fusion


Powder Bed Fusion involves the use of a focused energy source - commonly an infrared laser or electron beam - to selectively melt layers of metal powder.  This process results in highly dense parts that provide strengths typically surpassing cast parts (and occasionally forged parts).

binder jetting metal 3d printing process

Binder Jetting


As its name would suggest, Binder Jetting involves the targeted jetting of a binding agent to hold particles of powdered material together. This process takes place layer-by-layer to produces a "green part," basically a fragile matrix of metal held together with adhesive. This part can then be used for non-stress applications or more commonly undergoes post-processing steps, most notably sintering.


How accurate are these processes? How reliably do they deliver that accuracy? Or said in the most straightforward engineering terms, which tolerances can they hold?

As Low As .001"

Powder Bed Fusion technologies are very accurate, with some technologies capable of achieving tolerances as tight at .001" (25 microns). It should be noted that metal Powder Bed Fusion is generally expected to meet tolerances of .005" +/- .002" per inch, and certain powder bed technologies like Electron Beam Melting have global tolerances that are looser than that. Generally speaking, Powder Bed Fusion is more accurate than Full Sinter Binder Jetting.

+/- 3%

Binder Jetting is a relatively accurate 3D Printing technology, but much of its accuracy depends on what level of post-processing you have in mind for your print. Since we are specifically looking at metal 3D Printing, then for the purposes of this discussion we are weighing Full Sinter Binder Jetting and Infiltrated Binder Jetting.  Full sinter involves the creation of a green part, but then sintering that part in an oven once the shape is set — which results in roughly 20% shrinkage and creates a challenge in delivering tight tolerances. This is not as noticeable with certain types of geometries and smaller parts. Additionally, this can be improved through repeated manufacturing. Nonetheless, its default tolerances are higher. Infiltrated Binder Jetting doesn't experience the same degree of shrinkage because the metal matrix is filled with another lower-melting-temperature metal instead of allowing the matrix to sinter down on itself.  Still, the nod generally goes to powder bed when we talk about accuracy.


How expensive are these processes? Both relative to each other and to more traditional metal manufacturing processes like CNC, Casting, or Metal Injection Molding?

Cost Effective for Intricate Designs

Powder Bed Fusion prints are generally pretty expensive. The underlying energy source - an expensive laser or electron beam - is quite expensive. The powder commonly required for these machines is also more refined than that required for binder jetting, also driving up cost. Generally speaking, Powder Bed Fusion becomes the most cost effective solution when a part has been designed with the process in mind. This means the designer has eliminated unnecessary mass and structured the part to be self-supporting throughout the build.

Lower Cost Inputs = Lower Cost Outputs

By jetting binding agent rather than accurately tracing a path, Binder Jetting can effectively arrive at a geometry much faster than Powder Bed Fusion. While this analogy oversimplifies things (especially for Electron Beam Melting), Binder Jetting is a paint brush to Powder Bed Fusion's pen or pencil. This approach gives Binder Jetting particular usefulness for chunkier parts that still have a good bit of complexity. Augmenting this reduction in machine time, Binder Jetting leans on lower cost solutions to create geometries. Glue and an oven are decidedly cheaper than a fiber laser or electron beam. Additionally, Binder Jetting doesn't require the same fine granulated powders that powder bed systems do — this means cost savings as well.

Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion


Which materials can each technology process? Is there a broader range of materials available to one process or the other? How do material options compare to traditional manufacturing technologies?

Selective Due to Economics

Nearly every metal can be used in Powder Bed Fusion systems. Certain powder bed systems are better at processing high temperature materials whereas others are more conducive to lower-melting-temperature materials. Generally driving this is the extent to which the powder bed chamber is heated during manufacturing. Lower temperature chambers can be more prone to cracking and internal stress when processing high temperature materials. More than capability is actually economics when it comes to commonly available materials for Powder Bed Fusion. Materials commonly associated with less critical applications (e.g., iron) are not as prevalent as higher value metals like Titanium, Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Copper, and Nickel Inconel superalloys (e.g., 625, 718).

Limited Due To Nascency

Because the first step of Binder Jetting's process simply involves binding particles of metal together with glue, it offers tremendous material flexibility, in theory.1 Materials such as sand, gypsum, metal, and plastic can be bound with the Binder Jetting process. With regards to the next step — sintering — some limitations emerge. The extreme temperatures required for melting titanium, for instance, are challenging within a sinter furnace. Stainless Steel is the most common material used in the Full Sinter Binder Jetting process, in part because its behavior with regards to shrinkage in the sintering step is perhaps best understood.

Sand Print to Cast


Will the process deliver me the density I need for repeated cycles and fatigue?

99.5% and Up

Powder Bed Fusion delivers dense parts.  Straight off the machine, density is typically north of 99.5%.  This is significantly above the density of cast parts, which typically run around 98% dense. This is one key consideration in how PBF parts can deliver better-than-cast material properties. Additionally, parts can undergo a Hot Isostatic Press (HIP) post-processing step to bring density within a hair of 100%.


The Binder Jetting process generally cannot deliver the same density as Powder Bed Fusion parts. Quite simply, while the sintering process can create density typically on par with cast parts, it does not achieve complete density. This level of density is appropriate for many applications. However, for certain tasks with high cycle time fatigue concerns, this may be a limiting factor. Again, Hot Isostatic Press (HIP) as a post-process step can be used to improve overall density.

Design Constraints

Does one process provide unique advantages when it comes to available geometries? Do each operate with the same design constraints?

Master of Complex Lattices

When it comes to design, Powder Bed Fusion offers a great deal of design freedom. Relative to traditional manufacturing processes, powder bed is capable of processing extraordinarily complex designs just as fast - actually faster - than standard blocks of material. Especially with laser systems, very fine features can be achieved. We generally don't recommend features smaller than 1mm, although we commonly can resolve them. In general, this allows for extraordinarily complex lattice structures to eliminate weight while retaining strength. Notable to consider is that Powder Bed Fusion systems generally require the inclusion of supports, made from the same material as the part, to prevent the metal from warping under the rapid heating and cooling that occurs during the process. Certain powder bed platforms operate with a heated chamber which reduces the need for such supports, but that can create other design considerations. Either way, you should try to design your part to be self-supporting. Just imagine if your part was a skyscraper — would any aspect of it need scaffolding to be built? This is critical, because parts designed without supports in mind can drive the price of a part up more than 50%.

Support Needs Reduced, But Sintering Must Be Considered

The Binder Jetting process does not have the same support restrictions as powder bed systems because there isn't a thermal component to creating the green part. With that being said, the post-processing step can be problematic for fine features, as the green part shrinks in size by 15-20%. This can also come with the threat of internal stresses. As a result, binder jetting parts are generally limited to sizes smaller than a fist for cost-effective printing and sintering.

The Bottom Line

It's really a tie.  Depending on the part you've designed, the quantities you seek, the material you desire, and the performance you require, either process might carry the day. The good news is that 3Diligent offers both of these 3D printing technologies (any many more!), and our experts can help you design to take advantage of either process.


Takeaways From Our Discussion at Atlantic Design and Manufacturing: 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

I had the pleasure of participating in the 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal session and its panel discussion at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing show this past Wednesday at the Javits Center in New York City. The discussion covered a wide range of metal 3D Printing topics, with a few specific discussions regarding design considerations, overall cost, and post-process requirements. For those of you who couldn't make it to the discussion, we will share a few of those thoughts here.

Cullen Speaking at 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

Design for Metal 3D Printing

Additive design became a topic of increasing interest as 3D Printing broke away from strictly prototyping uses and into a manufacturing technology for functional applications such as tooling, spare parts, and production parts. I think a primary takeaway from that panel was the consensus that designs should begin with a particular machine and material combination in mind — as well as the broad concepts of additive to achieve an optimized part.

Practically speaking, every process undergoes its additive step and post-processing requirements in slightly different ways. Hence, understanding and incorporating those key considerations is particularly relevant to developing a good product. This can be challenging and may often require an expert's support. The session highlighted some exciting advances in topological optimization and generative design software, which can help you take full advantage of a 3D printers' capabilities. With that being said, there was also consensus that, currently, no software could deliver ready-made parts that were suitable to go straight to the printer. A degree of expert interaction with the designs was warranted.

Metal Additive and Costs

Obviously, metal 3D Printing is generally expensive and justifiably so. The leading technology in the metal additive space, powder bed fusion (PBF), is quite costly due to the requirement for highly refined powder and expensive underlying lasers with extraordinarily high optical requirements. However, an advancement of competing technologies in recent years has brought competition to PBF.

Metal binder jetting and extrusion technologies leverage less refined powders to deliver more cost-effective parts for certain geometries. These powders utilize sintering furnaces that, on the whole, lower costs compared to high-power lasers. A final group of additive processes scraps both furnaces and lasers altogether: sheet lamination, cold spray, and metal stirring. These technologies, though not as developed, potentially open the door to cost savings as well. There are also different hybrid solutions that can take rougher outputs from an additive process and achieve a degree of post-processing on the fly.

Cullen Speaking at 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

Post-Processing Requirements

3D Printing is famously known for requiring a significant amount of post-processing, tied in part to laser powder bed fusion; but it's not unreasonable to say that post-processing requirements are prevalent across the metal 3D Printing industry. The big takeaway from this portion of the discussion was that designing for your particular process can be extraordinarily valuable in eliminating post-processing costs. If your design does not account for a particular additive process, then it will likely require the removal of support structures. Similarly, things like trapped powder can wreak havoc on a finishing station; avoidable with appropriate "design for manufacturing" thinking ahead of time.

So if you couldn't make it to the show or join us at the panel discussion, I hope it was helpful hearing some of the key inputs to how 3D Printing is going heavy metal. If you have other questions, don't hesitate to reach out, look around our site here, or leave comments in the section below.

-Cullen Hilkene, CEO

3Diligent at Javits Center Speaking Session: 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal


Today at 2:00 P.M. Eastern, our CEO Cullen Hilkene will be speaking at the Javits Center‘s 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal panel. Among the topics included in the overall 3D Printing session will be how it is:

Highlighting this pervasive topic in medical manufacturing and beyond so you can walk away prepared for the changes ahead. You’ll find it all, including design software, hardware, services, post-printing manufacturing solutions, and more.

Our panel discussion, entitled “3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal” will explore:

Which materials hold the most promise while considering case studies from industries that are leading the adoption of metal printing.

Swing by if you are in New York, we hope you’ll come join the conversation and sync with us!


3Diligent at the World Economic Forum; The Challenges and Solutions for the Future of Additive

I had the distinct privilege of being invited to and attending a recent session at the World Economic Forum — Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco. It was a remarkable experience for a handful of reasons; and I thought that I would take this opportunity to share a bit about the experience with our blog readers.

The World Economic Forum and 3Diligent

So for starters, I figure it best to establish what the World Economic Forum is, what it does, and what its goals are. Frankly, my understanding of the World Economic Forum prior to this event was largely that of a trade organization — it pulls together leaders from across the world of business. For that reason, I know that there seem to be annual protests at their event in Davos, Switzerland because the folks participating are in decision-maker positions. Upon arrival, I realized that the World Economic Forum is focused on advancing the standing of humankind. Obviously, they view trade as a key means of doing that. However, important to the purpose is understanding the way that new technologies are impacting the world, the disruption that it may potentially have on humanity, and articulating potential solutions so that governmental organizations — who are typically slower to act than businesses — can effectively govern and minimize adverse impacts.

Therefore, it was with this context that I was invited to the 3D Printing and Trade Logistics working session at the world economic forum's center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco earlier this week. We at 3Diligent were honored to be invited as a company that possesses significant visibility into the market and a very active day-to-day role in engaging with those companies and the manufacturing organizations that are making use of the technology.

3Diligent World Economic Forum Badge

What Will 3D Printing Headlines Look Like in 20-50 Years?

The first thing that we did at the World Economic Forum, after a few introductory remarks, was to think about headlines from 20-50 years in the future that might be related to 3D Printing. The ideas that the group landed on were really interesting…

Changing of the Guard

One set of thinkers anticipated a complete "changing of the guard" in terms of leadership in the aerospace industry — tied to upstart organizations who had advanced 3D Printing to a point where there planes were almost entirely 3D printed to provide unmatched fuel savings and price competitiveness in the transport market.

Bio 3D Printing to Prevent Remote, Fatal Accidents 

Another group of thinkers anticipated a hypothetical calamitous event in a National Park where an individual had lost an appendage. New arms, ears, or eyes could be printed on demand and airlifted to the site of the carnage so that they can make a rapid recovery — instead of what would have normally been almost certain death.

Bio 3D Printing for Survival in Extreme Environments

Yet another group of thinkers anticipated a colony of autonomous humanoid beings, derived from advanced Bio 3D Printing technologies, capable of living in the depths of the Marianas Trench — tens of thousands of feet underwater — due to adaptations that 3D printers were capable of providing to them.

In brief, some pretty crazy stuff — but "crazy" only in so far that this group of industry leaders felt that the stories were entirely plausible within the next 30 Years.

A Challenge Resulting from Future Developments

Next, we began considering some of the key challenges that such future developments would have on human society, as well as actions that could be taken to address those challenges. Our group listed out a healthy set of challenges, broadly tied to themes including the workforce, security, business models, ethical/moral, cross-border flows, and standardization.

Workforce Displacement from Robots and AI

By far the consensus concern was something that we hear regularly in this day and age, and it is the disruption to the workforce that the rise of robots and AI may bring about. The group, on the whole, was not extraordinary concerned about this displacement in the near-term. As the number of studies have called out, the rise of digital manufacturing is actually creating many more jobs than it is eliminating; and this is especially true for developed economies.

In places like the United States, Europe, and Japan, the possibility of eliminating a chunk of the "labor cost input" to a digitally manufactured part means that new levels of competitiveness are possible. These more expensive countries still suffer from the need to cover the cost of more expensive real estate on for their plants to sit on. However, the ability of 3D printers — especially to occupy very small spaces while still achieving near peak efficiency — is what mitigates this issue on some level.

Therefore, there is a higher likelihood that the market penetration of these machines has the effect of localizing or at least regionalizing manufacturing and restoring a lot of jobs. This obviously has the counterpoint of potentially preventing less-developed nations from coming up the curve that other countries have through serving as a source of low-cost manufacturing labor.


I got the feeling in the room that the net good would outweigh the net harm, at least over the next couple decades. With that in mind, the consensus opinion was that governmental organizations and private organizations — as well as public-private partnerships — could do a lot in the very near future by investing in training and retraining programs to empower a new generation of digital manufacturing experts. The remarkable opportunities that digital manufacturing is opening up will only be realized if we have an educated workforce — capable of understanding and taking full advantage of these technologies.

In Summary

We dug in on each of the other major thematic areas, but I think that's enough for one blog. Perhaps we'll post them at a future date but for now, I'm interested to hear if anyone reading this article has their own perspective on the biggest challenges that the rise of digital manufacturing — and especially 3D printing — will bring about in the decades to come. If so, then what they view as the best solutions to addressing these future challenges.

3D Printing’s Emerging Impact on Architecture and Construction

A lot has been made of 3D Printing in architecture recently, as we discussed in our previous vlog entry. At 3Diligent, we were proud to play a part in the construction of Seattle's newest and second tallest tower, where 3D printed aluminum curtain wall nodes will help shape the face of this skyline-defining building. Shortly thereafter, headlines appeared about Icon Development's purchase of a 3D printer for buildings which will help them construct low-cost housing in Austin and around the world.

Farther afield, in the Netherlands and in China, bridges have been constructed using 3D printers to create unique and aesthetically intriguing additions to their pedestrian thoroughfares. In Dubai, the first 3D printed office building is up and operational. And in the Philippines, the first 3D printed hotel has been commissioned.

So what does it all mean? Is the future of construction 3D printed? Are elements of construction untouchable by 3D printers, no matter how long we wait? We will unpack some of these questions in the paragraphs that follow.

Dramatic Geometries Made Easier

One thing that has defined the architectural industry, for effectively its entire existence, is the desire to create statements with buildings. 3D Printing offers a new and remarkably adept tool at achieving this end. With regards to the Rainier Tower project and the related curtain walls developed by Walters and Wolf, to achieve the unique aesthetic they desired, 3D Printing was the preferred technology of choice. With metal powder bed 3D Printing (MPBF), Walters and Wolf felt as though the consistency of the printed parts and the strategic flexibility it offered was superior to investment casting.  While casting has been around for a lot longer, it couldn't deliver in quite the same way across 140 unique geometries the way that our powder bed fusion printers could.

If you roll it all up, the highly complex nodes and the different geometries that additive manufacturing was able to directly facilitate in a relatively cost-effective fashion made it a great choice for the task at hand. This will come to reflect a broader trend in architecture. While the existing mass production infrastructure for large-scale steel beams and girders should continue to provide the structural basis for our tall buildings for some time to come, aesthetic elements that provide uniqueness and intrigue to architectural statement pieces are truly made feasible by 3D Printing in a way that previously wasn't either possible or plausible, given the economics and limitations of other traditional manufacturing processes.

Organic Geometries Will Appear with Greater Frequency

Another phenomenon that we regularly see a 3Diligent is that 3D Printing has helped enable organic geometries that are otherwise extraordinarily challenging to fabricate with traditional technologies. Notable among these are gradually-arcing designs that draw inspiration from the curved shapes that we see all over nature. 3D Printing opens the door to more of these geometry types, empowering more buildings with gradually sloping organic shapes as you might see in a Calatrava design or a Guggenheim Museum. You'll note that virtually every 3D printed building takes advantage of this feature, as it effectively adds no incremental cost to the building's construction itself.  Your ability to hang paintings, however, might hit a snag.  To reference a classic hammer seeking a nail story, perhaps this is the dream nail that the curved TV screen hammer has been looking for all these years!

CAD Software's Unique Creations Can Be Easily Visualized and Transmitted to 3D Printing Processes

The last area that we see 3D Printing being used in architecture - and this is the longest tenured use case - is in modeling applications.  In recent years, architects have increasingly moved toward designing in CAD software.  This provides them much greater flexibility than a drawing board to make design edits.  Further, it provides customers 3-dimensional renderings of the spaces they have dreamed up.

These CAD design files are readily transferable to 3D Printers.  So when architects wish to not simply take clients on a virtual journey, but to provide them a tangible model, 3D Printing provides architects a ready means to do exactly that.  Such prints can be produced in full color to fully realize the space.  In doing so, certain experiential aspects can be accounted for in a way that may not be truly possible with digital rendering - or without having a computer and screen handy.

3Diligent's Take: 3D Printing in Architecture and Construction

The ability to create unique, dramatic architectural elements more easily and cost effectively, to build new organic buildings from the ground up, and to realize full-color and to-scale models demonstrates three key ways in which 3D Printing is affecting architecture and construction today.  As more headlines like Rainier Square and the ICON houses capture the attention of the masses, we expect to see further exploration of what is achievable with 3D Printing, and additive manufacturing will soon become a key input to any architectural endeavor, especially those developments where the developers and architects want to make a statement.

Vlog Series: 3Diligent Hot Takes on 3D Printing in Architecture and Construction


With this vlog installment we will examine 3D Printing in the architecture and construction industries. We ourselves saw the viability of this application in our collaboration with Walters and Wolf on the new look of the Rainier Square Tower, but that is just one sector that is benefiting from 3D Printing technology. The three main areas where 3D Printing is making big strides in the architecture and the construction industries are:

1. Creating Custom Elements

2. Constructing New Edifices

3. Producing Tangible Architectural Models


Keep an eye out for our follow up blog and future videos!


3Diligent Announces Its Manufacturing Network Has Expanded to Nearly 250 Locations Across Six Continents

Company’s Breadth of 3D Printing, Machining, Casting and Injection Molding Technologies Enable On-Demand Custom Part Fulfillment Globally

El Segundo, Calif. – April 29, 2019 – 3Diligent announced today it has now qualified and networked digital manufacturing facilities on six continents. Its network of nearly 250 contract manufacturing partners spans more than a dozen countries and 1,200 machines.

This milestone means 3Diligent is able to offer faster and more cost effective support to customers seeking a single partner for their global custom part manufacturing needs. Through its dynamic utilization of regional manufacturing facilities near the final delivery address, 3Diligent can cut down on delivery time and shipping costs. Perhaps more importantly for large businesses, 3Diligent can also provide a single platform through which to track and manage digital manufacturing activity across the enterprise.

“The promise and power of digital manufacturing – especially 3D Printing – lies in its ability to quickly and easily get the same part made in different places using the same 3D design file,” said 3Diligent CEO Cullen Hilkene. “We are proud to have qualified and networked expert manufacturing partners around the world who are capable of making this vision of the future a reality.”

The trend toward “distributed digital manufacturing” is accelerating as more companies consider Computer Aided Design (CAD) driven technologies like 3D Printing and CNC Machining to enable on-demand spare parts and even production runs. The “supply web” is emerging as a way to utilize these digital manufacturing technologies to increase agility and flexibility within a company’s supply chain.

“3Diligent provides companies a partner and ready-made fabrication network to deliver around the globe for their customers and their own internal operations,” said Hilkene. “This powerful combination of cutting edge equipment, material breadth, geographic coverage, and consistent quality makes 3Diligent a category of one among distributed digital manufacturing companies.”

Companies can use the 3Diligent RFQ process to access its nearly 30 available manufacturing processes, including 3D Printing / additive manufacturing, machining, casting, and injection molding. A full list of capabilities is available here – https://www.3diligent.com/online-machine-shop/.

3Diligent has delivered digital manufacturing services from prototype through production for a wide variety of industries including industrial products, automotive, medical device, aerospace, energy and design firms. A notable recent project involved the 3D Printing of unique aluminum curtain wall nodes for Walters & Wolf to help deliver the iconic exterior look and feel of the upcoming Rainier Square Tower in Seattle.

For more information on 3Diligent’s capabilities and to submit your request for quote (RFQ), visit https://www.3diligent.com.

About 3Diligent
3Diligent is an innovative rapid manufacturing services provider offering CAD/CAM-based fabrication services such as 3D Printing, CNC machining, casting, and injection molding. 3Diligent launched in 2014 to provide businesses deterred by the cost and obsolescence risk of 3D printer ownership a single source for faster, more convenient, and more affordable additive manufacturing services. It has since evolved to offer additional digital manufacturing services to support its customers from prototype through production and aftermarket stages. 3Diligent uses data science to analyze customer requests for quote (RFQs) and identify optimal solutions across its network of qualified providers. 3Diligent’s next-generation approach to rapid manufacturing allows customers to simplify their procurement and outstanding manufacturers to get more out of their capital investments. 3Diligent counts companies from Fortune 500 enterprises to startups among its customers. For more information, visit http://www.3Diligent.com/.