I can’t really say students traditionally struggle when using operations with scientific notation. Some of my students were apprehensive about the concept as we transitioned from converting to computing. Again the saving grace was beginning with the conceptual using base ten blocks.
Students were able to see the quantities being added having the same blocks like when we were adding (6 x 10^3) + (3 x 10^3) or related blocks like with (6 x 10^3) + (3 x 10^2). The discussion of regrouping blocks to add unlike blocks went over well allowing a student to conclude this:
We used a combination of concrete manipulatives and virtual manipulatives.
By the end of the lesson a student stated, “Is it really that easy? I thought scientific notation would be hard!”