Are you taking advantage of additive manufacturing (AM) yet? You should be.
The pace of AM innovation accelerates daily. The equipment is less costly and more efficient. New materials allow for parts that rival, and often exceed, the properties of those more traditionally made. And the public appetite for these newer 3D-printed products is growing.
Simply put, if you aren’t at least dabbling in AM, you and your customers are missing out. Take a look at the growing list of reasons.
You might worry that diving into any new manufacturing method demands a big upfront capital investment, but with additive manufacturing, that isn’t true. The cost of entry for AM is still falling. Industrial-quality printers are affordable and so are the common materials. Of course, specialized methods and materials cost more, but for most needs, it’s easy to get into the game.
The core definition of 3D printing is methodically adding material until a part is created. It starts with laying down a base layer of material, then adding subsequent layers until the part is complete. You may need to file off burrs or supports that hold up the part during printing, but the overall waste is minimal. Consolidating parts for manufacturing can also save energy and material costs.
Several parts nested in a single print tray assembly save on time and material costs.
Rapid prototyping is now even easier on your time and monetary budgets, thanks to additive. The cost for a CNC milling setup is considerable, and its subtractive process piles up material costs. The expense of an AM prototype is comparatively cheaper.
The savings add up as you test iterations using additive manufacturing. Make the necessary design adjustments, print a new part, and you have near-instant proof (or not) that your updated design meets the requirements.
If you need 10,000 or more of a single, basic part, it might be worthwhile to set up a mold. However, if you require only a handful of the same part, it’s likely faster to print them. Gather design files, printers, and material, and you’re all set. For lower quantity product runs, almost nothing beats additive manufacturing for speed and economy.
Small-batch manufacturers have a lot to gain with AM.
3D printers manufacturing small-batch car parts.
Traditional manufacturing tends to stick you with a warehouse full of premade parts to draw from when you need replacements. And if you have a recall or eventually produce a better design, those old parts turn to scrap.
Additive manufacturing allows you to have a virtual inventory. You keep the part information in the cloud throughout the product lifecycle and then print on demand. That removes the need for warehouse space, personnel, and piles of obsolete parts. Your CFO will thank you.
Speaking of old warehouses…what if yours doesn’t have that legacy part you need? Worse, the machines that manufactured the part went out to pasture years ago. Loss of customer trust can impact repeat sales and loyalty.
AM to the rescue! As long as you have the specs or files (remember that cloud PLM?), you can almost certainly recreate it in a 3D printer. Moving toward a virtual part inventory lets you more quickly phase out the old physical inventory without having to make awkward apologies to upset end-users.
As long as you’re recreating those old parts, now may be a good time to revisit your material options. New polymers, metals, and composites become available for AM every year. Now, you can replace a regrettable part with something stronger. Simply recreate a more reliable part as needed and save on future support calls and rework costs.
Traditional, complex parts require more manufacturing steps, along with more material and labor costs. The time to create and assemble them is longer, and it increases inventory. There’s a better way. With additive manufacturing, you can print the assembly as a single piece, saving money and time from start to finish.
Image: With additive manufacturing you can print multiple movable parts in a single piece, potentially saving time on assembly and material.
Recently, design engineers have begun using artificial intelligence-driven generative design to create products. You simply set the constraints for a part, such as dimensions, materials, and manufacturing method. The technology then suggests a number of designs that meet those requirements. As a result, designers spend less time iterating on the perfect design, and more time engineering.
Because additive manufacturing can easily produce organic shapes, the generative design engine can make suggestions for designs few of us would have thought of on our own—while still conforming to specs.
Lattices like dragonfly wings are lightweight and strong and difficult to create with traditional manufacturing methods. AM uniquely supports lattice structures that are intricate and tough and use less material.
For single, solid pieces, injection molding does the trick. But it breaks down when lattices are introduced. Machining can work, but the cost is prohibitive when you need to remove material from multiple angles.
Additive wins the day, especially when used in concert with the AI-driven technologies we mentioned above. Paired together, they create reinforced parts and assemblies with minimal weight and material costs. That ultimately saves you money both in the creation and support down the road.
Lattice structures can provide a lightweight solution to a bulky part, saving weight without compromising strength.
And there you have it. Ten big ways additive manufacturing drives higher quality products and creates more vocal fans of your products and services. Entering the additive game is easier and less expensive than you think, and we hope our list of tips and ideas helps you take the plunge.