Additive manufacturing (AM), or “3D printing” (as it’s commonly known), is a revolutionary technology that allows for the manufacturing of a physical object directly from a digital model. It’s an economical, sustainable technology that’s tailored for a wide variety of products – medical, automotive, aerospace, furniture, fashion, etc.
Statista expects the number of additive manufacturing devices to be more than 2.8 million by 2030, up from 550 thousand in 2020. While still in nascency with respect to its applicability, additive manufacturing is bound to continue to be widely adopted in the near future. Let’s explore more about this technology.
What Is Additive Manufacturing?
In essence, the process of additive manufacturing starts with the creation of a computer-aided design (CAD). The CAD software is used as the basis to create a layered digital model of the object. This model acts as a blueprint for a 3D printer to follow. The printer then creates the object layer by layer, adding physical material on top of each other. This way, additive manufacturing wards off the need to carve complex geometries with milling or machining. As such, it acts as a low-cost and efficient alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques.
Engineers and architects are the first group of people who effectively utilize additive manufacturing. This is because they can experiment with their designs, drive rapid prototyping, modify on the go, optimize designs, and much more. This works particularly well for industries like construction, where real-time iterations are critical, and there’s no room for error in the design quality.
How Is Additive Manufacturing Different from Subtractive Manufacturing?
As opposed to additive manufacturing, the subtractive process proceeds by carving complex 3D models from an object. With the use of drilling, milling, etc., alongside robotic assistance, subtractive manufacturing produces solid objects – typically heavy metal items. However, the granularity in subtractive manufacturing can be a concern as the process doesn’t allow much flexibility in creating rather intricate shapes. Unlike additive manufacturing, the subtractive methodology is also subject to material loss and is much more expensive.
What Are the Types of Additive Manufacturing?
Although additive manufacturing is synonymously termed as 3D printing (as was previously outlined), there are, in fact, seven broad categories that have been defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
- VAT Photopolymerization or Digital Light Processing (DLP)
- Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) or Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Binder Jetting or 3D Printing
- Material Jetting or Smooth Curvatures Printing (SCP)
- Sheet Lamination or Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL)
- Material Extrusion or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Directed Energy Deposition (DED) or Laser Metal Deposition (LMD)
Hybrid techniques of product development also exist, especially where one of these techniques is integrated with a subtractive methodology to realize the best of both worlds in terms of product quality, automation, and time-to-market.
What Are the Benefits of Additive Manufacturing?
Sculpteo’s State of 3D Printing 2021 report outlines how investments in 3D printing grew after the advent of the pandemic, with 23% of the businesses affirming to have invested more than 100 thousand in the technology. The survey also outlined that R&D (60%), replacement parts (27%), end-use mechanical parts (52%), tooling (32%), end-user consumer goods (27%), and personal interest (37%) have been the most common motives for adopting additive manufacturing.
Along those lines, here are the benefits of additive manufacturing:
Low Entry for Barrier
Because additive manufacturing helps create lightweight products at scale, it offers a cost-effective alternative for manufacturers. This allows small and medium-sized enterprises to enter the market relatively cheaply without much need for upfront capital and training. Besides, the flexibility of designing reduces the maintenance and production costs since products are no longer limited by convention.
At times, the product need entails mixing different materials to accommodate ease of accessibility and use. For example, a product might be required to shelter excellent conductivity but also be resistant to corrosion. In that case, additive manufacturing would prove immensely valuable since it would allow layer-by-layer deployment of the desired material – like metal for conductivity and plastic for corrosion resistance across different layers.
The process allows for quick turnaround time and quick iterations to get a viable product to the market. It’s true that machining remains the standard for producing finished products. However, additive manufacturing is well suited for the production of first-run prototypes – as it’s a cheaper and more flexible alternative. This can be a huge advantage, especially when there’s an urgent need to verify the design.
What Are the Challenges of Additive Manufacturing?
Since additive manufacturing is relatively still new, not all materials are suited for the production of 3D printed items – or at least they haven’t been tested as much as they should be. This is why it’s important to conduct research on materials and processes ahead of time before investing in the technology.
It’s essential that every step in the additive manufacturing process is controlled, executed, and recorded. Any deviation in the material composition or even a small alteration in the design could result in a failed product. Data records help maintain consistency across physical prototypes, improving their overall quality and accuracy. They can also come in handy if an issue transpires downstream and its source needs to be tracked back to the design. However, constructing such a profound data thread has been difficult for manufacturers – precisely where they can seek help from technology experts.
Running a successful additive practice requires strong and prudent leadership. It also entails training, experience, and well-defined operational workflows in place. Plus, there’s a constant need to upskill because technology is rapidly evolving.
But, against all these challenges, additive manufacturing has great potential to transform the way we design and create products. Interested in additive manufacturing technology and its integration with IT but don’t know where to start? Let us help you. Contact us today – and let’s figure out ways to use additive manufacturing to empower your business.