Additive Manufacturing

Nina ConnerManufacturing

Posted by Patti Gander, AssuredPartners

Additive (3D printing) has transformed the manufacturing industry. Its capabilities have reshaped traditional production methods and are set to bring forth even greater benefits. In this article, we explore how this technology has impacted and continues to shape the landscape of modern manufacturing.

  • Rapid Prototyping: 3D printing allows engineers to rapidly prototype designs. Rapid prototyping will enable engineers to discover potential design issues before finalizing and moving the product from design to production.
  • Inventory Reduction: 3D printing allows manufacturers to produce items on demand. Inventory levels of finished products will not be needed since the product is printed when required. Using on-demand product manufacturing aligns with the “just in time” manufacturing approach to inventory.
  • Customization and Personalization: As previously stated, the production of a product can be created when there is demand. If the product can be produced at the point of demand, the design or features can be altered, providing the manufacturer with the ability to customize and personalize the product before printing. Customization and personalization provide consumers with greater levels of service, as well as options that will likely increase the overall customer satisfaction levels for the manufacturer.
  • Complex Geometries: Although multi-axis CNC equipment can produce several complex geometries, it is time-consuming to program and has limitations. 3D printing affords engineers a wider variety of intricate and complex geometries allowing for greater creativity in design without the limitations of producing the product on traditional manufacturing technologies. The new design possibilities may lead to more innovative aerospace, medical devices, and automotive products.
  • Lightweight Products: The materials and specialized printing equipment may allow products to be produced weighing less without compromising the strength or the product structure. Where weight is critical, such as in automotive and aerospace, the lighter weights may improve fuel efficiencies, allowing for lower costs for the customer.

While 3D printing has already made significant strides in manufacturing, its full potential is yet to be realized. The advantages must also be weighed against the limitations, which affect the mass use of technology in manufacturing today. Increased engineering to overcome these limitations must be addressed in order for additive manufacturing to reach its full potential in the industry. Some of the limitations are:

  • Production Speed: The printing of parts is done by building layer upon layer, which is a relatively slow process. The printing time must improve for 3D printing to be integrated into the manufacturing industry in any form of volume production.
  • Material Limitations: Materials that can be used in 3D printing are still limited compared to the various materials available in the current manufacturing environment. The materials used in traditional manufacturing, such as certain metals and ceramics, may not be suitable for 3D printing or may require specialized and expensive equipment.
  • Size Constraints: Most 3D printers have size limitations, which can restrict the maximum size of the objects that can be produced. Large-scale manufacturing of sizable products can be challenging with current 3D printing technologies.
  • Cost of Equipment and Materials: Although the cost of 3D printers has decreased, up-front equipment investments are still required. Manufacturers have invested significant capital in the current equipment and may be hesitant to obsolete the equipment and invest in 3D printers. In addition to the equipment cost, the cost of the materials can be higher than the traditional materials used in producing the parts currently. The additional costs may still be a barrier for some manufacturers.

Despite the limitations, 3D printing continues to advance rapidly, and ongoing research and development are addressing many of these challenges. As technology matures, manufacturers will likely find solutions to overcome some of these limitations, expanding the range of applications for 3D printing in manufacturing. Contact AssuredPartners Manufacturing for more industry insights.

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