Over the last 10-15 years, perhaps no other emerging technology has gotten as much buzz as additive manufacturing (AM). Its initial, over-simplified, name is 3D printing and is known and understood at some level by people as early as grade school. Its rapid maturity (no pun intended), however, has placed it firmly at the leading edge of Industry 4.0 and is an important consideration for any business. In this article, we’ll forgo the usual explanations of the different technologies and how they work. We have a wealth of existing content to cover that, and it’s easily accessible through our past blogs, videos, and webinars. Instead, we will share exactly why you should consider this technology.
Not Your Father's 3D Printing
Initially, the most common use case for 3D printers was in the area of prototyping. Quickly getting a physical object in your hands to see, feel, compare, assemble, or evaluate was able to save companies significant time and money. It remains a vital reason to consider additive manufacturing in product development. The parts produced, though, were often fragile representations of the real thing not meant to be put to actual use. Advances in material technology and finish processes have changed that. With parts that can behave and last like those traditionally produced, a wide range of benefits has opened up.
The other area of change is the speed of production. No longer do you have to be restricted by small build trays and overnight run times for one sample. When coupled with the improved materials, additive manufacturing earns a legitimate space on the manufacturing floor.
When you realize that stereotypes around materials and speed are out-of-date, these are the areas where successes can be found:
- Supply chain management
- On-demand manufacturing
- Customized/Small-batch products
- Increased performance
Eliminating the Middleman
It could be said that a shop floor is only as good as its worst supplier. Quality problems and delays from sourced vendors impact the bottom line. In many cases, the introduction of additive manufacturing brings those capabilities back within the walls of the business. This can be the difference between being first to market or chasing market share from the competition. Sometimes, though, even the best vendor hits a bump in the road. Quick, confident short runs on printed tooling can keep the lines moving and parts shipping.
On-hand inventory is still maintained in many facilities to take care of fluctuations in demand. With 3D printing, all that is stored is the digital file, and the production can take place at the same point of need. Warehouse footprints, overhead costs, transportation costs and time all go away when the physical inventory doesn’t have to be kept up. What’s more, the cost of obsolete parts doesn’t have to be considered when a change is desired. Designs can be altered quickly, and low-volume parts don’t have to bring unreasonable investments.
Just What the Customer Needs
Some of the fastest-growing businesses in the last 5 years excel at custom, nearly one-of-a-kind production at prices similar to high volume. When parts or tooling can be created quickly and at a fraction of traditional costs, new markets can be explored. Even the source material for custom parts matches up uniquely with 3D printing. Scanning technology can feed automated design processes to match custom situations perfectly with minimal input.
Printed parts are not restricted by traditional machining limitations. Once you learn how to design with additive manufacturing in mind, advanced geometries can be leveraged to realize strength gains, weight reductions, and complex organic surfaces. Luckily, there is an easy-to-use software that analyzes the requirements for performance and recommends the optimized geometry. The only way to make those parts is with 3D printing.
Where to Look
If any or all of the above benefits sound like something you’d want to pursue, the next step is understanding what qualifies as a good candidate. Here are some of the easiest places to find success with additive manufacturing:
- High manufacturing costs
- High “value” parts
- High minimum order requirements
- High tooling costs
- Performance limited by cost/processes
- Exotic materials
- Unreliable sourcing
The good news is that all the areas of a factory where we traditionally hunt for improvements are full of other possibilities:
- R&D - Tooling used in the development phases of product development and manufacturing
- Assembly - Tooling for the assembly process, aiding workers to align and hold parts during assembly
- Equipment - Parts and tools associated with the equipment used in the fabrication process
- Quality Control - Tooling to aid in the inspection and QC process, specialty holding devices or measurement aids
- Packaging & Logistics - Tooling designed to allow for movement of parts within a facility or during shipment
- Health & Safety - Specialty tooling designed to aid worker safety and address ergonomic issues in the production environment
As the additive manufacturing landscape grows it is clear that industries beyond manufacturing such as aerospace, automotive, energy and medical are identifying opportunities to use this technology to not only keep up with demand but also remain competitive and expand innovation capabilities. If you are interested in discussing how this technology can help you, feel free to reach out to TriMech's engineering professionals.
Watch our on-demand webinar '3D Printing In a Post-Pandemic World,' to learn how additive manufacturing stepped up during the pandemic, what the future holds for 3D printing, and how it can benefit your business.