This year we have seen the release of several new additive manufacturing technologies that are having an impact on the manufacturing sector – marking the evolution of 3D printing from a rapid prototyping tool to scalable and cost-effective mass production processes. 3D printing’s shift to production requires robust hardware, ready-to-use software and open architectures to allow integration into the manufacturer’s existing ERP, PLM and MES systems.
Stratasys has been investing in the GrabCAD platform for the last 5-6 years and is now introducing the GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing platform. A software enablement tool that allows customers to embrace manufacturing at scale; it transforms AM into manufacturing-ready technology. Alongside these new software capabilities, Stratasys has also recently announced three new hardware tools focused on solving manufacturing concerns.
Industry 4.0 & Additive Manufacturing
With the maturity of the 3D printing market, the leading adopted additive manufacturing (AM) technologies consist of solutions that blend professional-grade 3D printing hardware, high-performance materials, and smart, easy-to-use software. As these technologies advance, the list of viable manufacturing applications grows. For decades, 3D printing was primarily used for prototyping, but over the last 10 years, the technology has evolved to encompass low to medium volume production runs, process validation and production tooling.
Industry 4.0 has recently put pressure on companies to differentiate themselves and be more productive in both labor and operation efficiency. Additive manufacturing exemplifies this by enabling mass customization and reducing the need for inventory and lean manufacturing.
Below: How East/West Industries supported increased demand by rethinking their production process.
The last two years have put a spotlight on the benefits of additive manufacturing and bringing production capabilities in-house to avoid supply chain disruptions. The ability to 3D print parts on-demand and from any location has proven to be a valuable tool in reducing long lead times and inventory housing costs. 3D printing has become a widely established and proven technology on the factory floor, with many businesses investing in expanding their existing capabilities with multiple technologies and additional machines. The future of 3D printing in manufacturing is production.
Additive Manufacturing vs. Traditional Manufacturing
Traditional manufacturing refers to subtractive and forming processes that often require tooling and labor-intensive job setups. Additive Manufacturing, on the other hand, is a process of adding materials to themselves to create three-dimensional objects; even those with high complexity, without the need for tooling or secondary processes. Additive manufacturing delivers on-demand scheduling and shorter lead times as it requires little setup or manual intervention. This allows for flexibility to effortlessly move production from one part number to another to seamlessly adapt to changing demands.
Additive manufacturing also allows for customization of parts, where every part can be different. AM is transforming manufacturing by removing design limitations. The ability to iterate quickly and easily allows designers the freedom to test new ideas and designs and to create parts that were not possible with traditional manufacturing equipment.
3D printing for production demands new and increased software functionality for prototyping. There are more moving parts and procedures involved in manufacturing that need to be managed, and these processes are different in additive manufacturing over traditional manufacturing.
Prototyping requires only a few users, few systems and typically involves CMF, form and functional validation of a product. Manufacturing requires many users, roles and printers. Sometimes it involves multiple locations that need a higher level of both visibility internally and security externally. Printed parts must meet end-use quality and compliance standards. Printers need to be reliable and produce parts that are repeatable with the ability to provide users with analytical data on usages and even part performance data.
New Additive Manufacturing Hardware
As mentioned earlier, the 3D printing space is a relatively mature industry. Major players in this space, like Stratasys, have over thirty years of experience working with leading consumer goods, automotive, medical and defense suppliers to solve additive’s ultimate goal – manufacturing. In 2021 alone, Stratasys announced three new hardware products, spanning three technologies, each focused on solving key opportunities on the factory floor.
F770 FDM – Large capacity manufacturing aids
Stratasys has a long and highly regarded history of commercial-grade, extrusion-based FDM printers, commonly known by many in the industry as Fortus. These industrialized systems have been cranking out functional manufacturing tools, high-strength end-use parts and manufacturing aids for nearly two decades.
A recent review of customers’ needs saw there was an uptick in the demand for extremely large components, but these components had lower strength requirements than what are generally needed on the existing Fortus line of printers. As a result, Stratasys produced the F770 using, a machine with a 24”x24”x39” full heated build oven focused on size, reliability and repeatability using standard thermoplastics like ABS and ASA, rather than the long list of engineering-grade polymers like Nylons and Ultems found on the Fortus line.
The F770 uses many of the design and structural attributes of the F123 series of printers but steps up with more industrialized motion control and simplified material handling. The Stratasys F770 is ideal for the production of large prototyping, assembly tools and test fixtures leveraging the ease of use and proven abilities of the F123 series of printers when extreme performance polymers are not required.
Origin One P3 – High performance, short-run production
The second major manufacturing offer released in 2021 was the result of Stratasys’s acquisition of the materials-driven 3D printing developer Origin. The acquisition resulted in the creation of the Stratasys Origin One system using P3 technology. P3, short for Programmable Photopolymerization, is a system where a vat of liquid resin is exposed to UV light, similar to DLP technology, to produce parts. The differences between P3 and DLP really start to take off from there.
The Origin One system is based around process control with the ability to monitor and actively manipulate a wide range of exposure and environmental parameters to allow the high-speed production of end-use parts, using the most durable thermoset plastics available. Understanding the need for pushing the envelope on materials development, Stratasys has chosen to focus on the hardware and software side of the Origin One and leave the materials development to 3rd party developers like Henkel-Loctite, BASF and Covestro. These partnerships allowed Origin One to launch with an impressive range of materials that can rival and exceed those of other manufacturing processes. The big disrupter is that the Origin One can process these materials at a high throughput that allows for small and medium volume production runs without the need for injection mold tooling. P3 opens the door for fast, on-demand manufacturing with cutting-edge materials.
H350 SAF – Scalable medium volume end-use parts
Last, but certainly not least on Stratasys’s list of machines targeting the industrialization of AM, is the H350. The H350 represents the launch of a new technology called SAF. SAF, or Selective Area Fusion, is a process of building a part layer by layer by melting true nylon powder using selectively absorbed infrared heat.
The part is supported by the unfused powder around the part and allows for tightly packed, fully three-dimensional builds of hundreds of small parts at a time. Yes, you heard that correctly, hundreds of parts per build. Because of the nature of the build process, it takes roughly 12 hours to print the entire build volume of the machine, regardless of the pack density. This heavily favors the H350 for applications where high part throughput is needed. With the ability for one machine to print two full builds within a 24 cycle, the H350 can truly begin to offset the need for injection molding.
The parts from the H350 are also competitively priced as the powdered PA11 material is low cost and extremely high strength. Producing parts with improved surface finish over the existing thermoplastic printing process and near isotropic part performance positions the H350 as a leading tech to bolster manufacturing supply chains.
Selecting a Solution
When selecting an additive manufacturing solution tailored around production and Industry 4.0, many of the same core driving factors apply as they do for more traditional applications.
- What are the material requirements?
- What is the biggest part?
- What is the production volume?
Where things get different though, is when we begin to look at how a new capability can have a greater impact on an operation. This is where the questions asked become centered more around the organization’s processes as a whole rather than the parts themselves.
- What parts in my supply chain are high risk?
- Is my current process scalable?
- Are many low turn-over parts sitting in inventory?
- Can internally controlling assembly fixturing and tooling improve quality?
- What is the existing process for updating parts/tooling through the product life cycle?
- Does the existing process allow for flexibility in addressing on-demand or customized part needs?
We can quickly see that these questions jump from engineering-focused to process control and operational concerns. Because of this move from a focus on the part to a focus on an overall process solution, it is important to ensure that people at all levels of the organization are involved in the conversation. To help with these conversations, both TriMech and Stratasys have over fifty years of combined experience connecting manufactures with both engineering and operational software and hardware solutions.
To further explore how additive manufacturing can impact your business’s production and supply chain concerns, please reach out to TriMech’s Additive Solutions Team.