Category: Additive Manufacturing

28 Nov 2017

Not Just for Parts: Additive Manufacturing Delivers Benefits with Tooling

The buzz around Additive Manufacturing (AM) tends to focus on making parts—how making production parts via AM brings a revolution to some manufacturers and disrupts some established industries. But while impressive, AM parts aren’t the whole story. An important potential use for AM is often left out, and it’s one that could impact dramatically more manufacturers in more industries. That’s tooling.

First, any discussion of AM for tooling must address the obvious—that there are some instances where AM can eliminate the need for tooling entirely. Companies doing short-run production might simply use AM to create production parts directly, bypassing the need to create tooling at all and shortening their product’s the time to market. But when AM simply can’t compete with the speed and volume of the production line, manufacturers can still reap some of the rewards AM is delivering to other industries.

The automotive industry is a prime example. While AM is in use for some end-use components in custom or small-quantity automobile manufacturers, the larger automotive companies don’t find AM a practical answer for production parts. But tooling for production, testing, design validation, and more could be another matter.

Have It All: Faster, Cheaper, More Complex

One of the primary problems with tooling is time. The product design is finished and you’d really rather have the parts in-hand yesterday, but you’ve not only got to contend with production time for the parts, but also production time for the tooling to produce those parts.

Enter additive manufacturing, which lets you make tooling cheaper and faster than the traditional-machining route. Aerospace provides a case study. While polymer-based materials aren’t being used for flight applications, their use has gained traction in production tooling, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Particularly for specialized, one-off parts, the speed and cost reduction of producing fixtures, jigs, and other precision tools rather than waiting for them to be machined from metal can be immense. One small aerospace company converted to making tooling in-house via AM, and their tooling timeline shrank to about a week to produce equipment, versus 12-14 weeks for outsourcing parts to machine shops.

That time savings ultimately meant improved ROI because end-use parts could be made sooner. But the in-house AM work also directly saved money on the tooling itself—in-house AM parts cost only about a quarter of the outsourced, machined parts. In general, companies find that AM saves them money, for any of a variety of reasons, including reduced time, reduced material usage, easier rework or replacement, and so forth.

In the automotive industry, tooling is high value and low quantity. By some accounts, according to the Harbour Results consulting firm, car manufacturers spend $50-75 million on tooling each year for each car model, simply for updates and improvements. Any chance to reduce that cost, via faster production or by creating fewer parts because AM can make more complex shapes, could be hugely valuable.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa has recently converted to using 3D printers to create custom tooling, thereby reducing tool-development time by a whopping 95%. In 2016, they saved $160,000 in tooling costs, and they expect to save even more this year (Additive Manufacturing Magazine). One of the additional benefits of AM tooling they cite is the ability to adjust designs or replace worn parts without redoing the entire tool. Another is the flexibility of iterating manufacturing aids, and making improvements via trial and error, which simply isn’t practical when working with external suppliers.

The other notable benefits of AM parts apply to tooling as well, namely the ease with which AM can create complex shapes, particularly internally, and the ability to customize. Once tooling designers start thinking in terms of AM rather than subtractive machining, they can make tools lighter and even stronger in places. The medical industry provides examples of these benefits, such as “tools” that help surgeons learn how to perform particular surgeries or practice for specific procedures on individual patients.

And there’s another benefit to faster, cheaper production of tooling that might contribute to ROI in a more indirect way: employee comfort and satisfaction. As Volkswagen Autoeuropa notes, one benefit of in-house AM work is the freedom to respond to technician concerns and requests to make ergonomic improvements to tooling. Overall, with a faster time-to-tool, tooling can be optimized more readily, which might not only improve the workplace for the employee, but is likely also to result in better tooling.

Industries continue to buzz with the latest in AM developments, such as AM printers that print in metal—like MarkForged’s Metal X—and other innovations. But it’s not that everything can or should be made via AM. It’s more that AM continues to offer new tools in the arsenal for every industry to consider, especially companies and industries that are searching for every technological development and every advantage to remain competitive. It’s worth every manufacturer considering if there isn’t some aspect of your production line that AM could improve. Perhaps incorporating AM could save your organization money and time, and perhaps it could even change company culture by improving the lives of your employees.



17 Nov 2017

Additive Manufacturing Deep Dive (Part 2): Every Part is Custom

In Part 1 of this blog series, we talked about how additive manufacturing (AM) has improved and even shaken up processes in traditional manufacturing industries, such as GE incorporating 3D printed parts into their jet engine manufacturing process. While the change may seem revolutionary, it isn’t actually surprising that a company already manufacturing products on a large scale would turn to new methods. What’s more surprising is industries we don’t normally associate with “manufacturing” that are discovering how AM can transform their processes also, sometimes on a very small scale.

Markforged X3 Industrial Printer

Three basic factors are driving the adoption of manufacturing processes by unlikely industries: new printable materials, cost-effective production of complex structures, and the ability to customize every single part.

Materials Innovation
First of all, the new materials that can now be used in AM broaden the scope of possible applications substantially. No more are 3D parts rendered in only plastic or metal—everything from carbon fiber and glass to food products and live cells can now be printed. (If some of these materials aren’t available for private or commercial use yet, they are being actively developed.)

One of the earliest medical applications for AM was the production of standard designs for medical instrumentation, such as guides to help train surgeons, as well as implants like hip joints and prosthetics like hands. Early efforts of bio-printing, like implants, involved printing “scaffolds” with bio-compatible materials and then allowing live cells to grow over them. Those approaches may still be the most prevalent, but these days, printing directly with live cells is also becoming possible, which will allow the medical industry to directly fabricate tissue implants with compatible cells.

In addition, the next frontier in AM will be creating a single part from multiple materials, down to the micron level.  On a more everyday level, the ability to print with multiple materials can yield a wide variety of customized combinations of parts, devices, tooling that meet the application requirements for strength, weight while minimizing costs.

Complex Structures at No Additional Cost

Metal parts

Second, the ability to create very complex, even organic, internal shapes makes AM possible at all and even well-suited for some purposes. The fact that added part-complexity doesn’t increase printing cost—and could even reduce it, due to less material used—also removes constraints in part design.  As materials and processes become more widespread and mainstream, more and more industries are getting into the action. Shoe manufacturers can create custom-fit shoes for athletes. Glasses manufacturers can custom-print glasses (minus the lenses) for an individual’s specific anatomy. And of course, individual engineers, artists, or enthusiasts can create their own devices, household objects, or other work.

It’s clear that additive manufacturing can be hugely beneficial for just about everyone. For traditional manufacturers, it speeds up a manufacturing process, which gets products to market faster and improves the bottom line. AM is also good for manufacturers involved in more customized production. As one medical-device manufacturer says, AM helps them bring products to clinical use faster, develop better therapies, and personalize patient care.   We’re already reaping benefits on all sides, and we’re still only seeing the tip of the iceberg of where AM can take us.



22 Sep 2017
Additive Manufacturing Lunch & Learn

Additive Manufacturing Lunch & Learn

Join us at our luncheon November 7th in Perrysburg, OH.

Additive Manufacturing Lunch & LearnAttend this event and stay up-to-date on new technologies that can reduce your manufacturing and QA bottlenecks.

The Lunch and Learn will feature:

  • Portable metrology solutions for inspection
  • Handheld 3D scanners for reverse engineering
  • The Markforged Industrial Series and Metal 3D printers for tooling and prototyping

If your CMM is becoming a bottleneck in your organization due to speed and throughput, come to our workshop and learn about alternative inspections solutions to improve your throughput.

Register today.


20 Sep 2017
Advanced Manufacturing

Advanced Manufacturing Technology Show 2017

AMTS 2017 to take place October 18-19 at the Dayton Convention Center

Visit us at booth number 112!

AMTSAMTS is the place where manufacturing specialists across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky connect with manufacturing suppliers.

Additionally, AMTS offers an extraordinary education for manufacturing leaders:

  • Engineers will learn how to make it better, faster and more cost effective
  • Plant managers will see how to make processes more efficient
  • Equipment operators can test the latest equipment and technology and enjoy live demonstrations
  • Purchasers will get a chance to evaluate competitors side by side – with hundreds of leading-edge tooling and manufacturing suppliers in attendance

Industries represented at the conference include aerospace, energy, automotive, communications, defense, transportation, environmental, and medical.

Learn more and register to attend.

08 Sep 2017

Additive Manufacturing Deep Dive (Part 1): Expanding Manufacturing Scope

Traditional notions of “manufacturing” have been turned on their heads with additive manufacturing (AM). The additive process delivers a variety of benefits that expand AM’s reach and applicability within—and far beyond—traditional fields.

Many different materials can be used in AM, everything from metal to carbon fiber to food or even live biological cells. Because of the additive process, designers can create increasingly sophisticated parts, including complex internal structures that couldn’t be machined, but that preserves part strength and structural integrity while also saving money and weight. Because it’s easy with AM to make those internal structures, even when expensive materials are used, part makers often need to use less of them, while still being able to make optimal use of material properties—some estimates suggest that AM processes can save as much as 90% of raw material costs. And beyond the part level, the sheer speed of creating parts can make entire manufacturing processes faster.

But what’s even more impressive about AM is that it’s making “manufacturing” relevant to unconventional industries—even to situations where every part is custom. In this first of two blog posts, we’ll explore how AM can bolster classic manufacturing processes, and in part two, we’ll look at the growing case for AM to make custom parts, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

AM Shakes Up Traditional Manufacturing

First and foremost, AM has made the concept of rapid prototyping possible for manufacturers by dramatically reducing the time required to create new prototypes for evaluation and testing. For many product or part developers, rapid prototyping has meant a fundamental change in the design process, relying more heavily on fitting actual prototypes together than on spinning and testing computer models. Faster prototyping means faster design and a shorter timeline for getting products to market.

In fact, one AM services provider estimates that by utilizing digital manufacturing throughout the product development lifecycle—from rapid prototyping to product launch—development time could be more than halved over traditional manufacturing methods.

But the product development phase isn’t the only way AM can improve traditional manufacturing. AM can make tooling for the manufacturing process cheaper and faster. In addition, sometimes AM can even produce parts on-demand throughout the process—whether for updates to the product line, updates or replacements for tooling, or short-run parts themselves.

Of course, for manufacturers who pump out hundreds of thousands of parts every week—or day—AM is best used for prototyping and tooling. But for other industries, such as aerospace, that need product design as well as small-quantity production, the ability to produce actual production parts has delivered even more benefits. Real-world examples include Boeing, which uses an AM process to build parts for aircraft. GE has also begun incorporating 3D printing into its jet engine manufacturing process, allowing for a reduction of part weight and yielding a part that’s five-times more durable. In 2016, NASA reported a dozen successful test firings of an all-3D-printed rocket engine. And SpaceX has tested an engine for its reusable Raptor propulsion system that contained more than 40% 3D parts by mass.

Then there are the industries that we don’t normally associate with the term “manufacturing.” The capability of AM to make changes to a design easily, to create custom parts with every printing, and to create those complex internal structures have driven a huge interest in AM by companies in such far-ranging industries as medical devices, food, household items, and automotive supplies.

In the next blog post, we’ll look at industries new to the idea of   AM’s perfect suitability for creating custom parts. But it all comes down to this bottom line: regardless of where AM is plugged into a manufacturing process—whether at the prototyping stage or production—AM speeds it up, and the faster products get to market, the better for the manufacturer.

Learn more about our 3D Printer offerings