Tag: Additive Manufacturing

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.

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18 Aug 2017

Daimler to use 3D Metal Replacement Parts

The uses of 3D Printing continues to grow, especially as more durable materials are becoming available on 3D Printers at a reasonable price point.  Metal printers, in fact, are becoming more affordable. We are excited about Markforged’s Metal X 3D printer which will be available sometime in September/October 2017 which will have a price point of under $100k.  If you need metal parts, that is something to consider!

I came across this article noting Daimler is starting to use 3D metal replacement parts for their Mercedes commercial trucks:

Daimler has been 3D printing plastic spare parts for older commercial trucks for about a year, and now it’s moving on to metal parts. The company recently 3D printed its first metal replacement part, a thermostat cover for older Mercedes trucks and Unimog utility vehicles. Daimler believes 3D printing could be a cost-effective way to keep spare parts available indefinitely.

Like other 3D-printed objects, the thermostat covers are made by adding material in layers until the proper shape is achieved. In this case, the material is an aluminum-silicon powder, which is melted using lasers.

Daimler claims the 3D-printed parts are just as strong as the die-cast aluminum versions installed on the trucks when they were new. The company also claims 3D printing is more cost effective than tooling up for a production run using conventional methods. That makes it perfect for producing spare parts, which are usually only ordered in small batches. It also means Daimler can make parts on demand, instead of warehousing large stockpiles.

Small batches is the key when it comes to 3D printing. It’s not meant to be a production-line ready, and pump out hundreds of parts per hour.  It solvs specific problems where a quick fix is needed to keep things working.  I think we will continue to see more examples of Additive Manufacturing in production environments as we move into 2018.

Download information about the Markforged Metal X here.

Let us know how we can help you.  We can share what we have learned in talking with our other customers.


18 Aug 2017
Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing: Pushing the Boundaries of What’s Possible

Additive ManufacturingFor decades, the way you manufactured parts—whether for prototyping, tooling, or production—was simple: machining metal. You started with a chunk or bar of metal and carved away bits of it to create the part. This subtractive process (now sometimes known as “subtractive manufacturing”) is a tried and true method, but it’s necessarily limiting, particularly when it comes to internals. Since the outer shell of a shape is often the strongest part of its structure, any breach of that—say, to add definition or carve away unnecessary internal bulk—compromises structural integrity.

But then there was a revolution in manufacturing, courtesy of additive manufacturing (AM). The term encompasses a variety of processes, including material extrusion, material jetting, and photopolymerization, but the most widely known and accessible of them is 3D printing. In the early days of 3D printers, parts could be made only of nylon or ABS “thread,” but as the technology has developed, manufacturers gain increasing flexibility and freedom through the ever-growing list of materials that can be used for printing—including metal.

Early uses of additive manufacturing focused on rapid prototyping for pre-production visualization models—that’s what plastic parts were mostly good for. But as materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, Kevlar, and metal join the toolset, and as quality is equal or superior to traditional manufacturing processes, AM can be utilized for a wide variety of needs. AM can make everything from quick, nylon parts for fit-checks to end-use metal or Kevlar parts for aircraft, automobiles, dental work, medical implants, and more.

Choosing AM yields a variety of benefits, from the strength and integrity of the parts and related assemblies to efficiency and cost savings in the manufacturing process. To start with, AM parts require less material to create and generate less waste, since you’re building parts up, not cutting them away. That means you can use less of expensive materials—along with new, high-performance materials—and make optimal use of material properties. AM parts also result in increasingly sophisticated designs, because designers can make complex, internal structures—the kind of shapes that simply can’t be machined—that preserve strength and structural integrity while significantly saving money and weight.

In addition, creating parts via AM also helps the overall manufacturing process. AM is faster: parts that once had to be sent out for weeks or months to be machined can now be created in a day—and AM devices can work around the clock. If necessary, small groups of parts in a production run, or individual ones, can be modified with little turnaround time and zero tooling changes required. In some cases, such as short-run production, it might even be more cost-effective to produce all parts via AM, rather than manufacturing molds, die, and tools with which to make the parts.

When additive manufacturing processes are integrated with engineering and simulation software, engineers and designers can simulate and test designs before they get to commercial production and significantly reduce the cost of pre-production development.

Additive manufacturing won’t ever replace what forging, casting, and machining excel at, but the new processes and materials can help reduce costs and shorten turnaround time for parts production. At the same time, AM also helps push the boundaries of what it’s possible to manufacture—such as replacement parts for the human body—as well as how production fundamentally works.