Intro To Additive Manufacturing: Prototyping Vs. Production

Additive manufacturing timeline

Not long ago, only a handful of companies offered additive manufacturing equipment.  There were very few material providers for these technologies, and the software for these printers were proprietary to those early equipment manufacturers.  But what was once four major players within the industry in the early 2000’s has exploded to over 170 different companies dedicated to the advancement of additive manufacturing.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, is the physical fabrication of a three-dimensional object through a layered material process.  Unlike traditional subtractive manufacturing methods that remove material, additive manufacturing places material only where it is needed.  Product designers and engineers upload a digital STL file from their CAD software to the printer, which then prints a solid part.  3D printing was originally created as a tool for engineers to develop physical prototypes that would improve their go-to-market process.  The technology has since evolved, and the world of 3D printing has exceeded its original intention.

As previously stated, there are countless technologies, materials and processes available for designers and engineers.  ABS plastic is the most commonly used material due to its availability on many platforms and cost effective price point.  There are soft materials that are ideal for grips and gaskets, high performance materials for aerospace applications, nylon materials that mimic strength requirements, and even metal materials that are now being used in automotive production lines or titanium for human implants.  There are so many applications now possible through 3D printing, advanced materials and enhanced technologies and processes.

Learn more about Technologies, Materials and Applications.

Rapid Prototyping

Creating new or redesigning legacy products can be a real challenge, especially if the only output your design team can evaluate is a 3D rendering on a computer monitor.  Having a physical object in hand can make a significant difference.  From napkin sketch to final product, prototyping with 3D printing provides tangible benefits.

Accelerate Time to Market → Exceed the typical design cycle schedule by 3D printing your ideas overnight and having your parts available the next morning.  Reduce your timeline and get to market faster.

Fail Fast, Fail Often → 3D printing enables your engineering team to identify mistakes early in the process.  Products are hardly ever right the first time, mitigate the time lost with rapid prototyping.

Cost Effective → The traditional method of developing a prototype can be time consuming and expensive.  Multiple fabrication methods, reserving time on production equipment or not having access to the right technology can be costly.

Enhanced Creativity → Never underestimate the power of creativity for your design team.  Rapid prototyping is an efficient tool for engineers to quickly evaluate and improve on their ideas.

Product Testing → Form, fit and function.  Feel the ergonomics of your 3D printed prototype, squeeze your piece to pressure fit an assembly or drop test the part to evaluate functional strength.

Additive Manufacturing For Production

While rapid prototyping remains a sweet spot for 3D printing, the concept of additive manufacturing for production has become a reality within the past five years.  In fact, it’s the reason for the expedited growth in the marketplace.  Assembly lines and manufacturers across the globe have integrated additive manufacturing as a flexible solution to increase production and decrease cost.  To learn more about how different industries are using additive manufacturing (AM), visit Additive Manufacturing/Industries.

Improve JIT Manufacturing → Additive manufacturing has proven to be a valuable resource for those who wish to increase their response times with external suppliers and improve internal workflows.  Today’s technology provides high-quality, reliable and repeatable results… valuable for any production facility.

Short-Run Production → Bypass expensive tooling costs and lengthy leads with additive manufacturing.  Depending on the part size and quantity, AM has proven to be a cost effective alternative to injection molding.  Thanks to the advancements in materials, AM equipment can produce parts that precisely replicate the end-use product.

Customization → Imagine printing 10,000 parts all with unique identifiers?  This is beneficial for end user products, assembly lines and other applications where slight modifications can prove to be a differentiator in the marketplace.

Manufacturing Aids → Otherwise known as a Jig or Fixture, these parts are made to improve assembly and production line efficiencies.  Due to the complexity or difficulty to create manufacturing aids, engineers are now printing them on the fly.  Whether it’s fixing a problem or improving a process, AM is a viable solution on the production floor.

Sustainable → Compared to subtractive fabrication methods, additive manufacturing only places material where it’s needed—thereby reducing waste and decreasing carbon footprint.  AM is proven to be an environmentally friendly manufacturing method.

Learn more about Technologies, Materials and Applications.

The Intro to AM is designed to educate and inform our clients about 3D printing through simple and effective messaging.  If you’d like to learn about other subjects not already presented.  We want to hear from you, what would you like to learn more about!

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