Intro To Additive Manufacturing: Additive Manufacturing Applications

The additive industry is driven by material enhancements that enable engineers and designers to apply the technology—solving current and future problems. As mentioned in previous chapters within the ​AM Playbook​, it’s important to identify which type of printing process or selected material will make the most sense for your application. While prototyping currently remains the main utilization of additive manufacturing in many industries, companies are increasingly finding other use cases, such as tooling or production.

For example, ​Jabil​ recently reported that 94% of Tier 1 automotive suppliers will expand their 3D printing capabilities, while 52% of those will outsource to third party service organizations. The automotive industry is just one industry example amongst many others. The following chapter will discuss the most prominent applications in Additive Manufacturing and help you identify what makes the most sense for you.

Additive Manufacturing Applications

Although the book of additive manufacturing continues to evolve with every new partnership and technological development, these are the most common and useful applications. The automotive, aerospace, industrial, healthcare & consumer goods​ industries are classified as the most progressive AM adopters on the planet. The following list of applications will include industry relevant examples and tangible benefits that one can expect from utilizing 3D printing.

Product Development

As of 2019, over 600,000 orthopedic implants utilized metal 3D printing.
This number is expected to exceed 4 million implants by 2027. (3D Printing Media Network)

Courtesy of Symbol Uniformia

The competition will not sit around and neither will you. Every industry that produces a good or offers a service is in constant competition, and must find ways to differentiate themselves. Bringing a product to market faster is oftentimes a strategic advantage.

Additive manufacturing has become the primary tool for product designers to iterate quicker, fail faster and increase speed to market. Putting a physical part in your clients hands for feedback or validating your design through testing are invaluable benefits within the product development lifecycle. Ask yourself, why aren’t we using 3D printing?


Studies show that 1 out of every 4 surgeons practices on patient specific,
3D-printed models prior to surgery. (Gartner Research)

Courtesy of Materialise

AM enables engineering teams to create specific and personalized products by making simple adjustments in CAD. ​Footwear (Nike, Adidas, etc.), cosmetic products (L’oreal), and wearable technologies (Apple) have adopted this type of practice to increase brand loyalty and improve margins. Luxury automobile manufacturer, Porsche, ​3D printed custom bucket seats meant to provide additional comfort for high performance vehicles. However, the most impressive printed and customizable designs come from the medical device and healthcare industry. ​Scientists, doctors and researchers are utilizing CT and MRI scan data to create patient-specific models that are improving outcomes and reducing operating room time. In addition, prosthetics, orthotics and dental applications have become a major part of the industry, ​representing 11% of AM applications worldwide​.

Complex or Impossible Geometries

Automobile manufacturer, BMW, realized a 58% savings in cost per fixture and
a 92% increase in lead time by 3D printing manufacturing aids. (TCT Magazine)

Conventional manufacturing and subtractive processes are inherently limited. Although these technologies are still commonplace for many industries and remain highly relevant, AM has become an ideal solution to produce parts with complex or impossible geometries.

​The very nature of AM is to additively produce a part by layering model and support material together then removing that support structure, leaving a three-dimensional part. Bowman International, one of the world’s largest bearings manufacturers, credits MJF technology as the solution​ to produce a bespoke ​Rollertrain​ cage with an interlocking mechanism that improved load bearing capacity and increased work life. According to the Bowman International team, this was only possible with 3D printing.

“This offers OEMs and plant maintenance engineers a split bearing which delivers superior performance and longer product life, alongside simplified mounting and maintenance procedures - not forgetting less vibration and noise during operation.” - Jacob Turner, Head of Bowman Additive Production

Low Volume Production and End-Use Parts

44% of aerospace & defense organizations utilize 3D printing for maintenance and repair applications,
while 39% have integrated AM for end-use, production parts. (Jabil)

Courtesy of Bowman Additive - Production

The advancements in thermoplastic and polymer materials such as PA11 Nylon, TPU or ULTEM9085 have equipped production engineers with the ability to 3D print parts that mimic the necessary isotropic strength properties required for production. For example, Airbus 3D prints interior cabin components that are fully integrated on planes today with ULTEM9085​, which is one of the few​ FST certified ​and printable materials available on the market. Designing for AM (DfAM) provides the additional benefit for designers to customize designs and create honeycomb internal structures that do not sacrifice structural integrity while simultaneously producing lighter weight components.

What about metal 3D printing? ​Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)​ boasts an impressive variety of metal materials that are printable and used in a plethora of production and end-use applications. Stainless steel is primarily used in the mold making industry, a variety of inconels with excellent mechanical properties for aerospace and even bio-compatible titanium parts that are used for orthopedic implants. According to a recent study, there are over ​600,000 implants estimated to be produced with the help of 3D printing​. This number is expected to exceed 4 million implants by 2027, which includes hip and knee joint replacements, reconstruction, and spinal implants.

Maintenance, Repair and Operations

Caterpillar adopted 3D printing in 1991 for prototyping purposes and has now fully integrated AM in every aspect of their business, especially MRO and spare parts. (3D

Courtesy of Aerosport Modeling & Design

MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and the spare parts industry is experiencing a massive transition. By 2025, 8% of SKUs will transition from traditional manufacturing to on demand additive manufacturing. Motivated by the need to reduce inventory costs and eliminate lengthy lead times, manufacturers are redefining the supply chain and becoming more self reliant.

When replacement parts are outdated or require a new tool set to produce, it becomes an expensive endeavor and can keep heavy equipment machinery, planes or automobiles from being operational. This becomes quite the bottleneck and jeopardizes the ability for that piece of equipment to earn revenue. On demand additive manufacturing is a proven alternative that is being applied by major OEMs. ​Caterpillar adopted 3D printing​ in 1991 for prototyping purposes and has now fully integrated AM in every aspect of their business, especially MRO and spare parts.

Spare Parts and Weight Reduction

The use of AM for automotive production is set to become a $10 billion business by 2030. (SmarTech Analysis)

As previously mentioned, ​weight reduction is an invaluable benefit that additive manufacturing provides due the ability to create and produce complex designs. In addition, part consolidation has proven to be just as important for those who wish to simplify their parts and supply chain requirements. ​Automotive suppliers, aerospace companies and defense organizations are notorious for outsourcing the design and production of multiple components needed for a singular assembly. ​Instead of waiting on several different facilities to ship its required piece of the puzzle, engineers are now 3D printing these assemblies on demand. ​This is a proven technique to reduce weight, increase time to market and eliminate expensive shipping, logistics and transportation costs.

Tooling and Manufacturing Aids

Courtesy of TTI-Norte

Arguably the most impactful and widely accepted application of additive manufacturing is its utilization for manufacturing aids, tooling, jigs and fixtures. Although it’s not as attractive as 3D printing customizable bucket seats or orthopedic implants, it happens to be the most economical option for many OEMs and production facilities​. Automobile manufacturer, BMW, ​realized a 58% savings in cost per fixture and a 92% increase in lead time by 3D printing manufacturing aids. Instead of relying on aluminum parts from CNC equipment, BMW decided ABS thermoplastic was a better and lighter alternative. These benefits and more are possible when AM technologies are adapted to the production facility:

  • Customized parts for improved functionality
  • Lightweighting of parts, reducing tool fatigue
  • Enhanced ergonomics

The Future of Additive Manufacturing Applications

The speed at which additive manufacturing is evolving and list of applications evergrowing is a significant indicator of where the future of prototyping and production is heading. While the market of technologies, materials and capabilities expand so will the confusion about which application makes the most sense for your organization. Unfortunately, no singular technology will solve all of your problems so it’s important to consult technology agnostic experts that have access to multiple processes, materials and have the expertise and technical know-how to guide you through. If you’re unsure how your industry is adapting to AM or want to learn more about how it can benefit your department, we invite you to contact us to learn more.

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