Since the advent of mechanization in the 18th century, manufacturing hasn’t changed all that much. Sure—machines have become more sophisticated, processes have been optimized and scaled, and materials have improved. But the fundamental principles remain the same. Yet, more recently, the advantages of additive manufacturing have completely changed the game.
In the early 1980s, additive manufacturing began changing how things were done. This has become particularly apparent over the last several years, thanks to massive technological innovations. Today, manufacturers of all sizes can enjoy faster production times, reduced costs, and greater design freedom.
In this article, we’ll briefly go into what additive manufacturing is, how it works, and the six advantages of additive manufacturing.
Additive Manufacturing: What to Know
Additive manufacturing may be a mouthful, but it’s just another name for what we know as 3D printing and rapid prototyping. It’s the process of creating three-dimensional objects by adding material, particle by particle. This stands in sharp contrast to traditional manufacturing methods, which subtract materials from the machining or molding process.
At the heart of additive manufacturing is computer-aided design (CAD) software. CAD directs machines in the assembly and fabrication of digital models. This can be anything from a simple child’s toy to an intricate engineering component.
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3D printing has already revolutionized the manufacturing space. It has allowed businesses to engage in on-demand production and small batch customization; it’s also led to a substantial reduction in both material waste and costs, and it has dramatically improved part reliability with precise tolerances.
There is no doubt that as additive manufacturing technology grows more sophisticated, 3D printing will become more ubiquitous. Though it isn’t likely to replace traditional manufacturing, it does complement existing processes in ways that you can harness today.
Additive Manufacturing Categories
There are several categories of additive manufacturing, each offering its own unique pros and cons. The method you ultimately choose will depend on the specs of the objects you intend to produce. Let’s take a brief look at each additive manufacturing method.
Created in Japan in 1981 by Dr. Hideo Kodama, stereolithography is the first 3D printing method ever invented. It relies on a photochemical process, using a laser to cure photosensitive resin, layer by layer, into an object. In other words, cross-linking monomers and oligomers into polymers.
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
The FDM method involves heating a continuous filament of thermoplastic material and extruding it, layer by layer, to build up the object. It’s also known as fused filament fabrication or filament freeform fabrication.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS uses a laser to selectively fuse small particles of additive materials, like metal or nylon, into a solid object. Due to its flexibility, SLS can be used across a variety of applications, from aerospace parts and ducting to medical device manufacturing.
- Directed Energy Deposition (DED)
This method involves using a high-powered laser or electron beam to melt and deposit material onto a substrate. Other names for DED include plasma arc melting, direct metal deposition, and laser metal deposition. DED is a common choice for low-volume productions.
Otherwise known as direct ink writing or multi-jet modeling, this method uses inkjet technology to deposit droplets of photopolymer or wax onto a platform. A UV light then strikes the platform to generate a three-dimensional object from the photosensitive raw material.
Also referred to as powder bed and inkjet, it uses a print head to deposit a liquid binder material onto a bed of powders, such as foundry sand, granular ceramics, or certain metals. These are then fused into a solid object. Binder jetting is commonly used in the fabrication of sand-casting molds, an alternative to injection molding.
Also known as laminated object manufacture or selective deposition lamination, this is a method that involves bonding thin layers of material, such as metal sheets or paper, to create an object. Common applications include architectural modeling, topographical visualizations, ergonomic studies, and more.
The Top 6 Advantages of Additive Manufacturing
Now that we understand what additive manufacturing is and how it works let’s consider the core benefits of additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing offers substantial environmental benefits by enabling on-demand production. This means improved material efficiency, increased energy savings, and a net reduction in your carbon footprint.
2. Cost Savings
For many business owners, this is one of the major advantages of additive manufacturing. Simply put, additive manufacturing processes entail lower costs than traditional methods.
This is especially true for low-volume production runs since you’ll only use the materials needed in the printing process. You’ll never have to worry about overproduction.
Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing gives you the ability to create highly customized parts and designs. Whether you need to quickly upgrade a small detail, fabricate a discontinued legacy part, or tailor an entire production run to meet a specific need, 3D printing makes it a breeze.
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4. Rapid Prototyping
Additive manufacturing gives you the power to produce prototypes faster than ever before. Not only does this expedite time-to-market (TTM), it drastically reduces the potential for error. By building several prototypes in quick succession, you can even iron out any manufacturing or design flaws before committing to a production run.
5. Flexibility and Design Freedom
The ability to easily make design changes and produce complex geometric shapes is one of the major draws of additive manufacturing.
Many companies now use 3D printing to generate complex components that were nearly impossible to achieve using traditional methods. In fact, the technology is unmatched when it comes to creating geometries that maximize stability while minimizing weight.
6. Streamlined Production
In contrast to traditional methods that require a large inventory of materials, 3D printing allows you to consolidate your assembly into a single part. This translates to a reduction in inventory stock, carrying costs, and all of the associated supply chain and logistical headaches.
Build Additive Manufacturing Advantages Into Your Business
There’s no doubt about it: Additive manufacturing will continue making waves in the manufacturing space. The only real question is, “how can my business take advantage of the top six additive manufacturing benefits?”
Start by partnering with a 3D technologies expert.
With over 35 years of experience under our belts, we can help you implement and optimize 3D printing capabilities. Our experts are here to assist you every step of the way—from strategy and integration to lifetime support.
Contact us today to learn more about how Spatial can help propel your additive manufacturing workflows into the future.
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