While the additive manufacturing process has been around for 30 years, its use for production applications has recently accelerated due to improvements that enable faster production, high-quality materials, and higher volumes of quality parts. industrial. These technical improvements have resulted in business benefits such as supply chain agility and responsiveness, speed to scale and, for low volume production, there are cost advantages over other types of manufacture.
The evolution and continuous improvements in additive manufacturing technologies and materials have led to an increase in business opportunities, and organizations are finding many ways to capitalize on these opportunities. Some manufacturing companies are exploring additive manufacturing as a new solution for producing parts amid supply chain disruptions. Moreover, a report published by SmarTech Analysis revealed that additive manufacturing reached around $10.6 billion in 2021.
The opportunities of additive manufacturing are so compelling that on May 6, President Biden announced a new initiative that will boost the use of 3D printing in national procurement. This initiative, called Additive manufacturing (AM Forward), plans to see big manufacturers such as GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Siemens Energy partner with smaller US-based vendors to help them make better use of 3D printing technology. In doing so, AM Forward will strengthen US supply chains, help reduce costs, and encourage investment in small and medium-sized businesses.
AM Forward marks an exciting time in the growth of 3D printing as US government officials have recognized the added value of additive manufacturing and are working to further accelerate its adoption into manufacturing practices. Many organizations are taking a fresh look at how additive manufacturing can benefit their business.
As companies think about how best to get started with additive manufacturing, we can see three types of opportunities:
1. Creation of personalized products
Additive manufacturing is ideal for quickly and inexpensively manufacturing individual parts and small batches of unique parts. Organizations manufacturing custom products, such as products with custom fits or having individual serial numbers, can easily generate the product designs using software and then produce those designs with an addendum. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes that require setup of tooling and manufacturing equipment, additive manufacturing requires no tooling, allowing parts to be directly printed with minimal effort and cost to get started. Additive manufacturing allows you to deliver a fully customized product at a lower cost thanks to the ease of customization with 3D technology.
Consider dentistry and orthodontics, for example. For years, conventional metal rings have dominated the market. Then, Invisalign shook up the industry with a new treatment modality made in stereolithography. The product is adapted to each patient while being more comfortable than traditional devices, easier to use and even more aesthetic. Invisalign was able to take advantage of 3D printing technology to quickly produce products tailored to each customer, which would be prohibitively expensive with traditional manufacturing methods.
Additive manufacturing offers customization possibilities that were previously not practical. For motorsport-inspired brand Kimoa, the use of additive manufacturing allows them to create custom 3D-printed carbon fiber composite e-bikes. These customizable frames, created by Arevo, allow the user to order bikes based on their individual measurements and aesthetic preferences. By using additive manufacturing, you can manufacture products in less time and with more customization options than ever before.
2. Explore new designs for performance and aesthetics
Because the additive manufacturing process is digital, engineers have more creative freedom in their designs. You can make geometries with additive manufacturing that would be impossible to create with computer numerical control (CNC) machining or injection molding.
These new geometries often improve engineering performance because they allow you to circumvent constraints present in traditional manufacturing processes, allowing for features such as undercuts and inaccessible holes. For example, lattices or organic structures can be made with additive manufacturing to create products with new mechanical advantages, excellent shock absorption and reduced material usage.
In one case, Rawlings developed a baseball glove that replaced traditional foam or wool pads in the fingers with 3D-printed elastomeric mesh pieces that were lighter, thinner, and more durable. By using the benefits of 3D printing, Rawlings was able to improve performance and create a better product that would hold up over time. While traditional materials can break down or degrade over time, additive manufacturing enables the use of innovative designs and materials that have high performance and longer useful lifespans than similar products made using conventional manufacturing methods.
3. Produce lower product volumes
Additive manufacturing allows you to produce lower quantities at a better price per part because no tooling is needed like in traditional manufacturing. Toolless manufacturing can open up new business opportunities for savvy makers. Because 3D printing technology can often produce small batches of products in a matter of weeks, it is ideal for companies that want to move quickly from rapid prototyping to low-volume production.
For example, rather than estimating demand and ending up with too much or too little of a product, you can enter the market with a smaller amount of product to test its viability. Then you can increase or decrease the production rate in response to market demands. You can also change the product design without incurring additional costs for new tooling.
There are many opportunities for companies to integrate additive manufacturing into their daily production. AM Forward will further enable small and medium enterprises to reap the benefits of additive manufacturing. The three types of opportunities covered here are available to businesses of all sizes. Due to the many benefits of using 3D technology, engineers who choose to use additive manufacturing will see these benefits in their own business.
About the Author
Bill KingPh.D., is co-founder and scientific director of quick ray, a cloud manufacturing and digital supply chain company. In 2018, the World Economic Forum named Fast Radius as Lighthouse Factory, one of the best digital factories in the world.
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