Technology can be defined as the application of scientific knowledge to solve problems and there may be no better example of that than additive manufacturing and the ways in which it has changed the manufacturing sector. While there are myriad issues within the manufacturing sector that cannot be solved through technological means, the spectrum of issues and various benefits of 3D printing may make it one of the most advantageous developments since automation.
Additive manufacturing, as a term, is sometimes used interchangeably with 3D printing as it is, technically, the industrial term for the process. So, additive manufacturing or additive layer manufacturing (ALM) is the process by which objects are created by depositing and fusing layers of material. Those layers are determined by computer-aided design or 3D object scanners that provide details on how to create the structures.
Even historically, if we go back to Henry Ford (and even farther), innovators have realized that manufacturing processes and production need improvements whether it be for speed, safety, or to realize cost savings. For Ford, it was the introduction of the conveyor belt to the assembly line which sped up production considerably. Nearly every significant manufacturing improvement has been defined by technology. Additive manufacturing is no different. Its introduction to the manufacturing space has made some significant improvements and promises to make even more.
Arguably, additive manufacturing has been able to impact each of the three benefits noted (speed, safety, and savings) and has further enabled innovations in products and parts that have improved their reliability. Further, there was a time when legacy parts meant machines that needed repair could become obsolete. Once a part went out of mass production, a machine needing repair or maintenance, and requiring that legacy part needed to be replaced itself, often at a much higher cost. Now, through 3D printing, companies can recreate that part, and do so more efficiently and with, in some cases, improvements to its functionality and reliability.
Finally, as the technology improves and spreads across multiple industries, 3D printers and their materials become more affordable. As the cost decreases, more manufacturers, more companies, can afford to enter the space. That, in turn, drives innovation as much as it drives costs down as well.
Traditionally improving speed, safety, and saving costs are not considered solutions, but rather benefits, many of the problems solved by 3D printing also result in the realization of those benefits. However, there are specific problems in the manufacturing sector that are solved through additive manufacturing.
At times, in manufacturing, complex parts that require additional assembly or a multi-step process for production not only slow down production but require more materials and often have a significantly higher labor cost. With additive manufacturing, complex parts are no problem. In fact, if it’s designed as a single part, it’s printed as a single part. In short, it makes a complex part more simple, at least for the manufacturing aspect.
In several industries, developing parts that are lightweight but durable and strong has proven difficult. While it has long been recognized that lattice structures achieve these goals, traditional manufacturing methods, like injection molding, just cannot produce lattice structures in a way that maintains part integrity. Enter 3D printing which can create the necessary parts while keeping them lightweight, durable, strong, and cheaper to produce.
For many parts in production, the material choice has been limited to what is available, especially in traditional manufacturing and production environments. However, some traditional materials are vulnerable to fatigue or just can’t withstand the environments or pressures they’re under for the amount of time that newer materials, available through additive manufacturing, can.
Designing warehouse space and factory floors can be a difficult task. One of the problems with design has to do with workflow and storage space, especially in ways that minimize safety concerns and decrease travel time for parts to production or finishing. Storing raw materials and parts can take a lot of valuable space on the factory or warehouse floors. 3D printing allows for parts to be printed on-demand, as needed, businesses won’t need as much on-hand inventory saving valuable space that can be used for more production lines or other necessary factory features.
Whether it’s defective products from process failures or human error, losing product or production runs results in significant costs to quality and raw materials. In turn, costs go up, reputation may suffer (with delays or product issues) and any lean manufacturing goals are beyond reach.
Not only can 3D printing help address scrap rates when the problem is limited to small batch runs where additive manufacturing can handle the job, but many materials powders can be reused resulting in savings there as well. Because the very principle of additive manufacturing is adding material until you have the product you only use what you need. Traditional manufacturing relies on creating a product and then, in post-production finishing, removing excess parts, cutting out notches or holes, as well as other modifications that result in material/scrap waste.
Finally, if defective products are the result of tool or equipment malfunctions, solutions may also be sought by creating customized components to improve that performance and reduce failures or compromises in product quality. In short, 3D printing can solve many of the root causes of scrap rate problems.
Some risks are inherent to the manufacturing environment and some of those risks have traceable causes related to the ways in which humans interact with objects, parts, and machines on the production lines where they work. Additive manufacturing can help mitigate some of those health and safety concerns through optimizing processes and parts that can decrease lifting for workers as well as producing more ergonomic parts and products to reduce strain on the body as well.
Further, rapid prototyping of parts allows organizations to thoroughly test and assess risks associated with the introduction of new parts or processes to production.
While 3D printing and additive manufacturing have undoubtedly revolutionized a lot of industries, the manufacturing sector has certainly been among the first to reap the most rewards. If you’re ready to explore how HP 3D printing can improve your company’s bottom line (and more) get in touch with the team at TPM today. We know what it’s like to have a growth mindset and we’re prepared to help you get the most out of technology.