Technology is applying scientific knowledge to solve problems. There may be no better example than additive manufacturing and its impact on manufacturing. 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. Even without a 3D printer of your own, you can still outsource 3D printed parts for use in prototyping and product development.
Manufacturing professionals use “additive manufacturing” interchangeably with “3D printing.” Technically, “additive manufacturing” is the industrial term for the process. Therefore, additive manufacturing or additive layer manufacturing (ALM) is the creation of objects by depositing and fusing layers of material.
Even historically, if we go back to Henry Ford, innovators have realized that manufacturing processes and production need improvements. The improvements could be for speed, safety, or to realize cost savings. For Ford, the introduction of the conveyor belt to the assembly line sped up production considerably. New technology impacts nearly every significant manufacturing improvement. Additive manufacturing is no different. Advances in manufacturing, from additive manufacturing, are substantial, and even more, there are more advancements to come.
Additive manufacturing has impacted speed, safety, and savings. It has 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. The lack of available parts that parts manufacturers no longer produced at mass led to increased cost. However, through 3D printing, companies can more efficiently recreate that part and improve 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 up as much as it drives costs down.
Traditionally improving speed, safety, and cost savings are not considered solutions, but rather benefits. Many of the problems solved by 3D printing also result in the realization of those benefits. However, additive manufacturing is solving specific problems in the manufacturing sector. HP has innovative technology that benefits engineers and manufacturers alike.
In manufacturing, complex parts that require additional assembly or a multi-step process for production slows down production. These parts also need more materials and have a significantly higher labor cost to produce. With additive manufacturing, complex parts are no problem. If it’s a single part in its design, it prints as a single part. In short, it makes a complicated part more straightforward, at least from the manufacturing perspective.
In several industries, developing lightweight but durable and strong parts has proven difficult. While lattice structures achieve these goals, traditional manufacturing methods, like injection molding, cannot produce lattice structures and maintain 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, material availability constraints manufacturers. These limitations are especially true in traditional manufacturing and production settings. In addition, some conventional materials are vulnerable to fatigue from their environments or the pressure applied to them. Most newer materials, available through additive manufacturing, are durable and versatile.
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. This problem is prominent 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. In 3D printing, users can print parts on-demand and as needed. Therefore, businesses won’t need on-hand inventory, saving valuable space for more production lines or factory equipment.
Whether it’s defective products or human error, losing production ability results in high costs to quality and raw materials. In turn, prices go up, reputation suffers (with delays or product issues), and 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.