3D Printing, known to many in the industrial space as “additive manufacturing,” is a term that covers a broad spectrum of technologies and processes in the modern world. This unique manufacturing strategy allows for the time and cost-effective creation of complex parts and components.

Though the popularity of 3D printing is growing, many people still don’t understand what it is, how it works, and what can be accomplished with it. As specialists in the Additive Manufacturing space, the team at Croft have plenty of insights to offer. We’re in a unique position to share 30 years of engineering, manufacturing, and 3D printing knowledge to drive the adoption of this new technology.

What Is 3D Printing/ Additive Manufacturing?

The term 3D printing refers to manufacturing processes that print components using a layer by layer additive process. This strategy is a direct contrast to the traditional methods used for production that involve moulding, casting, or subtracting materials.

In recent years, additive manufacturing has had a notable impact on the way that products are manufactured, in industries ranging from healthcare to automobile construction. The technology has prompted a new way of approaching the product development lifecycle, with a focus on reduced waste, expense, and lost time.

If adopted globally, additive manufacturing has the potential to make a significant difference to the global economy, creating new industries, professions and service opportunities. The question is, how does 3D printing work?

How 3D Printing Works

There are 7 ASTM-recognised methods of additive manufacturing available today, including:

• Material jetting: Material is dispensed selectively onto a build platform, layer by layer.
• Powder bed fusion: Thermal energy fuses regions of a powder bed layer by layer.
• Material Extrusion: Material is drawn through a nozzle, heated, and deposited layer by layer.
• Vat photo polymerisation: Liquid resin is cured layer by layer on a build surface.
• Sheet lamination: Sheets of materials are bonded to form a 3D part.
• Direct energy deposition: Thermal energy deposit materials layer by layer.
• Binder jetting: Powder-based materials and liquid binders build a component layer by layer.

At Croft AM, we specialise in Selective Laser Melting, which is a form of powder bed fusion manufacturing. The benefits of this technique allow us to deliver highly precise and accurate results for our clients, using stainless steel powder.

Though there are many different types of AM technique available, all of the methods maintain the same focus on “layering” materials. Additionally, every process for 3D-printing also uses Computer Aided Design or “CAD” models to guide the development of designs.

The Benefits of 3D Printing

In many applications, traditional manufacturing and design processes would impose various restrictions on innovative companies. Increasingly complex manufacturing processes lead to expensive fixtures and tooling, as well as a growing need for complex parts.

Additionally, because traditional manufacturing processes are “subtractive,” they can waste a significant amount of the original material used for the component. Alternatively, 3D printing uses as little material as possible, by adding material layer by layer to each build. The AM process allows manufacturers and designers to challenge the constraints of conventional projects.

With greater freedom, it’s possible to:

• Customise components: 3D printing allows businesses to personalise products according to the individual needs and requirements of each client. At Croft, we can deliver bespoke solutions that are carefully tailored to our customer’s project.

• Create intricate designs: The growth of additive manufacturing has seen an increase in digitally-designed products that can be built according to increasingly complex specifications. These complicated parts would not be able to be produced in any other way. This has made a significant impact on the industrial world, where elements are being developed that are both stronger and more lightweight than their predecessors. For instance, notable examples exist in the aerospace industry, where businesses like Boeing are already building ultra-lightweight seats for their planes.

• Eliminate or reduce tooling: One of the most labour, time and cost-intensive stages of any product development process in manufacturing is tooling. Additive manufacturing eliminates the need for tool production and reduces the various costs associated with it. The lack of tooling is one of the most attractive propositions of 3D printing. It’s even possible to design components that have no assembly requirements thanks to intricate features.

• Improve energy efficiency: 3D Printing is quickly becoming an energy-efficient technology that protects the environment by wasting fewer materials, and supporting stronger, longer-lasting components.

Today, 3D printing processes are more accessible than ever before. Once the exclusive solution of large multi-national corporations, additive manufacturing has now become a valuable component of many companies, regardless of their size.

At Croft AM, we help businesses from any background to discover the benefits of 3D printing for themselves. Contact us today to find out more about your additive manufacturing opportunities.

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