Additive Manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing, is a concept that has been refined and developed over the last 30 years. The sustainability and potential of this manufacturing process has attracted the UK government’s attention, thus their promotion of adoption of this technology. Despite this, many SMEs still aren’t aware of what they can accomplish with an “AM” process.
According to Innovate UK, around $1.13 billion was spent on materials for additive manufacturing systems worldwide in 2017. The marketplace is growing at a rapid pace, with some experts predicting an overall value of £69 billion by 2025. For forward-thinking companies, now is the ideal time to get ahead of the curve.
Why Now Is the Right Time to Invest in AM
Historically, machinery and solutions for additive manufacturing were too expensive for smaller businesses to accommodate. However, as new technology emerges as part of the “fourth industrial revolution,” market entry is easier than ever. Whilst some UK companies have invested into the technology others have utilised the services of AM operators to deliver components that have an added value, such as cost savings and improved function.
Here are some of the benefits of additive manufacturing:
Faster Production and Time to Market
One of the most significant advantages of additive manufacturing is the production chain is shortened in comparison to many traditional manufacturing methods. The most significant area is that the parts are manufactured without tooling, thus decreasing costs and saving time. Complicated designs are manufactured layer by layer to near net shape. AM components can lead to streamlining within your supply chain and be part of your lean manufacturing, just-in-time strategy.
In the past, it would have taken days, or weeks to create a prototype, but additive manufacturing can deliver a model to the design team within a short period. In addition a number of prototypes could be manufactured simultaneously, thus reducing time to testing and delivery of concept to market. CAD models can be easily altered to improve the prototype and manufactured without new tooling costs. Traditionally, changing a model would lead to significant time delays caused by a change in tooling on the production line. AM solves this problem by allowing engineers to produce multiple versions of a blueprint in a cost-effective manner.
The Freedom to Design Complex Ideas
Different machinery is better suited to specific challenges. For instance, flat and easily formed parts are ideal for CNC machining, while water jet cutting is excellent for 2D shapes. However, for companies that want to create intricate and creative designs, there are few options more innovative than additive manufacturing. The restrictions of traditional construction aren’t present in AM, because components are constructed one layer at a time, allowing for greater complexity.
As for designing for particular subtractive processes, there are design rules to suit the layer by layer AM process. Design for Additive Manufacture (DfAM) allows parts to be lightweighted by removal of unnecessary material and incorporation of internal latticework whilst maintaining component strength. To decrease assembly costs and refine the supply chain, multi-part components can be manufactured as a single part. DfAM allows for an increase in part complexity that can also incorporate an improved function compared to conventional parts. There will be restrictions on things like the minimum size of features that can be accurately printed. However, if the right preparation process is used, then designers will have greater freedom to accomplish unique things for their business.
There are training options available for people who have experience with the manufacturing industry but want to learn more about the possibilities of additive manufacturing.
Adding Value through AM
GE systems, an aerospace company, has invested millions of dollars in AM and now has a metal AM component, a fuel nozzle on operational aircraft. However AM is not only for the perceived high-value industries, any and all companies could benefit and gain value through AM.
Although AM is not geared up for the mass production in the tens of thousands, it has been successfully used for low volume production. This can deliver economy of scale through manufacture of multiple parts simultaneously as well as multiple runs of the same component.
NASA famously put a plastic 3D printer onto the International Space Station to make spare parts. As AM does not use tooling, but it can make tooling, and reverse engineer obselete parts most companies can benefit from these advantages.
Subtractive methods of manufacturing like CNC milling and turning remove a lot of expensive material from an initialbillet, which leads to larger volumes of waste material. AM is the addition of material to form the part thus produces less material waste, which means a lesser impact on the environment .
Reaping the Rewards of AM
Within filtration a major operational challenge is to reduce the resistance of a filter to decrease pumping energy costs. Croft Filters identified that if the holes in the filter were aligned to the fluid flow the resistance would decrease. Croft tried conventional means to align the apertures, but accuracy was an issue, they turned to AM and realised a more efficient design through DfAM. As a result of this the company invested in metal AM, have designed innovative AM filter media that can deliver added value through improved functionality, decreased lead time and versility in maintenance.
Croft AM provides industrial metal AM components to the bespoke manufacturers, food and beverage, chemical, aerospace and motorsport industries amongst others. The company specialises in utilising the technology to deliver customer innovation in prototyping, low volume production and multi-part to single parts.
Both companies have gained value through the uptake of metal 3D printing to achieve innovation, new products and services. For all industrial sectors, with the increasing demand for lean manufacturing within industry 4.0, companies are seeking agile processes for success. Additive Manufacturing processes will become more crucial in the years ahead to overcome supply chain challenges and add value across many industries. Many experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before the future of manufacturing is transformed.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your additive manufacturing journey, have a look at what metal AM could do for you for your new product development and production .