During the past several years, additive manufacturing (AM) has transitioned into a more desirable technology solution for organizations. In the early days, additive manufacturing was a way to communicate the design in a conceptual way to potential customers. As new processes, materials, and applications are developed we see a want to transition additive manufacturing into a scaled production solution.
The ability to bypass traditional manufacturing technologies and implement a true digital manufacturing process leads to many possibilities. To start your additive manufacturing yourney you must be willing to take ownership of your design and product development processes. Once you own your design, you can use the unique capabilities of additive manufacturing to improve the fit, form, and function of traditional manufacturing through more economic designs, part consolidation, or lightweighting.
In the Plan stage, the first step in the production development process is the translation of an idea into the product. The use of additive manufacturing can significantly disrupt this design process by introducing the concept of design for additive manufacturing. In most cases, there are elements of a product that can benefit from additive manufacturing like a unique design that can only be made through the additive manufacturing process. When an organization can adopt and incorporate the additive manufacturing process into their business model starting with design, it won’t only benefit their product but also their returns.
In the Print stage, the use of additive manufacturing can significantly speed up the time from concept to launch. Additive manufacturing is used to reduce the negative impact of long lead times and help provide solutions for bridge production. Digital Twin also plays a role in the Print stage, as it connects the manufacturing data related to a manufactured component. This data can include processing parameters, building monitoring data, and inspection data such as tensile testing or CT scanning. The Digital Twin is used to improve manufacturing and qualify parts for production, while also having the ability to store the authority dataset along with manufacturing data to allow for digital inventory.
The Perfect stage (design verification) is the most widely applied stage in 3D printing, but it can also be the most difficult and costly step because an engineer must verify that a part is done and done accurately. Because of additive manufacturing, an engineer can print a part and have it in their hands within hours, which reduces design cycles and improves the quality of a product for consumers. An engineer also can evaluate multiple design concepts concurrently which greatly increases the quality of design for a product. Design verification has become more of a standard process for engineers than it was ten to twenty years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not evolving.
It’s easy to describe three stages of the AM journey, but to be successful in it, as I said before, organizations must be willing to take ownership of their product development cycle. Additive manufacturing technologies should be evaluated in organizations often to see how they improve initial designs, how they improve the efficiency of product development and augment the traditional manufacturing processes. In order to do this, organizations must have an additive manufacturing lab and team to advocate for the technology, which can help transform the culture and tools within their own business process. Having a key business leader or team advocating for better design and manufacturing using AM is critical for the success of an organization.