Will additive manufacturing (3D printing) replace all traditional, long-established manufacturing methods? Not any time in the foreseeable future. It may take a small bite out of some methods, but the real play is in enhancing the capabilities and possibilities for the processes that we use every day.
Additive manufacturing enables many avenues, but many people only know or tend to focus on a few. With seven technical families (ASTM F42) and many “sub” families or technologies within, there are lots of different ways to grow parts. We are using many of these different methods to help our operations in all three of the business realms: Prototype, Indirect Manufacturing, End-Use Production. Consider the following possibilities to find your business’s winning combination of traditional and additive manufacturing.
Of course, there are the well-known avenues such as display parts, checks for form, fit and function, and sales/marketing demos, but there is so much more to keep in mind with prototyping. Consider clear parts for fluid flow or level studies, even on dynos. How about running a weaker plastic version of your new design through your manufacturing systems to look for interferences or accessibility? For complex, multi-part assembly operations, create a printed “buck” for Design for Assembly (DFA) activities to find the issues requiring redesign. Does anyone ever have actual parts to design dunnage or lift assist tooling at the necessary time? And of course, if waiting for components to run validation tests, bridge parts can be printed and used until production parts are available. Printing prototypes can quickly provide the opportunity for many design iterations and the Design of Experiments (DoE), enabling better optimization and higher quality products.
This realm is all about manufacturing optimization and flexibility, but custom tooling, fixtures, and gauges are just the start. Internally ported tools or robotic end effectors that eliminate external piping or wiring are just as valuable. Conformally cooled injection molding tools create higher quality at faster cycle times. How about conformal machining or shipping fixtures for those hard to hold parts? An additive can even print compound curved paint stencils.
For castings, why spend money on tooling until it becomes a cost-effective solution and the design is fixed? Use sand castings--print the molds and cores out of the sand. As the volumes increase, tool the big, simple parts and use “hybrid” mold sets. Even in high rate production, very complex internal cores can still be printed at an advantage. Investment castings offer similar opportunities. The sacrificial patterns can be printed out of many different materials and burned/melted out during the process. The flexibility of printing molds or patterns also enables optimization through the Design of Experiments (DoE).
This is where most companies want to focus but is the most difficult realm especially if you need to certify with the FAA, FDA, or other authorities. There are great opportunities to optimize saleable items using additive manufacturing technologies. Combining parts eliminates machining, inventory, part numbers, and their supply chain, as well as joints which may leak or fatigue — not to mention fasteners. Printing frees up design constraints to use curved and non-round passages, embedded features, “designer” or even blended materials and unique geometry. The products can take advantage of new design technologies like topology optimization in which the computer provides optimal variations for stress, heat transfer, stiffness, flow path, and other important characteristics at minimal weight. Getting to production with additive manufacturing can give your products a distinct advantage.
Additive manufacturing is only one tool in your toolbox but is advantageous for many things. Speed, turn-around, and flexibility make it the choice for things like one-off obsolete parts or broken machine details. But remember: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. There are many factors and traditional manufacturing still has significant advantages in many areas. Remember to consider all the many Additive Manufacturing technologies. Choosing the correct method for the application is extremely important to obtain the desired results.
Will Additive Manufacturing replace traditional like a one-size-fits-all application? Not any time in the foreseeable future. But it does add capabilities and offers many more options to traditional manufacturing. Investigate and choose the right combinations of traditional and additive manufacturing, and watch great things happen to your organization’s quality, delivery, and cost!
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Article contributed by Paul Susalla, corporate manufacturing technology advancement director, Parker Hannifin. Originally published in Manufacturing Technology Insights Digital Magazine.
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