You might not think that a 3D printer and a sculptor have anything in common, but you’d be wrong. While 3D printing companies usually focus on the automated parts of their process, there can be a tremendous amount of labor and post-processing required to finish a part. This depends on the metal 3D printing process, of course, but the idea is generally the same--parts require a lot of finishing work after the print. While such things are usually straight-forward, the flexibility of AM and importance of post-processing adds another layer of complexity to the process.
Not long ago, 3D production printing was an idea best left to science fiction authors and speculators. It was often spoken of in the same breath as space travel and supersonic passenger planes. Though 3D printing ended the need for constant retooling, it was once thought too cumbersome and too expensive for mass manufacturing. As a result, it was relegated to one-offs like prototyping and small production runs. But thanks to advances in technology and higher levels of industry acceptance, additive manufacturing (AM) at scale is now less a matter of “someday” and more a matter of “right now.”
Production runs of small, intricate metal components have traditionally been addressed by metal injection molding or investment casting. Some manufacturers, however, are finding that advances in 3D printing technology can make it a cheaper and faster alternative.
The question of which manufacturing method is best suited to metal part production can be complicated. It’s not a decision that can be reached by weighing only a single factor. To arrive at the best decision, it’s important for businesses to consider many factors and prioritize.
Overview of Metal Extrusion for 3D Printing
Metal extrusion in additive manufacturing is a fairly new process. Similar to the wildly popular plastic-based FDM process, filament is heated and drawn through a nozzle and then deposited layer-by-layer. This filament is a combination of thermoplastic material and metallic particles. The nozzle moves in the x and y axes across the part for a given layer. The build platform then lowers to make room for new layers. After the part is complete, it is placed into a sintering furnace to burn out the remaining plastic and sinter the metal particles together. Extrusion-based additive manufacturing has been widely used for plastics and polymers, but only recently has developed to create metal parts.
Overview of Binder Jetting
Binder Jetting is a powder bed process that utilizes inkjet technology and a binding agent. The liquid binder is used to “glue” the metal powder together within and between layers. A layer of metal powder is first rolled onto the build tray, and then an inkjet print head moves along the x and y axes and deposits binder in the shape of the part for each respective layer. After each layer is created, the build platform is lowered incrementally to make room for the next layer. The part being printed is supported within the powder bed by the unbound powder, which is then removed to complete the process. The result is a “green part” which then needs to be placed in a sintering furnace to achieve final part density.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), is one of the most exciting manufacturing technologies talked about today. We are now seeing a second modern wave of interest and enthusiasm for 3D printing with advances appearing in news feeds everyday across markets including consumer, industrial, automotive, aerospace, medical, and many more.
As the research from Dimension clearly demonstrates, most prospective 3D printing customers are waiting for big success stories prior to adopting the technology. The burden is on us, 3D printing companies, to showcase fantastic new applications of the technology.
Future-Proof On-Demand Supply Chain with 3D Printing
If you supply production parts for the aerospace or automotive industries, PPAP is an acronym that you will hear about a lot. PPAP stands for Production Part Approval Process, and it’s the mechanism buyers in the supply chain use to gain confidence in component supplier’s production processes. This happens by establishing a reliable and repeatable production process, certified by the customer, that identifies and mitigates risks of failures or defects in the end product.
Additive manufacturing still seems risky for many manufacturers, but GE’s isn’t bluffing as they revolutionize their approach to global operations through an Advanced Manufacturing strategy that includes metal 3D printing at its core.
Branding itself as the world’s first Digital Industrial Company, General Electric (GE) expects to grow its additive manufacturing revenue to $1 billion by 2020 while reducing production cost.