Given the optimism that metal AM will continue to grow in relevance for series production, it's natural to focus on future potential and skim over the present. However, that forward-looking mindset obscures the exciting developments already taking place in 3D metal printing. The technology as a tool to be used in full production runs is not some distant possibility. It's already here. 3DEO's president Matt Sand details five current examples of how metal AM is changing manufacturing at scale.
With additive manufacturing (AM) becoming an established part of many companies’ product development and manufacturing processes, there has been a growing understanding of the technology’s technical and business advantages. With that, more users at all points in the value chain are benefitting from lighter and more durable parts, increased design freedom and on-demand part production.
Metal fabrication does not lack for depth as an industry. No fewer than 6 distinct — and commonly used — techniques exist for the manufacture of metal pieces and parts in 2018. Each can be considered the “best” option given certain conditions. For this reason, it’s often tough for an organization looking to outsource a specific production run of components to decide just which method is right for them. The list of options is long, and it’s growing more nuanced by the day.
3DEO is a small business based out of Gardena, CA, about 15 minutes from LAX airport in Los Angeles. The company uses proprietary metal 3D printing technology to manufacture production components, primarily for applications in the aerospace, automation, defense, industrial, and medical industries. Production components, not prototypes. Right now, the company has eight of its proprietary metal 3D printers in a 13,000-square-foot facility, but the space could accommodate another 42 printers to meet demand.
While metal AM provides a host of positive advantages, it’s important to understand the realities of as-printed surface roughness. This understanding will help valve design and engineering teams understand the costs associated with bringing 3D printed parts to a suitable finish.
Product development can be a lengthy, complicated process with a broad spectrum of outcomes. According to Engineering.com, “Taking a product from concept to reality is an intricate, expensive and time-consuming process. It’s not easy and there is a high degree of risk involved.”
The notion that manufacturing and environmental health are at odds with one another has been commonly held since the Environmental movement really got going in the 1960s. Most of the time, this characterization has been true. There really is an environmental trade-off associated with industrial activity—at least in the traditional sense. Among the most damaging of these effects are:
From machining to MIM, metal parts buyers have a wide range of options for addressing their part-production challenges. The key in choosing from among them is to remember that each technology brings something different to the table, and every part has unique requirements.
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.
Are fast lead times essential? Do the components have tensile, strength, or hardness requirements? Is surface finish a major consideration? While it’s important for businesses to weigh various priorities, the final cost-per-part (within quality specifications) is often the deciding factor in which technique wins out.