What does it take to make additive manufacturing mainstream

Posted on 21 Nov 2017 by Fred Tongue

Additive manufacturing has been around since 1983, but it has not yet been adopted by mainstream manufacturing, what is missing for AM to breakthrough.

Additive manufacturing is not a new tool to manufacturers. For decades it has been used in prototyping and has been used more and more to produce non-critical components. However it still hasn’t made the leap to full-scale production yet, despite the technology being capable.

The concern over the strengths of the products that are created is no longer a worry, materials have come a long way and now mean that tensile strength and quality is good enough for production-grade parts, so what is taking manufacturers so long to adopt the technology?

Additive manufacturing is an essential part of the toolkit for design and engineering teams, as it frees them from the design constraints of tooling and allows them to innovate quicker than ever before. But there is a confusing array of 3D printing solutions on the market and it can be hard to know when to invest, how much to invest and has played a part in slowing down adoption.

For over 30 years, 3D Systems has been bridging the gap between inspiration and innovation by connecting customers with the expertise and digital workflow required to solve their business, design or engineering problems. One such problem when it comes to additive manufacturing is the “all or nothing” nature of implementing a system, being able to implement in modules would increase the ease of adoption. 

One manufacturer that is using AM is BMW. They are using stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) technologies from 3D Systems to produce prototype and functional interior and exterior automobile test parts for BMW, as well as tools and fixtures. These parts will be used during summer and winter ride-out testing to verify their designs for proper fit and approach, as well as to understand how the parts function in extreme heat and cold.

Vyomesh Joshi, CEO of 3D Systems, has highlighted four critical needs for manufacturing to speed the transition to production-scale 3D printing:

·         Productivity

·         Durability

·         Repeatability

·         Total Cost of Operation

At a recent industry event Vyomesh said : “At the core of our strategy, we pair the industry’s deepest workflow “know-how” with materials and software to ensure we’re designing the right solution for the right needs”.

A case in point is Figure 4, the new production platform from 3D Systems, that has been designed to answer the top three questions engineers often have: how to save time, money and materials.

Figure 4 is ready for the assembly line. This ultra-fast additive manufacturing technology is housed in discrete modules, allowing it to be placed into automated assembly lines and integrated with secondary processes, including material recovery, washing, curing and finishing steps.

Faster than current 3D printing systems – in benchmarking tests an automotive vent achieved a cycle time equivalent to 95 seconds – this system has been proven to outperform similar solutions.

To find out more about Figure 4, click here