Additive manufacturing, often more colloquially referred to as 3D printing, is sweeping across a great number of industries both high tech and more traditional, and it is generating a lot of interest and questions about how the process can benefit individual companies.

Additive manufacturing is not only pervasive today, but it’s future is almost limitless.

The global additive manufacturing market has been growing in excess of 25% per annum for the past 5 years and it is estimated that it will hit almost $15 billion dollars in 2018, and that growth rate is not expected to slow down.  Estimates of growth by 2020 range between $20 and 25 billion, and just shy of $100 billion by 2030.  By contrast, the growth of more traditional CNC machine tools is expected to grow at a far more modest rate of between 4 and 6% for the foreseeable future, not accounting for the increasing pressures placed on more traditional manufacturing techniques by emergent additive manufacturing technologies.

In other words, additive manufacturing is big…and about to get much, much bigger!

The Focus on Industry portion of the R3DP ‘To Infinity and Beyond’ Newsletter is normally to investigating and describing the impact of additive manufacturing on specific industries, and that is something that we intend to continue.

However before we do, we felt it was a good time to get back to basics and answer some of the most common questions revolving around additive manufacturing:

“WHAT’S IT FOR?”

 

Definitely one of the most common questions currently revolving around the 3D printing industry on behalf of commercial clients is those 3 simple words: What’s it for?

By that, business owners are asking what can you do with a 3D printer. Why is it everyone is saying that 3D printing is revolutionizing the way we are doing business?

Historical and traditional methods of manufacturing have been defined first and foremost by adjusting and removing sections from a pre-existing form or material. Earliest civilizations would find a stone and chip away at the edges until they refined it into a usable tool. Although the techniques for refinement are far more sophisticated today, many involve some of the same principles – wood lathes, CNC lasers and torches, saws – all of them designed to form a component from raw material.

Additive manufacturing works in reverse. Rather than ‘take away from’ existing materials, the additive manufacturing process ‘begins and adds to’ in order to create the desired item.

So the answer to the first question is:  Its used for the manufacturing of goods, products and items.

Additive manufacturing can be used to produce prototypes, end use products, visual displays, product components….using materials ranging from thermoplastics to foodstuffs!

 

“HOW DOES IT WORK?”

The concept of additive manufacturing is really very simple.

One of the main reasons additive manufacturing is commonly referred to as ‘3D Printing’ is because it begins on a two-dimensional plane using the X and the Y axis – think of a drawing on a piece of paper – and then incrementally adds layers to the preceding layer – adding ‘depth’ on the Z- axis, one pass at a time – a little bit like a normal printer.

While the actual technical details are bit more involved, conceptually the process of creating a printed model is not that much more complicated.  Essentially a computer model or mesh is created using one of a small host of existing free and pay for use software.  The model is saved in the appropriate format and then processed by ‘slicing software’ that essentially takes the model and ‘slices’ it into much smaller layers…like a loaf of bread, only much, much thinner.  The ‘slicer’ then converts the layers into a code the printer can understand – G-code – and the printer begins its work and adds layer after layer until the model is complete.

 

This process is now being used to produce everything from alternator brackets, to jewelry, to field use medical equipment like the otoscope shown below.

 

“WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES?”

 

Normally, this question revolves why industries are increasingly integrating additive manufacturing into their models.  Some of the benefits additive manufacturing possesses over traditional manufacturing techniques can include:

  • Less waste
  • Faster Production Times
  • Faster Prototyping of New Designs
  • Less cost, especially if the production of components includes multiple steps such as cutting, welding and so forth
  • Enhanced Design Complexity
  • Integration of proprietary/unique elements into product design
  • Stronger components by way of reduced joints, variable infills, greater selection of materials

…and the list goes on.

The capacity to impact and benefit specific companies and organization is limited only by the imagination of the user, and the capacity of the printer.  Open source and open filament printers often times best suit the needs of commercial clients because they lend themselves well to complexity and to diverse material applications.

So the next question is, how can additive manufacturing benefit YOUR organization!