3D metal printing (3DMP) is the hottest subject throughout manufacturing. This technology is revolutionizing how companies design, test, manufacture and distribute products. With all the hype surrounding 3DMP technology, what are the effects on manufacturers serving key markets for machined metal parts, including aerospace, medical and automotive, and what are the key takeaways?

3D Metal Printing Magazine highlights five things manufacturers should understand before entering the 3DMP workspace. Here’s a synopsis:

  1. 3DMP provides the ability to create components that most directly embody and enable true design intent.
    The freedom possible in the 3DMP process allows designers to create optimal designs without restrictions from conventional manufacturing processes. With additive manufacturing, the restrictions from DFM [design for manufacturing] are greatly eliminated, allowing designers the freedom to create, optimize and push the limits of component development.
  2. Additive manufacturing processes need to be fully integrated with EDM, multi-axis CNC, surface finishing and other high-precision machining operations within the confines of traditional manufacturing operations.
    A common misconception is that additive manufacturing will replace or eliminate conventional machining.  For example, due to the additive process, the resulting surface finish and tolerances often result in the need to selectively machine certain features. It is critical during the DFM process that the design and manufacturing teams communicate and coordinate activities to produce an additively produced design that is optimized not only for the AM process, but also for the conventional machining required to produce a true end-use component.
  3. Additive Manufacturing reduces barriers to effective low-volume production.
    The ability with 3DMP to build parts directly from feedstock (metal powder, wire, etc.) eliminates the large investment in tooling lead time and cost found with conventional machining. Early in the development cycle of a product, the manufacturer can produce prototypes and end-use parts with minimal post-processing tooling, which accelerates time to market. In addition, 3DMP reduces the potentially large investments in casting/forging tooling and numerous machining and transfer fixtures.
  4. Additive manufacturing is not a plug-and-play process.
    AM often is portrayed as a process in which a user simply loads a 3D model into the machine, hits the print button, and hours later a finished part is waiting. This portrayal oversimplifies the process and fails to capture the true complexity of additive manufacturing. Although it is true that the 3D equipment utilizes the 3D model as the primary input to build the desired geometry, several steps lie between creation of the designer’s CAD model and achieving a successfully built component, such as decisions about build orientation and supports.
  5. The material capabilities for additive manufacturing are nearly endless.
    Every year more and more materials become available for 3DMP, as more products are developed. The process already is capable of producing many of the standard alloys used across industries, including stainless and tool steels, aluminum and titanium alloys, super-nickel alloys and transition metals (gold, copper, tantalum, etc.). These materials result in printed parts that exceed cast properties, and in many cases rival wrought properties.

> Read more by Ben Fisk, 3D Magazine, Summer 2016

Five Things Manufacturers Need to Know About 3DMP