Additive Manufacturing, also referred to as ‘3D printing’ has been monopolising the manufacturing media for several years now but what is it all about and is it relevant to all sectors?  Here we will attempt to de-mystify the process, highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages, and point you in the direction of further reading.

Additive Manufacturing is a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component by depositing material in thin layers one by one.  This technology can be used to produce complex shapes which cannot be achieved when using traditional casting or machining methods.  It can be used for low to medium production volumes in a range of materials and little fixed tooling or manual intervention is required beyond the initial product design1.

Initially used in the automotive and aerospace industries to build prototypes it has spread across sectors and the technology’s potential appears to be almost limitless2.

Let’s start by looking at some of the advantages/benefits of the process:-

Eliminates the need for tool production – In terms of time, cost and labour in the product development process, the production of tooling is at the top!  Additive manufacturing can eliminate the need for tool production and the associated cost savings can be significant.

Customisation – The process allows for mass customisation and there are few constraints.  Individual customers’ requirements can be catered for within the same build at no additional cost.

Reduction in Lead Times – Prototypes can be created immediately after completing the part’s stereo lithography (STL) file.  This can save weeks or months of waiting for an externally sourced prototype to arrive.

Complexity – Additive Manufacturing enables levels of complexity that could not be produced physically using traditional methods.  This is making a significant impact on industrial applications as lighter and stronger components can be produced.

Flexible Manufacturing – Manufacturers can operate on a ‘made to order’ principle rather than holding large volumes of standardised products in stock.  This can be particularly beneficial to suppliers that are obligated to hold substantial spare parts inventory.

Sustainable – Additive Manufacturing is proving to be energy efficient utilising up to 90% of standard materials, thereby creating less waste.2

There are also some disadvantages/shortcomings of the process:-

Volume – At this stage 3D printing cannot compete with the speed of traditional manufacturing.  In addition traditional manufacturing is significantly cheaper than producing large quantities based on 3D print technology.  However, the world’s first additive manufacturing (3D printing) machine that can make plastic parts as fast and as cheaply as traditional manufacturing is to be developed by the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing Design and Prototyping Group.  The machine is being built for the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing (AdAM)3.

Product Liability – Various product liability issues remain unresolved.  For example if anyone can become a manufacturer who is liable if something goes wrong?

Intellectual Property (IP) – How will manufacturers protect their IP?  If the ‘value’ of a product is in a digital file will manufacturers insert copy protections and assign licensing rights to protect their IP4.  What happens if a file falls into the wrong hands?

Product Liability – Product liability regulations refer to the manufacturer as the entity liable for damages arising through the usage of products.  How can this be enforced in additive manufacturing?  The Market for 3D printed products and services is predicted to reach $21bn worldwide by 2020 and the law is lagging behind on such issues5.

Loss of Traditional Skills – What will happen to skilled Machinists here in the UK?  Are we at risk of wiping out a workforce?

As always we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject:-

Are you using Additive Manufacturing and if so how has it changed your business?

Are you planning to introduce it?

Are you concerned about any particular aspects of the process?

Do give us a call on 01865 883508 or e mail us at sales@prestoeng.co.uk.

For more information about Presto Engineering please visit our website here and if you would like to discuss a project with us please call us on 01865 883508 or e mail Julian at sales@prestoeng.co.uk.

References

1The University of Nottingham Faculty of Engineering, 2016.  Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group [online] Available at: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/3dprg/index.aspx  [Accessed 9 August 2016]

2Global Manufacturing, 2015.  Industry Analysis: The Pros and Cons of 3D Printing [online] Available at http://www.manufacturingglobal.com/technology/408/INDUSTRY-ANALYSIS:-The-pros-and-cons-of-3d-printing [Accessed 9 August 2016]

3University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, 2015.  3D Printing goes High Speed and High Volume [online] Available at http://www.amrc.co.uk/news/3d-printing-goes-high-speed-and-high-volume/  [Accessed 9 August 2016]

4DLA Piper, 2015.  Technology’s Legal Edge: Top 3 Legal Issues of 3D Printing [online[ Available at http://blogs.dlapiper.com/iptitaly/?p=57233 [Accessed 9 August 2016]

5The Financial Times, 2014.  Regulatory concerns hold back 3D printing on safety [online] Available at https://www.ft.com/content/bfab071c-6abc-11e4-a038-00144feabdc0 [Accessed 9 August 2016]

Further Reading

https://3dprintingindustry.com/3d-printing-basics-free-beginners-guide/benefits-commercial-value/

http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/additive-manufacturing