Additive Manufacturing (AM) is not new. Over the recent decades, as the technology behind AM (also known as 3D printing) improved and prices fell, many more industries have embraced the many benefits of Additive Manufacturing. In 2020, the global 3D printing market was valued at USD 13.78 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.0% from 2021 to 2028. And as the popularity for Additive Manufacturing grows, the technology can be used in a variety of ways including potentially creating Additive Manufacturing sealing strips.
So, let’s take a look at why Additive Manufacturing has been so successful.
1. Lower start-up costs
Manufacturing start-up costs can be high. The need to create custom tooling for any new item you wish to manufacture, can limit the scope of what is economically viable to produce. Industrial AM machinery costs as little as a few thousand pounds, with home or enthusiast solutions as little as a few hundred. Even better, when the time comes to change your design, simply tell the 3D printer what the new design should look like! There’s no need to throw away the investment you have made in AM equipment.
2. Easy to learn (and use)
There is a learning curve with all new technologies and machinery. The good news is that there is a wealth of easy to access training on how to use AM and 3D printers. Whether you are on the CAD design side, or responsible for running the AM equipment, there will be appropriate training available.
3. Reduced raw material wastage
Many traditional forms of manufacture start with a larger block of metal or piece of wood, and then reduce it. The fragments of material that have been milled away are often of no economic use. These reductive manufacturing methods waste a lot of raw material. Additive Manufacturing starts with nothing and then adds what is needed, reducing raw material wastage by up to ninety percent.
4. Customisation to the individual
Because each 3D printed item being manufactured is based on a digital blueprint, it is easy to make each item unique, without the need for retooling. This ability is a particular strength for the medical and healthcare sectors, where custom made splints and supports can be tailored to an individual. Research on using Additive Manufacturing techniques to construct replacement human parts, such as bone, is well under way too!
5. Digital design integration
Computer Aided Design (CAD) saw the move away from the 2D drawing board to a world of 3D virtual design. Additive Manufacturing takes this a step further and allows those virtual 3D designs to be rendered in the physical world, at the touch of a button. Many design packages now support 3D printing ability, helping to automate required design steps, such as the inclusion of interior honeycombed strengthening or exterior scaffolding. Additive Manufacturing means it has never been easier, faster or cheaper to render a 3D design into a physical object.
6. Speed of first prototype
Rapid Prototyping has been used as a phrase to describe additive manufacturing, and for good reason. With the low cost and fast speed to produce a single item, it makes it easy to create a first prototype and see how it performs in the intended environment. CAD can then be used to make any changes or adjustments needed and the process repeated. Lower cost materials, such as Polylactic Acid (PLA), are often used for initial prototypes, with later prototypes introducing the materials likely to be used for the final design.
7. Speed from prototype to production
Traditional forms of manufacture require tooling to be made, to produce the final items. This introduces delay in time and an increase in cost. With AM, once the final prototype has been approved, the same equipment can be used for production.
8. Lower energy and environmental costs
By reducing the time taken to manufacture an item, as well as waste materials, Additive Manufacturing can be better for the environment! General Electric recently celebrated its 30,000th 3D-printed fuel nozzle tip for the LEAP engine. “Under the additive manufacturing method, the number of parts in a single fuel nozzle tip was reduced from about 20 pieces previously welded together to one whole piece. The nozzle tip’s weight was cut by about 25 percent.” AM is good for the bottom line and the planet!
9. Low volume production runs
Additive Manufacturing is brilliant for low volume production runs. More traditional methods of manufacture require tooling costs, which can make low volume production economically unviable. AM means that even single items can be manufactured in a profitable manner.
10. Distributed manufacturing
Another advantage of Additive Manufacturing is that production no longer needs to be done centrally. Simply place a 3D printer wherever you need the item to be manufactured! This is one of the many reasons that 3D printing will be used extensively where traditional distribution methods might be a problem. As an extreme example of this, NASA launched the “3D-Printed Habitat Challenge” a competition to build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration, including the agency’s journey to the Moon, Mars or beyond.