The information age has changed the way we live and work and has also transformed industries. Moreover, in recent decades, the move from analog to digital processes has revolutionized how information is distributed and made it possible for small start-up businesses and even individuals working from home to compete with Fortune 500 companies. It has also led to innovations like additive manufacturing.
Here, we will explain what additive manufacturing is and how it will shape the way products of all types are developed and made in the future.
What Is Additive Manufacturing?
Before the invention of the microprocessor, most products were made using subtractive manufacturing processes that date back to the dawn of civilization. This way of making products involves taking raw materials like metal, plastic, or wood blocks and then shaping them into finished items by grinding, cutting, boring or drilling.
The first digital innovations in the manufacturing sector led to machines that made subtractive manufacturing faster and more efficient. Still, more recent breakthroughs have given producers a completely different way to create items ranging from automobile parts to surgical implants.
Additive manufacturing is basically the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, but instead of starting with a large amount of raw material and then whittling it down until only the desired product is left, additive manufacturing creates products from scratch in a series of layers. The blueprints of the products made this way are computer files created using 3D scanners or computer-aided design software. Complex machines then turn this information into three-dimensional objects by depositing precise layers of material and bonding them together.
The technique was first used to make prototypes out of plastic or powder grains. Today, modern additive manufacturing machines can produce finished products from liquid resins, metals and even ceramics.
Types of Additive Manufacturing
Many people think additive manufacturing is just another name for 3D printing, but the umbrella term actually covers a wide range of processes. The various types of additive manufacturing include:
- Powder bed fusion: When products are made this way, lasers, thermal print heads, or beams of electrons are used to melt or partially melt layers of powdered material and fuse them together. When enough layers have been deposited and fused, a three-dimensional object is created. This technology can make items out of plastic, metal, or nylon; it is used in electron beam melting, selective heat and laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, and direct metal laser melting.
- Sheet lamination: Also known as laminated object manufacturing and ultrasonic additive manufacturing, sheet lamination is a process that uses sheets of material instead of powder. These sheets are glued together with alternative layers of adhesive or bonded using heat. Sheet lamination is a popular way to make stainless steel, titanium or aluminium items because ultrasonic welding uses less heat and energy than traditional methods.
- 3D printing: This is a blanket term used to describe several methods and material extrusion processes. Material is drawn through a heated nozzle that moves from side to side. Most 3D printed items are made out of polymers like resins and thermoplastics, but the latest printers can handle metals and ceramics.
The Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing techniques were initially viewed as too complex and costly for mass production and were used almost exclusively to make prototypes, but much has changed in recent years. The many benefits of using additive instead of subtractive manufacturing processes include:
- Greater complexity: Techniques like 3D printing allow for the creation of complex objects that would otherwise be impossible or prohibitively expensive to make using traditional dies and molds. Items can also be created as a single part that was once made out of several components.
- Faster production: Virtually all aspects of additive manufacturing can be automated, saving a great deal of time.
- Design freedom: Designers not restricted by the limitations of traditional manufacturing can work from the inside out and are free to pursue new ideas and approaches.
- Flexibility: Making changes or alterations to a 3D printed item usually involves little more than coding tweaks that can be made during production. Traditional methods would require assembly lines to be shut down while machines are retooled, or new dies and molds are made.
- Weight savings: Additive manufacturing allows designers to use organic structures that save a great deal of weight without sacrificing integrity and strength.
- Cost savings: The raw material removed during subtractive manufacturing is often discarded, but additive manufacturing virtually eliminates waste. The machines used can also be programmed to produce a wide variety of objects.
Industries That Are Using Additive Manufacturing
These benefits have led to the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing processes in industries as diverse as aerospace and health care. The approach is even being used to make clothes and vegan meat.
Additive manufacturing allows automakers to produce and test several prototype parts quickly. It also makes it far easier for them to make the same part in several different colors. When the McLaren Formula 1 racing team switched from traditional methods to additive manufacturing to design and create a new rear wing, they completed the project in 10 days instead of five weeks.
The latest aircraft can fly faster and further because they weigh less and use less fuel. Additive manufacturing saves weight because parts that used to be made out of metal are now produced using lightweight composite materials. NASA is now using 3D printing to make rocket injectors, and Boeing and Airbus are using the technique to make items ranging from airliner seats to jet engine components.
The health care sector was an early adopter of additive manufacturing. For instance, the electronic data gathered during MRI scans can be used to create medical implants and make exact models of internal organs. These models allow surgeons to study organs and plan procedures long before their patients are placed under anesthetics. Soon, doctors may be able to 3D print entire synthetic organs.
Fashion designers and clothing manufacturers have long used additive manufacturing processes to make buttons, fasteners and other embellishments, but some are now using these techniques to produce entire pieces of apparel. Some companies even allow their customers to download designs and print them at home.
Machines use pastes, mousses and purees instead of plastic or metal to make 3D printed food One company is even using a liquid made out of pea and soy protein to 3D print vegan steaks that are said to look and taste like real meat. The company says that its machines will each be able to print 200 kilograms of vegan steak every day.
The Additive Manufacturing Experts
If you would like to learn more about the benefits and potential of additive manufacturing, you can depend on the professionals at ADDMAN Engineering for solutions that fit your industry. We combine the knowledge of 20 manufacturing companies, and we have the experience to answer your questions and provide you with ideas. At ADDMAN, we understand that your success is our success.
If you have any questions, please contact us at (888) 266-1837. Alternatively, you can fill out our online form to discuss your company’s needs and see how ADDMAN Engineering can help!