3D Printing is Muscling in on Traditional Technologies

3D printing has muscled in on manufacturing, where weaknesses in traditional manufacturing techniques have allowed 3D printing to redefine the designers end objective, solving many wasteful operations in the organisation

Traditional Manufacturing Technology

For a long time in history, products or components have been designed by engineers deciding on its material type, shape and including other factors. Prototypes sometimes are hand built, and the manufacturing process and manufacturer then has to be established.
The processes used to make traditional parts can include lathes, milling machines, casting and molding, laser cutting machines, bending, welding and various manual hand operations to get the desired result. Manufacturing processes like these are , and will continue to be used for many years. However, they also have their drawbacks.

Weaknesses of Traditional Manufacturing

  • Over ordering materials to allow for scrap. Programming scrap, setting scrap, operating scrap
  • Storage space for many different types of materials, sizes, diameters, bars, etc.
  • Various range of machines to achieve end goal, including many various setups
  • Tooling for machines. Faster you want to produce, generally, the more it costs. The More complex the details and feature the more cost tooling becomes
  • Holding devices, inspection tools etc.
  • Skilled labor force, Project engineers, programmers, operators, stores, maintenance etc.

 One of the most common groups of traditional manufacturing technologies is ’subtractive’ manufacturing. This term is used to describe processes that take a formless block of material and reduce it down to the desired shape by cutting it. The most common form of subtractive manufacturing is CNC machining. Subtractive manufacturing is great for working with, it is not always efficient. The starting material “workpiece” has to be larger than the final part, since the tools will ultimately cut it down to size. All material removed becomes waste.

Generally all traditional manufacturing technologies require tooling or additional equipment to support the process and ensure quality details. These tools are regularly reviewed and repaired, renewed and even replaced to continue manufacturing. Installation, floor space and staffing skills (NC Programmers and setters) all need to be reviewed when considering traditional technologies.

So why choose 3D Printing?

The 3D printing process offers a range of advantages compared to traditional manufacturing methods. 3D printing has affected the manufacturing world in many ways. From an engineering perspective, for example

  • Flexible Design

The design and print of more complex geometries and complex internal structures can be achieved by 3D printing.

  • Rapid Support

Leadtime’s of hours and days, not weeks and months. 3D printing can print complex objects within hours, of a finished design which is much faster than tooling up for these products. No engineering preparation required such as tooling, fixtures, NC programming and setting sequences. 3D printing but also the design process can be very quick by creating STL or CAD files ready to be printed. A very important fact is the revision/ level change of a product requires no investment, time or effort to get the part into production. 3D printed solutions can change revision every batch if necessary, as it perfectly lends itself to variability.

  • Unique Part Characteristics

Traditional materials can be replaced by very strong alternatives when 3d printed. Glass bead or fiber reinforced polymers can replace aluminium products. Also, due to the nature of the layered building process, the products core can be hollow and built with a mesh for strength. This reducing the weight considerably and materials used. Characteristics tailored for the aerospace and automotive industry. Polymers with high flash points and water repellence are also favorable options as replacements for metals that are in very differing weather climates.

  • Cost Effective

3D Printing is a very cost effective solution. no labour required operating machines, post processing is automatic. No finished stocks required and batch sizes of 1 are truly possible when mixing all requirements into 1 build. The end client gets a reward as lean manufacturing technologies improve the supply chain cost

  • Localized Solutions

3D printing is becoming more and more freely available and access to new technologies are becoming easier. Situations in recent years have made company owners and management teams aware that localized supply is crucial for the supply chain and to ensure continuity of production and supply to end customers, this in turn is supporting needed environmental improvements

  • Eco Friendly

Lightweight parts improve on shipping resources and costs, materials are reused in process, “additive” only adds material so no waste to reprocess.

But perhaps the biggest impact of 3D printing on manufacturing is the way it has torn down barriers to entry. Many 3D printers take up little space, require no further equipment and operate almost autonomously.

Traditional manufacturing processes are unlikely to disappear any time soon, but 3D printing has created a whole new manufacturing mindset. “Additive” or “Subtractive” manufacturing will be decision process for many years to come.