3D printing as additive manufacturing

Every day sees new surprising applications of 3D printing and most of them are forerunners of disruptions, larger applications, breakthroughs, etc.

The fast maturation of 3D printing techniques and their proven abilities make them stand as symbol of the factory of the future.

In this near future additive manufacturing with 3D printing should tackle the problem of “High-Mix, Low-Volume” and help to bring new products faster to market.

Additive manufacturing is building objects layer by layer by 3D-printing layers or extruding material, e.g. metal or concrete. As the name tells, additive manufacturing adds material, compared to “subtractive” techniques where material is taken away, by machining for example.

This article is inspired by McKinsey Quartely’s article “3-D printing takes shape” (2014)

3D printing appears ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications.

Adding material with 3D printing techniques to create an object carries many advantages:

  • Less wasted material as when subtracted from a bigger piece, e.g. by lathing, milling, etc.
  • Presumably cheaper in regard of tooling, molds or die costs
  • Faster, again because no special tools or molds must be created first and because it is possible to “create complex shapes and structures that weren’t feasible before”.

Complex shapes means primarily geometry but means also full functional moving parts that can be encased one in another and printed at once. In traditional manufacturing that may have required at least producing the two parts and assemble them, thus multiplying time and cost.

In comparison to additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing is about cutting and grinding, taking away material, while additive manufacturing is building to shape, adding layers over layers. Layers can be of different materials, allowing composite, sandwiched structures using the just necessary amount of material.

3D printed items costs compared to traditional manufacturing ways seem to favor additive. Cost in one of the key success factors, among others.

Speed, one of the key success factors

Being first on the market with a new offer is an opportunity to yield earnings and make profit without competition. Being fast often (increasingly?) means making profit as long as it is possible, before the next fashionable product or disruptive technology shows up.

To get faster a product to market, additive manufacturing vith 3D printers allows to cut or eliminate time:

  • for prototyping
  • for tooling
  • for production

The ability to make prototypes without tooling lets companies quickly test multiple configurations to determine customer preferences, thus reducing product-launch risk and time to market.

Letting customers participate in early engineering choices and giving their input is called crowdsourcing.

High-Mix, Low-Volume

For items that can be 3D printed, additive manufacturing may be an elegant solution to the High-Mix, Low-Volume problem. In theory, batch size of one is no problem for 3D printer as there is no such a thing as tool changeover (provided the material is the same or automatically switched/fed), no adjustments, no preproduction runs nor sample tests before unleashing the production.

Many benefits of 3-D printing could cut the cost of market entry for new players: for example, the use of the technology to lower tooling costs makes it cheaper to begin manufacturing, even at low volumes, or to serve niche segments.

More to come on this subject!

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