Creativity breaks loose from constraints with additive manufacturing


Author: Chris HOHMANN

New additive manufacturing technologies – let’s take 3D printing as symbol for them – are freeing designers from constraints that came with traditional manufacturing and the assembly methods.

Additive manufacturing means adding layer of material after layer instead of cutting out material from a bigger raw chunk, allowing the design of complex and odd shapes without having to care how to let cutting tools do it.

Hollow and curved shapes, spirals, double helixes, or even a Moebius band are no more problem to produce. Shapes that required sophisticated machining or expensive molds can now be 3D printed relatively fast and low cost.

With additive manufacturing, it is possible to 3D print a fully functional ball bearing directly in its place in a complex shaped part. This is also very important because it means there is no more need to source the ball bearing and design the part to receive it, which may ease the design, suppress several assembly steps and all the attachments.

Production is not only faster, it is cheaper because lots of intermediary steps are removed, including sourcing of parts and components.

Additive manufacturing speed itself may not be very fast, but has to be considered relatively to traditional manufacturing requiring to source and supply material and parts first, prior to manufacture and/or assembly. With most of material and parts coming from Asia, even if machining and assembly are fast, the shipment from supplier takes at least a month to arrive.

Faster, cheaper, less suppliers dependent and highly customizable, these promises of additive manufacturing offer opportunities not only to free designers from a lot of constraints but companies to settle their business next to their customers, amidst their markets.

This reduces furthermore logistic costs and delivery time, probably balancing the other (higher?) costs and allowing reshoring or nearshoring businesses.

It allows also new entrants to step into business without having to master all traditional manufacturing techniques or supply chain constraints.

On this topic read my >3D printing and Porter’s five forces post

What is true for manufacturing is true for after sales servicing. Spare parts or replacements can be printed on demand, long after a model have been discontinued. No need to store costly inventories of numerous references, just print them when needed, in the proper suitable version.

Additive manufacturing / 3D printing may revitalize industries in the US and Western Europe, which is good news!

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