Remember when 3dprinting was primarily for the design engineer? Is it still? If you attended this year’s RAPID + TCT Conference, you might wonder. At the RAPID Conference, enough manufacturing innovation was on display to make one ask, “Just what constitutes manufacturing today?”
Vendors are clearly aiming to “give the customer what he wants,” which appears to be the ability to produce hundreds of thousands of parts fast. But what does this move mean for the design engineer? While the prototyping function is not getting as much press as it used to, it is an increasingly useful application for the design engineer.
Today, 3D printing/additive manufacturing offers three choices: systems for prototyping, systems for prototyping and low-volume production, and systems for higher volume production. The higher volume units cannot produce hundreds of thousands of parts yet, but you can see the possibilities.
But time is money, right? That’s the answer when you ask vendors why should additive go into volume production. For many people, when they think of manufacturing, they imagine a huge building with tens of CNCs, several injection molding machines, and now maybe even a few additive machines. The assumption is that additive will conform to the ways traditional manufacturing systems produce parts.
However, additive technology has always had a disruptive take on processes.
Traditional manufacturing built thousands of parts in one location, primarily for efficiency and convenience.
When you combine additive with cloud connectivity, as many vendors of additive technology and service providers are doing, it breaks the traditional view of manufacturing—manufacturing is no longer confined to a large facility. Manufacturing is no longer confined to the production of hundreds of thousands of parts to be profitable. Manufacturing is no longer confined to “traditional” operators—anyone, including design engineers, can make parts.
Today, with additive, a design engineer can build five units of one design at one location, 100 units of that same design at another location, and a thousand units of that same design at a third location. So how do you define volume production now?
And any developments and innovations made to volume production additive systems will eventually find their way to desktop units, improving these units’ prototyping as well as production capabilities.
Instead of additive technology moving into manufacturing, the next step may be that design and manufacturing cease to be viewed as separate functions.