4It seems as though additive technology comes out with a breakthrough almost every week. Such developments can make it difficult to determine how additive manufacturing can add value to a business. But there are six key areas to examine to see what additive manufacturing can offer you.
1. How much design freedom do you need? Additive equipment can make any geometry you can design. It handles geometric shapes that simply cannot be made by either machining, stamping, milling, or injection molding. Internal channels? No problem. Spheres, with or without holes in the middle—absolutely. Parts with twists and turns? Of course. Additive manufacturing gives you the freedom to indulge your imagination.
- Do you need to embedded functions in a design? The layer-by-layer build approach of additive technologies enables designers to include properties and functions within the design. For example, the 3D printer can be paused to add wires, circuit boards, small motors, or other parts into the build. Anisotropic properties enable designers to put in specific strengths where needed in a design. Printing lattice structures can impart ranges of stiffness in a design. These are just a few of the functions a designer can embed within a design.
- Create a more efficient supply chain. As a digital technology, additive manufacturing lets designers build parts closer to the customer, reducing shipment time. In some cases, the use of additive technology lets you consolidate suppliers. You can make to order more cost effectively. Additive lets companies take advantage of digital inventory, especially since you can make parts only as you need them.
- Does your business involve custom? Product developers have been looking for years for a technology that can build one-of-a-kind, custom objects affordably. Additive technology makes this dream a reality. Additive technology is not affected by economies of scale—you can make a custom product without high premiums. Personalization can include ergonomics, aesthetics, functions, and more. In addition, designers can iterate far more effectively and quickly with additive.
- Serving the long-tail markets. Additive manufacturing cannot yet compete with the speed of injection molding or stamping machines. But it outdoes those technologies when you are talking about low-volume manufacturing of less than 10,000 parts. Additive saves you costs on tooling, for example, as fewer parts will need tooling in order to be built. Not only does this save on costs, it also saves time, which reduces overall part costs. Overall, because of additive’s economies of scale, the cost of making one part is about the same as making 1000 of the same part. Before additive technologies, low-volume manufacturing was often expensive. Now, you have choices.
- Making sustainability an easy priority. Part obsolescence can be a thing of the past because additive uses digital files. Jay Leno and other collectors of cars know this well—it is easy to have a once obsolete part custom made through additive technology. Additive technology will impact the environment, primarily in a positive way. You will use less material and have less material waste. The trend to lightweight designs also saves material and energy costs. And designers can now design parts for repair, refurbishment and remanufacture, further enhancing sustainability. Additive manufacturing can also work with recycled materials for more sustainability options.
In many cases, you will find that additive adds value to all of these areas of your business.