Additive manufacturing: Prototyping reimagined

Advancing innovation: One key player in the aerospace sector has brought reduced inventory cost by 95% with the use of additive manufacturing.

By Amit Chadha January 10, 2020

Innovators are slashing inventory costs up to 95% by using additive manufacturing (AM) with recent industry advances. There has been a seismic shift in how enterprises view the reconstruction of the manufacturing vision. While AM is helping global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) cater to various sectors and markets worldwide, its scope has extended beyond rapid prototyping, and system integrators are helping with engineering, automation, and system integration. The transition is attributed to the remarkable ability of AM to produce parts with complex designs, reduce the cost of manufacturing-material loss, assembly due to limited compatibility, and the need for machinery and fittings.

The evolution of rapid prototyping to 3-D printing and related innovation is augmenting the industrial paradigm beyond what was believed to be a far-fetched vision. Industrial sectors like automotive, aerospace, construction, consumer products, healthcare, food and manufacturing, to name a few, are seeing a substantial demand for AM and its applications.

It may be hard to believe, but “rapid prototyping” has been around for more than 35 years, since 1981 when Japan’s Dr. Hideo Kodama first published his account of a functional rapid-prototyping system and applied for a patent. Since then, rapid prototyping has become one of the biggest technology disrupters in the 4th Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

According to a Frost and Sullivan report, AM is poised to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15% from 2015 to 2025. Reports and data project the AM market to be worth more than $23 billion in 2026, up from $8 billion in 2018.

A $2.5 billion start-up based out of Redwood, Calif., created the world’s first AM hardware to be deployed through a subscription model so it is always upgradable.

Cost reductions, new designs

Prototyping is an old technology idea with a transformed vision — minimizing the manufacturing ecosystem and costs of supply chain. With newer technologies disrupting business transformation, the future of manufacturing relies on a more diverse network of prototyping applications experts. The idea is to save time and resources and reduce errors and flaws. This vision has led global enterprises to focus on the concept of AM.

U.S.-based sportswear giant Nike had a clear vision of selling designs to customers that could be printed at home. Nike and some of its competitors have doubled down in investing in AM in the footwear space, which is a futuristic step to improving production by eliminating labor costs and increasing its speed to market. The shoe’s performance will increase thanks to lighter, more breathable materials and less friction resistance. The only drawback is the cost that may be incurred depending on how accurate the execution is. The primary focus is on meticulous designs.

The shift to additive manufacturing

While rapid prototyping has been the go-to methodology for years, it depends on conventional tools and procedures of manufacturing, production readiness, and supplier support. As a result, it is a time-consuming and costly process. In comparison, AM focuses more on the design aspect of manufacturing and procurement of the right raw material. A 3-D printer carries out the physical execution of the design to create the prototype and such an automated process slashes turnaround time.

System integrators drive these automation processes. With an agile AM process, automating the execution requires integration of commands. Integrators regulate the various components of AM and automate the execution of the design-to-delivery journey of the prototype.

Additive manufacturing outreach

Through various industrialization phases across the globe, manufacturing has remained the driving force of progress. Conventional life cycle of a product comprises of introduction, maturity, growth and decline phases. The “introduction” stage of AM, like most products, was hit with obstacles to production, patent restrictions and difficulties arising from high machine cost. This led to low revenue, low market penetration level, high costs and low quality.

AM is currently at the “growth” stage where it is gaining favorable acceptance among consumers across industries. In an era defined by out-of-the-box thinking, businesses are seeking ways to reduce costs while delivering excellence.

Though traditional manufacturing methods will take time to be replaced, the ball has been set in motion. AM was born out of the need to hasten design visualization. With prototyping taking a long time, the industry sought a method that could reduce the time to develop the prototype, while devoting more time on the design intricacies. Technological innovations in design thinking and visualization have reduced the dependency on suppliers and support ecosystem. With more time being devoted to design and component experimentation, the finesse has grown and the turnaround time has reduced.

Another notable aspect of AM is it is being primarily used in developing complex and intricate equipment components. For example, in the aerospace sector, AM is being used to develop components like the fuel nozzle. These are critical parts but are not produced in mass-scale. With the help of AM, designing these components are becoming more cutting edge. Simplifying the design also is reducing the weight of these parts. All this leads to increased performance efficiency and reduced inventory. A key player in aerospace has brought reduced inventory cost by 95% by using AM.

The key facets of AM are 3-D printing, rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing. These concepts thrive on the idea of inclusion and collaboration. While the aerospace and automotive industries have taken to them primarily to optimize design efficiency and reduce time of production, the medical equipment industry has much to gain from the customization capabilities of AM.

According a Frost & Sullivan 2016 report, the automotive, aerospace, and medical devices industries will account for 51% of the 3-D printing market by 2025. From a geographical perspective, the AM market will see growth in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region at a CAGR of 18.4% in the 2015-2025 period. China will account for 70% of the APAC market.

Engineering a new paradigm

In 2017, McLaren Racing partnered with Minnesota-based Stratasys, which specializes in 3-D printing, to produce race-ready parts for the MCL32 to participate in the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship. The idea behind the partnership was “light weighting” or topology optimization, by which Stratasys would produce parts for the racecar that were light but durable.

In another example, global medical device manufacturing company Stryker Corp. has been steadfast about its commitment of 3-D printing and manufacturing medical products. A just-in-time (JIT) implants project worth $9.29 million led to the production of customized bone implants for cancer patients.

Thanks to how AM has been growing in the past two decades, manufacturing has become a unique process with complex geometries and little waste. Focusing energy and expertise to engineering on such smart machines will further transform the manufacturing industry. AM is successfully producing various prototypes for various sectors. Tomorrow, its principles will revolutionize the manufacturing landscape. AM’s distinct benefits removes many of the intermediate steps in the supply chain. Increasing adoption of AM will further alter the evolution of the sectors and industries in which it will be applied.

Amit Chadha is president and executive director, L&T Technology Services Ltd., a CFE Media Content Partner. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: 3-D modeling, additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing lowers costs.

Rapid 3-D prototyping advances AM and innovates supply chains.

System integration helps advance AM.


Are your plans changing rapidly enough to take advantages of AM advances?

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.

Author Bio: Amit Chadha is president and executive director, L&T Technology Services Ltd.