The role of additive manufacturing in the factory of the future

With its ability to create complex shapes and highly customized products, additive manufacturing could revolutionize the way we make things.

By David Spergel February 9, 2023
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Additive manufacturing insights

  • Using additive manufacturing, engineers and designers can quickly and easily create prototypes of new products. This allows for faster and more efficient product development, as changes can be made quickly and cheaply at the prototype stage.
  • Additive manufacturing is being adopted by companies in a variety of industries as they look to increase speed and accuracy while reducing costs.

Industry 4.0 is the focus of many industries, and additive manufacturing is at the forefront. Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, has revolutionized manufacturing through its ability to quickly produce parts with complex shapes and intricate details without costly tooling or long lead times.

As more factories embrace AM technologies, they are beginning to realize the advantages it brings to the table. Additive manufacturing can produce parts faster and with greater accuracy than traditional methods, while reducing waste and cutting down on labor costs.

Additionally, the lack of tooling means that it is easier to customize products for specific customers or applications, making customer satisfaction higher.

In this article, we will cover a broad range of topics related to additive manufacturing, including its advantages and disadvantages, different types of AM systems, and how the technology is being used in various industries. We hope this article serves as an introduction to the world of 3D printing and helps you understand why it is quickly becoming one of the most important technologies in modern manufacturing.

What do we mean by additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a process in which objects are created by adding material one layer at a time.

Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, which involve cutting and shaping materials to create an object, additive manufacturing starts with a digital model of the desired object and builds it up one layer at a time. This allows for much more complex shapes to be created than would be possible with traditional manufacturing methods.

In addition, additive manufacturing is typically faster and less expensive than traditional methods, making it an attractive option for prototyping and small-scale production.

There is a range of different additive manufacturing solutions, such as FDM (fused deposition modeling), SLA (stereolithography), and SLS (selective laser sintering). Each of these processes has different advantages, depending on the material being used, the complexity of the object being created, and the speed with which it needs to be produced.

For example, FDM is a cost-effective method that is well-suited for producing prototypes, while SLA and SLS are generally better used for the production of more complex parts with greater accuracy.

Each also uses a specific material, with FDM using plastic filament, SLA using liquid resin and SLS using powdered metals or ceramics. This makes it important to choose the right technology for the job, as different materials have different properties, and some may not be suitable for certain processes.

3D printing applications in manufacturing

In recent years, 3D printing has emerged as a powerful technology with a wide range of applications in manufacturing.

Perhaps the most well-known application of 3D printing is in the production of prototypes. Using CAD software and 3D printers, engineers and designers can quickly and easily create prototypes of new products. This allows for faster and more efficient product development, as changes can be made quickly and cheaply at the prototype stage.

3D printing is also being used increasingly in the production of final products. In many cases, 3D-printed parts can be used directly in finished products. For example, some companies are now using 3D-printed metal parts in aircraft engines.

In other cases, 3D printing is being used to produce tooling or molds for traditional manufacturing processes. This can be especially useful for complex or irregularly shaped parts. Overall, 3D printing is providing new opportunities for manufacturers to streamline their operations and produce high-quality products more efficiently than ever before.

How can additive manufacturing change a production facility

For centuries, factories have been designed around the principle of mass production. This approach is based on the assumption that it is more efficient to produce large quantities of a single product than to produce smaller quantities of multiple products.

However, additive manufacturing (AM) could upend this paradigm. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques, AM allows for the production of highly customized products in small batches. As a result, factories could be designed to be more flexible and agile, responding quickly to changes in consumer demand. In addition, AM could enable factories to be operated more efficiently, with less waste and fewer errors.

As the technology continues to develop, it is likely that additive manufacturing will have a profound impact on the way factories are designed and operated.

Current drawbacks of 3D printing

Despite the recent advances in 3D printing technology, there are still several significant drawbacks that limit its use in manufacturing.

One of the biggest issues is the high cost of 3D printers. While the cost of 3D printers has come down dramatically in recent years, they are still much more expensive than traditional manufacturing equipment, when purchased at the kind of scale needed for mass production.

Additionally, 3D printing is still relatively slow compared to other manufacturing processes. This means that it can take longer to produce the same number of parts in comparison, resulting in increased costs for large-scale production. However, printing speeds are rapidly dropping as technology continues to evolve.

The quality of parts produced by 3D printing can vary greatly depending on the technology and materials used in production. Some processes have difficulty producing highly precise or uniform parts, which limits their use in certain applications.

Another key issue is the limited range of materials that can be used with 3D printers. While there have been some recent advances in this area, most 3D printers are only able to print with a handful of different materials. This limitation often means that manufacturers have to choose between print quality and material strength when deciding whether to use 3D printing.

Despite these challenges, 3D printing remains a promising technology with potential applications across a wide range of industries. As the technology evolves and is more widely adopted, these issues may become less significant as solutions are found.

Prototype 3D printers have already been created that can print objects that would traditionally take 10 minutes, in less than 20 seconds. Other printers are now able to make use of robotic arms to increase the number of axes available to them, allowing for much more complex shapes to be produced.

Moreover, the use of metal-based inks and materials has allowed 3D printers to create objects that are much stronger and stiffer than their plastic counterparts. This is a particularly exciting development as it opens up new possibilities for manufacturers who may now be able to produce parts with greater strength out of metal at a fraction of the cost.

The future of additive manufacturing

At the forefront of the industry 4.0 revolution, additive manufacturing is being adopted by many companies in a variety of industries as they look to increase speed and accuracy while reducing costs.

Once limited to hobbyists and niche applications, 3D printers are now being used to create everything from medical implants to car parts. And the trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the global market for additive manufacturing is expected to reach $76.16 billion by 2030.

But what does the future hold for additive manufacturing? One area that is likely to see continued growth is the use of 3D printing for prototyping and low-volume production. The ability to quickly and easily create prototypes is a major advantage of additive manufacturing, and it’s something that traditional manufacturing methods simply can’t match.

In addition, as 3D printers become more sophisticated and less expensive, they are increasingly being used for low-volume production runs. This allows companies to produce small batches of custom products without incurring the high costs associated with traditional mass production methods.

The speed at which 3D printing can create components also makes it attractive to those in the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries. These sectors often require quick turnaround times for new parts or prototypes. 3D printing can provide a fast solution that is also efficient and cost-effective.

Finally, another major advantage of 3D printing is its scalability. Companies are able to use the same technology to produce a wide range of products, from tiny components to large objects. This makes it possible for businesses to quickly adjust production levels based on customer demand.

Ultimately, 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing and changed the way that companies create products. Its versatility, speed, scalability, and cost-effectiveness make it a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes. By leveraging 3D printing technology, businesses can save time and money while creating high-quality products that meet their customers’ needs.

As additive manufacturing continues to evolve, it is likely to have a profound impact on the way we manufacture products. With its ability to create complex shapes and highly customized products, additive manufacturing is poised to revolutionize the way we make things.

– Downtown Ecommerce Partners (DEP) is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Author Bio: David Spergel is an Applications Specialist at Microsol Resources and specializes in emerging visualization technology for architecture and construction industries. He provides training, consulting service, and supports Microsol’s clients using software applications from Bluebeam Revu to McNeel’s Rhino, Chaos Group’s V-Ray, and Enscape. He is a Bluebeam Customer Success Representative, a Bluebeam Certified Instructor, and a 3D printing specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering from Boston University.