Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Additive Manufacturing 2.0: The future of metal manufacturing starts now

ST Medical Devices

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It’s increasingly clear: The way we make things is changing.

As more companies realize the advantages that come with additive manufacturing – like tooling-free manufacturing, ability to create highly complex parts, assembly consolidation and more – the technology has grown dramatically in recent years.

And today, with the emergence of high-speed, high-capacity binder jetting systems, the industry stands on the precipice of a revolution – what Desktop Metal calls Additive Manufacturing 2.0 – that won’t just change how products and parts are made, but could fundamentally alter the manufacturing landscape.

One of the primary things driving that change is speed.

Built around inkjet print heads – the same technology found in millions of at-home printers –  binder jet printers can produce parts as much as 100 times faster than laser-based 3D printing approaches.

That speed translates to throughput and per-part costs that can compete with traditional processes like casting and forging.

Speed, though, is far from the only benefit binder jetting brings to the table.

Like other 3D printing approaches, binder jetting eliminates the need for complex tooling, resulting in a cascade of positive impacts, including reduced lead times, lower part costs and decreased warehouse overhead.

Eliminating tooling also opens the door to transformation of the complex supply chain that sends raw materials and finished parts back and forth around the globe. Instead, only raw materials – metal powders that can be densely packed – will need to be shipped, resulting in far greater efficiency.

Parts, meanwhile, can be transported across borders not as physical objects, but digital files, to be downloaded and printed only when and where they’re needed.

Because it enables more complex designs than traditional manufacturing approaches, 3D printing enables assembly consolidation – the combining of several parts into fewer, multi-functional assemblies – often resulting in significant cost and weight savings. In one example, Optisys engineers were able to reduce the components in a Ka band antenna from 100 to 1.

The geometric flexibility that comes with 3D printing also allows designers to access an entirely new design landscape using generative design, which relies on artificial intelligence to iterate on parts.

Using these new generative design tools, engineers outline where a part should exist, what forces are acting upon it, and delineate areas to avoid – the rest is up to a computer.

The end result are fully optimized parts that are as much as 50 percent lighter than conventional designs, but don’t sacrifice performance.

The impact of AM 2.0, however, reaches far beyond the factory floor.

In addition to changing the way millions of metal parts are made each year, additive manufacturing has the potential to help industry usher in a cleaner, more sustainable world.

Because 3D-printed parts are built up layer-by-layer by placing material only where it’s needed, additive manufacturing produces very little scrap or wasted raw materials, making it green and highly circular technology.

Changes to the manufacturing supply chain and on-demand production allow for manufacturing to be moved closer to consumers, reducing the need to transport materials and parts over long distances, significantly reducing CO2 emissions.

By making it easy to lightweight components for everything from cars to airplanes, additive manufacturing not only uses less raw materials, but can help lower fuel use, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

Printed metal parts also have nearly infinite reusability, meaning the notion of a circular manufacturing process – one in which products are designed to fit into sustainable loops where components can be reused again and again – could be a reality in the relatively near future.

While the speed of binder jetting and other benefits that come with 3D printing are enabling the AM 2.0 revolution, the reality is that the additive manufacturing industry is still in its infancy when it comes to manufacturing production parts.

In part, that’s because the story of the additive industry is really one of three distinct growth curves. The first, beginning in the early 1990s, largely focused on research and development of the new additive technology.

Today, the industry stands at the start of a new growth era, one that will see wider adoption of 3D printing for manufacturing, forever changing the way products are made.

And as the industry continues to evolve in the coming decades, analysts predict it will eventually reach the next curve, where companies print complete products using multiple materials, further reducing environmental impacts.

Going forward, it’s clear AM 2.0 will earn a seat at the table alongside traditional processes like casting and forging, and allow manufacturers to conceive of new, more innovative products that – whether we realize it or not – we will likely use every day.

But as it continues to rewrite what have long been the basic rules of manufacturing, AM 2.0 also has the potential to deliver more than better products, but also a better, cleaner, more sustainable world.

To learn more about Additive Manufacturing 2.0, join Desktop Metal on November 18, 2020 for a free conference about the ways next-generation additive technologies like binder jetting unlock benefits like generative design, tooling free manufacturing and mass customization.

You’ll also hear from Desktop Metal customers who are implementing AM 2.0 solutions to unlock throughput, repeatability, and competitive part costs.

Click here to view the schedule for the conference and to sign up.

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