Metal 3D printing is fast becoming one of the most popular industrial manufacturing processes. It can produce shapes and features that are impossible to manufacture with traditional metal fabrication methods. These include lattices, organic topologies and complex internal coring such as cooling channels. Metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) is a 3D printing process where powdered metal is selectively melted by a laser, on a layer-by-layer basis, until a part is formed. The process makes solid metal parts with a matte surface finish in alloys like aluminum, steel, stainless steel, Inconel (nickel-alloy), titanium and more. It’s better known by names like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser melting (SLM), or direct metal laser melting (DMLM) but the processes are in most ways identical. For simplicity, DMLS will be used in this article.
DMLS has added significant value in the aerospace industry, with demonstrated successes like GE’s GE9X engine used on the 777X housing hundreds of metal 3D printed features. The 3D printed parts offer better performance, less weight and fewer assembly parts than their predecessors. The fuel cost savings alone justify the increased infrastructure, R&D and quality assurance required for GE Additive to champion the metal 3D printing-based project.
3D printing isn’t a vision of the future; it’s here now. However, with the growth of technologies such as artificial intelligence also competing to win the business of organisations across the globe, how do you make the business case for 3D printing?
The long-term capabilities of 3D printing, especially local print-on-demand solutions, have the potential to transform the supply chain. However, any company with additive manufacture can begin to explore the 3D printing journey to achieve incremental gains today.
Additive manufacturing: Working with existing methods
3D printing isn’t a replacement for traditional manufacturing processes, it’s a technology designed to complement and work alongside existing manufacturing methods too. As a case in point, print on demand spare parts can revolutionise uptime, especially in remote areas, enabling companies to cut down their transport and warehouse costs, reduce production downtime and optimise processes.
Recently, many new 3D software startup companies entered the market offering various solutions mainly for industrial users. It goes from decision-support solutions for better utilization of 3D printing, generative design/topology optimization, to workflow management and parts IP protection. Each of them seems to be focused on specific challenges heavy users face, challenges that will only increase in the foreseeable future as 3D printing moves from prototyping to manufacturing.
Why is there a need for such 3D software solutions and what are the gaps they are trying to fill? And where does it position the large software conglomerates that have been the main players in the market for many years? Let’s understand the bigger picture first.
With 3D printing moving towards broader adoption many companies are now entering our market. One of these is Deloitte. The professional services firm that does everything from accounting to tax and M&A also wants to guide firms into the 3D printing world. We interviewed Vinod Devan, Product Strategy and Operations Lead at Deloitte Consulting to see what the firm’s plans are in 3D printing and how it hopes to help customers.
Why is Deloitte entering the 3D printing market?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a critical component of the Industry 4.0 digital transformation.AM technology is finally at the point where companies are starting to realize significant, tangible, new value for themselves and their customers. Deloitte is making significant investments in 3D printing knowledge and capabilities so that we can advise and join with our clients as they revolutionize supply chains, product portfolios, and business models.
With a focus on digitization and Industry 4.0, 3D Printing Industry sought to learn more on how such technologies work with additive manufacturing, by attending the IN(3D)USTRY talk “Printing Farms & Smart Factories.”
The following includes some of the insights made by Pedro Mier, Adviser and Member of the Board of Directors at Premo Group, Ignacio Artola Guardiola, Managing Director at Accenture, Ramón Paricio Hernández, Production Manager at SEAT, and Ramón Pastor, Vice President and General Manager of HP’s Large Format Printing.
With the rise of additive manufacturing (AM), a wide range of users now have 3D printersat a keystroke, and can produce physical objects without the use of traditional manufacturing tool and die fixtures or injection molding.
Inexpensive parts for everyday goods, for example, are now being produced with affordable 3D printers and then sold to consumers by individuals or small businesses.
Lockheed Martin, a Maryland-based aerospace and defense company, has emphasized its 5Ps Additive Manufacturing Model to demonstrate the potential of additive manufacturing in the lifecycle of a typical U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) program.
“We look to insert the right level of additive capabilities at each of our factories to support production and keep our innovation centers focused on development,” said Carolyn Preisendanz, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Technology at Lockheed Martin RMS in an article by Robert Ghobrial, Technical Fellow and AM Technology Strategist Lockheed Martin, Training and Logistics Solutions (TLS) division. Read more
In the mid-15th century, Johannes Gutenberg changed the course of history.
His printing press, often called the most important invention of the millennium, helped books spread beyond the religious and scholastic elite to billions of people around the world. With the Gutenberg Bible – the first mass-produced book – as the original ‘killer app’, the technology’s success was assured.
Today, 3D-printing evangelists believe their technology could have a similarly momentous impact. The technique, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), “is poised to transform the $12tn global manufacturing industry,” according to George Brasher, HP’s UK managing director. “It promises to democratise industrial production, dramatically reducing costs and production cycles.”
In-house 3D printing has been proven to reduce lead times, improve product quality, and cut production costs. In one such award winning application, Ultimaker3D printers saved Volkswagen Autoeuropa an estimated $160,000 in the space of 12 months. The European car manufacturer is now on course to save over a quarter of a million dollars in tooling costs each year.
The document serves as a guide to desktop 3D printing, troubleshooting questions of software, materials, staffing, logistics, networking and maintenance. As such, it is also suited to new starters in any sector, from aerospace and automotive, through to medicine, architecture, and industrial design seeking to benefit from 3D printing.
“Just because you can 3D-print something doesn’t mean you should.”
Mike Vasquez, founder of digital manufacturing and 3D printing consultancy 3Degrees, guides companies looking to add 3D printing to their toolbox, and he’s quick to offer a reality check on the technology’s possibilities and limitations. “Just because you can 3D-print something doesn’t mean you should,” he says. “If you’re telling me that you want to recreate these screws and just use 3D printing for no justification, then that’s a challenge.”
Vasquez offers these questions for companies to answer in evaluating whether and where to incorporate 3D printing:
1. Are you saving time to production so you can get more product to the market sooner?
2. Will 3D printing allow you to reduce your inventory, creating more of an on-demand supply chain and saving on spare-part storage and maintenance costs?
3. How long is it going to take, really? “I think people underestimate the work that goes into post-processing,” Vasquez says. “If we’re talking about metals, you likely need to heat-treat or stress-relief that part afterward.” Plus, he says, a secondary heat treatment could be required, taking several days in some cases. SLM North America’s Richard Grylls notes: “If you imagine printing in layers of 30 microns and you’ve got a build height of up to 350 mm, depending on the laser run time and the amount of parts you’re building, it can take days to build a set of components on a build cycle.”