The Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

Because computer models and designs can be effortlessly transported electronically or even shared for download on the Internet, additive manufacturing allows businesses to quickly and cost effectively develop functional prototypes for product testing or even run a limited production line without having to worry about line limits and minimums while also allowing quick modifications when necessary.

By Greg Paulsen · April 23, 2014

Manufacturing Basics

Because computer models and designs can be effortlessly transported electronically or even shared for download on the Internet, additive manufacturing allows businesses to quickly and cost effectively develop functional prototypes for product testing or even run a limited production line without having to worry about line limits and minimums while also allowing quick modifications when necessary.

The following is a list of the top four benefits of additive manufacturing. These advantages highlight where the technology is taking us today.

1. Freedom to Design and Innovate

If there is one thing that product engineers can count on, it is that there will be modifications and redesigns. In the engineering world that is one certainty and it is also one of the most important aspects of designing. Additive manufacturing is no longer just about the creation of a part in the physical world. It brings innovation and design to the front. This creative freedom in the production process, a freedom without time or cost penalties, is the penultimate advantage over traditional manufacturing and machining. This is especially true when you consider the fact that over 60 percent of designs submitted for tooling and machining are modified while in production. That is a significant amount and in traditional manufacturing, this quickly leads to large increases in both cost as well as delays in time. Additive manufacturing remedies this through the movement away from traditional static designs while giving engineers the ability to try multiple iterations or versions simultaneously with minimal additional costs.

This freedom to design and innovate on the fly without penalties yields significant rewards: compressed production schedules, better quality products, more product designs and in the end, more products which means more revenue for you.

2. Support of Green Manufacturing

It is very clear that additive manufacturing streamlines traditional manufacturing and production methods significantly. This compressed process also means that there is a smaller environmental footprint. When considering the mining process of steel or the retooling process required in traditional manufacturing, it is easy to see why additive manufacturing is seen as a sustainable alternative.

While additive manufacturing does rely on electricity, a relatively small amount is required to produce parts especially when compared to more traditional manufacturing. Additionally, there is also very little waste as only the needed materials are used and the plastics are entirely recyclable. Additive manufacturing is also effective in the light-weighting of vehicles and aircraft, which is an important factor in mitigating harmful fuel emissions. In fact, components produced using additive manufacturing processes allow manufacturing engineers to build solid parts with a semi-hollow honeycomb interior. These parts have an excellent strength to weight ratio that is the equivalent to ratio of a solid part. The main difference, however, is that these components can be as much as 60 percent lighter than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, which have tremendous impact on fuel costs of the final product.

3. Bottom line Improvements through Factory Physics

One of the fastest ways to improve a company’s bottom line is by reducing risk and increasing predictability. Using what is known as factory physics, the digital additive manufacturing technology takes previously unpredictable production methods and makes them predictable by gauging factory loads. With online quoting engines such as on Xometry.com and a part’s volume that CAD software can easily compute, engineers are given real-time delivery dates. At the same time, additive manufacturing machines have a known volume and capacity that can automatically be tracked and measured at any given moment. This ability to manage and automate factory loads means pricing becomes dynamic based on the factory physics at that moment. It also gives engineers a more efficient means of controlling pricing by mitigating risk of unpredictable scheduling or the fear of interruption to the supply chain. 3D printers and other additive machines can read CAD files to know how long it will take to build a part and how much material is needed before it’s even on the machine. This allows the ability to better plan capacity, give accurate delivery dates to customers and schedule factory capacity by forecasting future needs without interruption.

4. Get Parts – Fast

At this point we imagine that you likely have already considered parts on demand as being a major benefit of additive manufacturing. It is but it is worth repeating. Being able to access parts almost instantaneously allows a more fluid product development and design process. This brings us full circle back to freedom to redesign without any penalties. For additive manufacturing, there is a need for speed at all phases – quoting, production and shipping. This includes parts needed for end-use applications or for those where it makes sense to use the technology as a bridge to traditional manufacturing.

Whatever the case may be, most end with additive manufacturing acting as the bridge between technologies. This is currently how we at Xometry are set up with our additive AND subtractive manufacturing services. As an example, let’s assume that a supplier producing traditional parts for an automotive manufacturer falls through, a machine could be down for maintenance or they have 100% machine utilization with no capacity to make the needed parts. That automotive manufacturer can turn to an additive manufacturing company such as Xometry to produce the needed thermoplastic pieces instantly in order to keep the factory running. Without these parts on demand enabling continuous production, the factory would have been idle for weeks and costing the company thousands of loss revenue Similarly, looking at a government application of the technology, parts on demand meant saving lives of our armed forces when the production of military flashlights, which are used by soldiers on patrol as well as in night missions, were put on hold because of retooling. With additive manufacturing available to help validate the new flashlight design, it allowed manufacturing assembly to kick in while tooling caught up. Without additive manufacturing’s ability to redesign the part overnight, the wait would have been 12 weeks at minimum.

The demand to obtain parts quickly will continue to rise, especially as the industry becomes increasingly aware of and comfortable with enabling technologies like additive manufacturing. In fact, traditional manufacturing companies are already beginning to increase the number of onsite additive manufacturing machines to fill the void. It is only a matter of time before the most significant benefits of this technology are realized and the future of manufacturing is transformed into global digital factories and Xometry is leading the way!

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