Additive manufacturing (AM) is a cutting edge technology that has been changing the way of design and manufacturing processes are perceived & utilized, across industries.
Additive manufacturing creates products & machine parts allowing scope for design and material freedom. Especially, for manufacturing parts that are complex or end up being expensive under the conventional mode of casting and milling, AM comes as an alternative. Not limiting to machine parts but it can be applied to assembly line and system levels as well. While questions on the health hazards and limitations with design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) arise, the use and acceptance of it is wide spread with advantages out numbering the former. As one looks into the drivers that makes additive manufacturing so very in demand and accepted, apart from the cost as a factor quality and time is seen as major drivers that derive its use and effectiveness.
AM enables to build lighter-weight components that have better strength-to-weight ratios with the idea of using lattice structures that only improve the part quality but also offer part making process at a less build in time with better material utilization. They also open up options in terms of size and design, uniform lattice structures to variable one; one can choose from depending on the nature of the industry the machine part falls into. For instance in the medical industry the use of variable lattice structures brings in part integrity and strength acting as a boon to the medical sector with implants made better and durable.
In aerospace and aeronautics the use of topology optimization can create light weight structures that profoundly impact fuel consumption thereby bring down the annual costs. Companies in these sectors can also save money by improved material-use buy-to-fly ratio. Topology optimization also reduces the build in time and material costs and the scrap produced out of the process.
AM has high scope in building intricate internal channels and light weight parts and with its very roughness inherent to its manufacturing process can help improve the heat transfer mechanisms in heat exchangers. As in case of improving efficiency in turbines blades and piston crowns, seen as a small example. With building scope in each of sectors like aerospace, oil & gas machinery or medical implants; AM has impacted the very nature of machining process in industries across.
Part consolidation an innate nature to additive manufacturing, brings down supply-chain complexities and procurement costs. This indirectly influences in reducing labour costs and assembly time in the overall production process. In high pressure applications and manifold units, part consolidation process improves the structural integrity of their parts thus minimize possibility of leakage points.
Reduced tooling needs makes AM as one of the used methods for customized parts and components. AM cost curve remains constant under the low-volume production unlike in the conventional manufacturing methods. This positively helps a lot of start-ups to invest in business using AM methods and reach a breakeven with their customized product offerings. And for the established larger firms with bigger production volumes one can choose to utilize AM methods for print custom tooling, fixtures, patterns and molds under the low-volume production runs.
Having an in-house additive manufacturing unit, companies can leverage on multiple levels starting from speeding up product testing and validation. Product development time and manufacturing lead time can be reduced by incorporating AM for functional prototyping and replacement parts. With improved flexibility and agility companies can do production on demand thus plan out and improve logistics and reduce on the overall carrying cost on inventories. With an in-house AM unit, one can produce according to the changing market demands & fluctuations improve supply chain and reduce procurement costs.
Additive manufacturing has seen a tremendous curve over the years across industrial sectors including aerospace, aeronautics, oil & gas, medical and robotics. However one has to evaluate and make use of it depending on the value propositions as it varies widely by industry, application and the company by itself. To review on the processes that can still remain conventional and the ones that would need to be replaced with AM that could have an added value; to collectively bring in the best to the manufacturing process & business as well.