If I am to guess, you have most defiantly heard the term 3D Printing before. So, let us dig deeper into it. 3D Printing falls under the broader term Additive Manufacturing (AM). More specifically, the term 3D Printing is more commonly used to describe entry-level technologies that are low in cost and accessible to the average consumer. Hence, the term became more known to people outside that specific technical sphere. However, for our purposes, we can consider them interchangeable.
The term Additive Manufacturing only makes sense when contrasted with its more traditional counterpart Subtractive Manufacturing. In Subtractive Manufacturing, you start with lots of material; then, you remove from it until you reach your final product. For example, you can start with an aluminum block, then use a CNC machine to remove material to get a laptop chassis. Or you can start with sheet metal, then cut and form it to end up with a support bracket. In contrast, in Additive Manufacturing (AM), you would start from an empty canvas, then start adding materials to end up with your final product. For example, you would start from a blank canvas, then add layers to end up with a laptop chassis or a support bracket, or a turbine blade.
About the Tech
Additive manufacturing has reached a good level of maturity with a wide variety of technologies. However, most of the technologies are more common for industrial use due to the machines' high cost and the required space, maintenance, and expertise to operate them. However, they mostly work using the same concept by adding layers of materials and solidifying them to a final shape. Materials can range from plastics, metals, paper, wax, sand, and composites. The following picture shows a 3D printed metal impeller.
The technologies that made it to consumer levels are:
The rest have mostly remained confined to industrial use. The following figure highlights the different 3D printing technologies currently available. Pictures and red rectangles are for technologies that are more available at the consumer level.
Why use Additive Manufacturing (AM) in Product Design
As of now, Product Design applications represent the most prominent usage of Additive Manufacturing. This both in the Product Development Stage as well as the Product Production Stage. Let us talk briefly about those two stages.
Product Development Stage:
Within the product development stage, AM has three main advantages:
Product Production Stage:
The advantages AM brings for the product development cycle are more known and utilized than the Production Stage. In the Product Development stage, AM has two main advantages. Being able to produce custom products and complex geometries.
1. Custom Products
AM enables you to produce unique, custom products on a small scale. For plastic-based applications, Injection Molding is the traditional counterpart for Additive Manufacturing. Both methods can produce plastic products, but the cost models are very different. The figure below highlights the difference in cost between Additive Manufacturing and Injection Molding. Additive manufacturing has a fixed cost per unit, while injection molding has a variant one that decreases the more you produce a product. This makes additive manufacturing great to create custom products on a smaller scale.
2. Complex Geometries
AM enables you to produce products that are not possible traditional methods. This can be especially the case with metal products where the traditional counterpart is Subtractive Manufacturing. Due to its nature, AM technologies can enable the creation of internal structures that are otherwise impossible to make with traditional methods. The figure highlights a part structure that is only possible with Additive Manufacturing.
The scope of AM is much wider than what is described in this article. Besides the direct product design applications, AM can bring lots of unique advantages to other technical areas like supply chain and tooling. So, regardless of which area you are work in, you should keep an eye on AM and ways it can support your business.
Have you ever used AM/3D Printing before? What did you use it for? Share your experience with us in the comments. Also, what else would you like to know about the world of Additive Manufacturing?
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*If you are looking to learn 3D modeling for 3D Printing, check out the TforDesign school, which offers a range of online 3D modeling courses on SOLIDWORKS, portfolio building, and sustainability.
By Tayseer Almattar, TforDesign Founder
Tayseer is the founder of TforDesign. He has a passion for learning design and making all learning digestible and exciting.