Should you implement additive manufacturing?

Image taken by Jordi Rietman at Sciaky stand Euromold 2015
Image taken by Jordi Rietman at Sciaky stand Euromold 2015

With all the news about 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing and especially since additive manufacturing has been called the next industrial revolution in manufacturing, a sort of FoMO is spreading and more and more companies start wondering if they should implement 3D printing into their business.

To help you decide, 3D fab+print summarised what you need to consider in order to decide whether your business could currently benefit from implementing additive manufacturing.

The first thing you have to take into consideration when identifying whether 3D printing is something that would be interesting to integrate into your business, is how accurate your current manufacturing method is in producing a product. When this goes well, and when costs and benefits are well-balanced, then it appears there is no added value to be gained by introducing a 3D printer in your production process.

On the other hand, when you think you could benefit from decreasing the weight of your product, or when you produce small series and would like to personalise these in ways that traditional manufacturing methods just can’t do, then 3D printing could be of use to you. The same is true in case you need to be able to create prototypes really fast.

Materials and 3D printing techniques

So now that you have an answer to the question if 3D printing can be beneficial to your business, you need to consider which 3D printing technique is the best choice in your case and this depends on the material you need (or wish) to work with. Roughly there are two options: plastic or metal.

Plastic is the material of choice for rapid prototyping; for small products that require good detail; and also for large products. The technique that is required to 3D print your product depends on the purpose, measurements and requirements hereof, resulting in for example laser sintering, material jetting, stereo lithography, binder jetting, or FDM.

When you need your product to be manufactured in metal, you should take into consideration that different metals offer different advantages and disadvantages. Though one metal  for example is lighter – which may be advantageous – another may prove to be more ‘machineable’, which could be essential. Overall, for smaller products that can get a surface treatment after the additive manufacturing process, laser melting or electron beam melting will work. In other cases – such as fine mechanics or larger components that require 5-axis machining – you need to move towards selective laser melting.

For further information on the topic additive manufacturing as a manufacturing strategy in Europe, an interesting read is the European Additive Manufacturing Strategy by CECIMO, the European Association of the Machine Tool Industries.