Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry with its unique capabilities. In this article, we will discuss the strengths of AM and compare them to conventional manufacturing processes. We will examine the advantages of AM for cost reduction and revenue generation, including toolless manufacture, part consolidation, complex geometries, increased product performance, personalization, and after-sales opportunities. Additionally, we will explore other operational advantages, high-level enterprise benefits, and the economics of 3D printing.
What is additive manufacturing?
Let us start with a definition. ISO/ASTM 52900 terminology standard defines additive manufacturing as “the process of joining materials to make parts from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies”.
Additive manufacturing is commonly referred to as 3D printing, and these terms are often used interchangeably. However, AM is a more commonly used term in the industry, while 3D printing is used both in the industry and in personal or small-volume applications.
The term “rapid prototyping” has also been used to describe AM, but it doesn’t encompass all the capabilities of the technology. AM is no longer solely reserved for prototyping; it has become a versatile and reliable method for producing functional end-use parts, tooling, and complex assemblies with high accuracy and speed.
AM has significant potential to reduce waste and carbon footprint in manufacturing, increase innovation through faster product development cycles, and enable the production of complex parts with greater ease and flexibility. In this article, we will examine the advantages of AM to provide a comprehensive overview of the technology.
Advantages of additive manufacturing compared to conventional manufacturing processes
We appreciate the distinction made by the BSI standard PAS 6001:2020, categorizing the benefits of additive manufacturing under cost reduction and revenue enabler. We will adhere to this categorization for the purpose of our discussion.
Toolless manufacture enables flexible production and prototyping (cost reduction)
CM methods such as molding, casting, and machining require dedicated tools in form of dies, fixtures, or patterns, which usually come at a significant initial investment in money and time. AM equipment, in contrast, is mostly independent of the part volume, geometry, and complexity as long as the part fits in the build volume of the machine.
Therefore AM is ideal for prototyping or low-volume production. The initial investment for a prototype and a new product is near zero once the AM infrastructure is already set. Most importantly, small changes and iterations in a part can be realized instantly as opposed to waiting for a new tool.
Part consolidation means fewer parts to assemble (cost reduction)
In conventional manufacturing (CM), assemblies often consist of multiple parts because otherwise, the geometry would be too complex to produce. However, in additive manufacturing, the burden of geometric complexity is significantly lessened, enabling the consolidation of multiple parts into fewer numbers or even a single part. The consolidation of parts can simplify the supply chain, reduce manufacturing and assembly costs, and lower maintenance costs.
Complex geometries are possible (revenue enabler)
Complex geometries can be either prohibitively expensive or completely inaccessible with CM. In contrast, AM allows for the production of complex geometries at a much lower cost, enabling the creation of new products that were previously deemed impossible. These new products can be offered to customers, expanding the realm of what is possible with traditional manufacturing methods.
Increased product performance (revenue enabler)
Additive manufacturing enables the production of products with improved performance, such as reduced weight, integrated cooling channels, better biocompatibility, and enhanced mechanical properties. These features are typically associated with complex geometries, which are easier to achieve with AM than with traditional manufacturing methods.
Personalization and customization can create new markets (revenue enablers)
Medical devices, consumer goods, and fashion items are excellent examples of products that can benefit from personalization and customization, leading to increased demand. The toolless nature of AM reduces the barrier to entry for customized and low-volume production. This capability allows for the production of unique, individualized products that meet specific customer requirements, thereby enabling manufacturers to meet the ever-changing demands of the market.
After-sales opportunities with repair and reuse (revenue enabler)
An often-overlooked possibility with AM is the ability to repair damaged parts by adding material to the affected area. This approach can generate significant after-market revenues, particularly for manufacturers of large, complex parts such as impellers or turbines.
Additionally, AM technology can be employed to repair and remanufacture existing products by adding material using an AM process to an already existing object. This capability can extend the useful life of a product, reduce the environmental impact of disposal, and generate additional revenue streams for businesses.
Another way of looking at the advantages of AM
Drawing on our experience and other sources such as Harvard Business Review, we present another perspective on the benefits of additive manufacturing.
- Flexibility in design allows for more intricate and customized parts.
- Shorter design-to-part cycles enable faster prototyping and time-to-market.
- Complex and customized structures are more easily produced with additive manufacturing.
- Enhanced performance of parts can be achieved through design optimization and the use of advanced materials.
- Part consolidation reduces the number of parts required for assembly, saving time and cost.
- Multiple materials can be used in a single part, expanding the range of properties achievable.
High-level advantages for enterprises
- The low entry barrier for new products and designs enables companies to introduce new products with less financial risk.
- Low-volume, personalized production is feasible with additive manufacturing, allowing for custom products and smaller batch production runs.
- Optimized logistics and supply chain management can be achieved through more flexible and local production.
- Environmental benefits arise from reduced waste and energy usage compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
Economics of 3D printing
- Economies of scale
- The low entry barrier for new products and designs results in similar per-part costs for both lower and higher volumes, making economies of scale achievable for smaller production runs.
- The minimum economic scale of volume production is lowered, making it feasible to produce a variety of products in small batches.
- On-demand manufacturing
- Shorter product design cycles enable faster response to market demand and changing customer needs.
- Stockless inventory reduces the need for physical storage space and decreases the risk of overstocking or obsolescence.
- Personal and demographic needs can be more easily fulfilled through additive manufacturing, and customers can be engaged in the design process.
- Location elasticity
- Supply chains become more flexible, as production can be located closer to the customer.
- Transportation of fewer finished goods may alter global trade flows and impact the logistics industry.
- Environmental benefits arise from minimized material waste and simplified logistics.
AM has significant potential to transform the manufacturing industry by reducing waste and carbon footprint, increasing innovation, enabling customization and personalization, and generating new revenue streams. However, it is essential to acknowledge that the AM approach also has certain limitations that cannot be overlooked.
AM is not a replacement for conventional manufacturing processes but rather a complementary technology that offers unique capabilities. By understanding the strengths and limitations of AM, manufacturers can make informed decisions about when to use it and when to use conventional manufacturing processes to optimize their operations and achieve their business goals.
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At 3D Spark, we believe that manufacturing, sourcing, and purchasing parts should demand less manual work and should be more efficient in terms of energy, materials, delivery time, costs, and labor.
Our software helps manufacturers like you to identify the most cost-effective, fastest, and most sustainable manufacturing technology and material for each part, based on 2D drawings or 3D CAD data. By comparing industrial 3D printing with common traditional processes, we streamline decision-making and unlock potential savings in cost, delivery times, and carbon footprint.
Çağrı is responsible for Business Development & Customer Success at 3D Spark. He has offered solutions to global manufacturers for more than 10 years during his employment in materials and additive manufacturing companies such as SLM Solutions, W. R. Grace & Co. and Surflay Nanotec GmbH. Çağrı is passionate about 3D printing and believes strongly in the future of additive manufacturing.