Additive manufacturing is one of the results of the transition from analogue to digital industrial processes. It refers to the set of technologies that allow objects to be manufactured sequentially, usually layer by layer.
The most basic additive manufacturing technology is arguably 3D printing, which is somewhat limited and useful for individuals, start-ups or small designers and developers.
However, the other additive manufacturing techniques allow for much more sophisticated manufacturing and the possibility of manufacturing in metals or biomaterials, which is very useful for industrial production.
How does it work?
Additive manufacturing uses computer-aided design (CAD) data software or 3D object scanners to drive the hardware and deposit material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes.
It is defined as additive because material is added sequentially through very precise layers, as opposed to more traditional (subtractive) manufacturing, where material is removed from a solid block until the final part is formed.
This term encompasses a range of processes that differ greatly in both capabilities and applications (resin-based, powder, direct material injection and other techniques), so it is important to study the functionalities and differences of each technique in order to choose one or the other according to its application.
Applications in the additive manufacturing industry
The most basic additive manufacturing techniques are incredibly useful for making parts quickly and testing their functionality, so they are well suited to rapid prototyping. But increasingly, additive manufacturing, with materials such as metals, is being used for the production of final parts.
Its freedom of design and maximum customisation make it ideal for the consumer goods industry. Some of the sectors where it is most widely used include lighting, transportation (automotive parts), consumer electronics and wearables, and on-demand products.
Other applications include the manufacture of tools, tooling and industrial machinery, as this technique makes parts stronger and able to function more quickly and accurately. The same is true for the medical and aerospace sectors, which are increasingly taking advantage of it to manufacture complex, customised components.
Benefits for the industry
Additive manufacturing already offers real benefits and applications in four key areas for industry.
In contrast to traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing forms parts by adding only as much material as necessary, thus generating almost no waste and greatly reducing the raw material in use.
The ability of this technology to create almost any geometric shape offers design freedom and the ability to create parts with much more complex detail and greater efficiency. It also offers greater customisability, allowing manufacturers to produce small quantities of differentiated products at a more affordable cost.
The ability to change or adjust part designs immediately and at any time facilitates a more flexible design process. Development and go-to-market times become faster thanks to agile and rapid prototyping and testing.
The possibility of using new materials and processes makes it possible to manufacture products that are more functional, stronger, lighter, more stable and even more economical, resulting in improved product quality.
Processes are becoming faster and more flexible; set-up, assembly and waiting times are decreasing, the number of parts required is decreasing and the number of manufacturing steps is decreasing. In addition, the possibility to produce machine parts easily and quickly ensures faster and more economical maintenance.
Additive manufacturing saves production and supply chain costs by enabling more parts to be produced on demand, within hours and in the desired quantity.
It greatly reduces stock and the need to make moulds. It also facilitates localised production, offering reduced dependence on suppliers and savings in terms of transport and inventory costs.
Limitations for industry
Additive manufacturing is currently not an efficient way to produce large volumes of parts. Its inability to produce large quantities quickly and at an affordable price limits its area of application.
In these cases, it can be very useful as a complement to give the final shape or achieve the details of the products.
Most additive manufacturing processes have part size limitations, so in these cases it is necessary to divide the part into sub-components for subsequent joining.
Investment and cost
The capital investment required can be very high depending on the equipment and type of technique, as well as the price of the raw materials needed, which are also often above average. The cost of production for large volumes of products can be exorbitant, as the parts are printed one at a time.
Although it is a growing technology for specific sectors, it is still an evolving process, suitable mainly for niche markets and specific products of small size and quantities and high complexity.
All the technological solutions at your fingertips
Additive manufacturing is considered one of the technologies that make up Industry 4.0, along with others such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data. It goes beyond the technical limits imposed by traditional manufacturing means to offer new possibilities to an increasingly competitive industry.
It implements and operates a real digital transformation strategy in Industry 4.0 with the integrated IIot and Big Data operations platform Nexus Integra. The platform acts as a base from which you can implement and control all kinds of technological solutions in your company, such as additive manufacturing.
Do you want to optimise your production processes to make them more competitive? Contact us and we will guide you on the road to industrial intelligence.
And if you want to find out all about digital transformation in industry, we invite you to read our “Definitive guide to ensure the complete digital transformation of an industrial company”.