Whilst additive manufacturing (AM) technologies (also known as 3D printing) have gained significant traction over recent years in the design of complex components and creation of early prototypes, there is still some way to go before many industries adopt them for full component production.
AM has the potential to not only transform a firm’s design and production activities but also to positively impact other aspects of their business, including product customisation and the reconfiguration of their supply chains.
Resistance to additive manufacturing in production
The uptake of AM technologies beyond prototyping and small-scale production remains slow, as illustrated by recent research.
A survey was undertaken of 110 product and industrial designers and design engineers located in 25 countries. It showed that whilst 72% of respondents often or routinely used additive manufacturing for prototyping, less than 40% said they had never designed components to be produced by AM.
Perceptions relating to cost and speed of production were cited amongst the main reasons preventing manufacturers from embracing AM for production. Other concerns included the perceived inability of AM to provide repeatable quality and dimensional accuracy in production, along with unease over the material properties of components.
Industry sectors embracing additive manufacturing in production
It’s not all bad news for AM-based production as these industry sectors have already embraced the capabilities that AM offers.
The aerospace industry was one of the early adopters of AM, taking advantage of the technologies abilities to deliver complex parts with both high strength and reduced weight. It is particularly telling that aerospace would be an industry to embrace AM, given the tough industry performance standards which must be met as aerospace parts are often operating in some of the harshest conditions.
The success of AM in the energy sector is similar to that it has enjoyed in the aerospace industry. As it enables the rapid development of relatively high strength, low weight custom-designed components able to withstand extreme conditions. Developments in corrosion-resistant metal materials for AM will likely increase the use of this technology within the energy sector.
AM is enabling numerous technical breakthroughs to be achieved in the medical technology sector. Linked to other technology such as 3D scanning means that AM can enable medical devices to be produced that are custom made for an individual’s requirements. Manufacturers are exploiting the ever-increasing range of new biocompatible AM materials, (including rigid and flexible, opaque and transparent), to expand their product offerings.
Automotive suppliers and companies have been using AM to develop consolidated, lightweight components for a full range of passenger and commercial vehicles. In addition to producing parts that can withstand extremes of temperature and speed, AM is allowing the production of complex ducting parts that cannot be fabricated with conventional manufacturing methods. Customisation applications through AM are also extremely attractive to the automotive industry.