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Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive Manufacturing can be defined as processes in which material is coagulated or bonded under the control of a computer to create a three-dimensional object with the material being added together. Objects used in the process can be of any shape and are produced using digital model data from a 3D model or another electronic data source such as Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) file. Additive manufacturing is employed to achieve mass-production.

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In other words, additive manufacturing (3D Printing) can be defined as a process by which 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material.

Industrial Additive Manufacturing

Industrial additive manufacturing, which is a game-changing production technology, is gaining momentum in the commercial manufacturing environments.

Additive manufacturing (AM) is commonly known as ‘3D Printing’, a production technology that is driving the next industrial revolution.

• 3D objects are built by adding layer by layer of material
• Objects can be made virtually of any shape using a digital model

Industrial Additive Manufacturing Vs 3D Printing

There is not much difference between Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing. However, additive manufacturing and 3D Printing are synonyms for the process of building parts by joining material layer by layer using a CAD file.

People who work in an industrial or manufacturing industry refer the process as ‘Additive Manufacturing’ whereas media, other people refer it as 3D Printing.

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) Process

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) involves the process of building layers of a material to create a solid object using CAD, STL conversion and files manipulation, printing, removal of prints, and post-processing.

1. CAD
In the additive manufacturing process, producing a digital model is the initial step. To produce a digital model, the most common method is CAD (Computer Aided Design). There are several free and professional CAD programs that are compatible with the additive manufacturing. On the other hand, reverse engineering can also be used to generate a digital model via 3D scanning.

2. STL conversion and file manipulation
The second step included in the additive manufacturing process is converting a CAD model into an STL (Stereolithography) file. To describe the surfaces of an object, STL uses triangles (polygons). Before converting a model to an STL file, model limitations such as physical size, water tightness and polygon count should be considered.

After generating the STL file, it is imported into a slicer program. This program takes the STL file and converts it into G-code, which is a numerical control (NC) programming language. This language can be used in Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) to control automated machine tools including 3D printers and CNC machines.

3. Printing
At this stage, the print material is loaded into the printer. To produce accurate points, maintenance of machine parts, calibration is important. The raw materials used in additive manufacturing have a limited shelf life and require careful handling.
Moreover, most additive manufacturing machines do not need to be monitored after the print has begun. An automated process will be followed and the issue/problem arose when the machine runs out of material or if there is a software problem.

4. Removal of prints
Remove of the print is simple as it requires the separation of a printed part from the build platform.

5. Post processing
Post-processing procedures vary by printer technology. For example, SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) requires a component to treat under UV before handling; metal parts need to be stress relieved in an oven while FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) parts can be handled right away.

In this step, 3D printing materials are capable to be sanded and other post-processing techniques including polishing, high-pressure air cleaning, tumbling, and coloring are implemented to prepare a print for end use.

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) allows for highly complex structures that can be extremely light and stable. It also enables a design-driven manufacturing process where design determines production.

It is used as it provides various advantages such as:

1) Additive manufacturing (3D Printing) saves money as you do not need mold tools for your prototype and expensive production.

2) It mitigates risks and you can easily alter or redesign an existing mold without expensive risks and processes.

3) 3D Printing offers clearer communication ensuring that no construction requirement is left to the imagination. It offers the exact representation of the desired product greatly minimizing errors with the finished product.

4) This is a great way of testing the market potential of your product before getting into the production with full force. It is also a simple way of making improvements to it before mass production.

5) Using 3D printer, you can customize and personalize product parts to fit the unique needs and this can be very important, especially for dental and medical industries or even the fashion and jewelry industries.

6) You can build things that seem impossible, such as square interior cavities, holes which change direction and overhangs. You can bring your geometry ideas into reality using a good 3D printer.

Applications of Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive Manufacturing has several applications in a variety of industries.

• For example, within the medical industry, doctors can create models of the human body and organs for use in research and medical education.
• Within the architectural field, architects can create model scales of building to present to clients.
• Using this, auto parts can be created that might currently be made on assembly lines for the automotive industry and for manufacturing industrial equipment and consumer products.

Mass Customization
Companies often opt for mass production to gain economies of scale and keep the product cost low. Product customization is expensive and usually reserved for customers with an ability to pay a premium. The advent of 3D printing technology aims to remove this barrier with mass customization at a reasonable cost. For instance, 3D printers can be used to design a perfect replica of the actual knee and print it for use in knee replacement surgeries.

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Low Volume Production
The concept of minimum order quantity (MOQ) arose due to minimum order stipulations placed by suppliers manufacturing in large volume. For instance, creating a mold might cost $10,000 with a $1 price for each incremental part, making the total price for the first part as $10,001. If the requirement is only for a few parts, then it wouldn’t make economic sense to manufacture it for such low volumes. Today, companies opt for 3D printing for manufacturing parts and products at low volume.
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