How additive manufacturing is changing industrial landscape

With the inherent attributes, AM is a natural fit for advanced manufacturing and an enabler for Industry 4.0. However, AM technology still has a long way to go to reach the maturity and confidence level of conventional processes, says Anil Kumar.
How additive manufacturing is changing industrial landscape
With the inherent attributes, AM is a natural fit for advanced manufacturing and an enabler for Industry 4.0. However, AM technology still has a long way to go to reach the maturity and confidence level of conventional processes, says Anil Kumar.
 
Additive Manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, enables the production of complex parts, which were otherwise difficult to produce via traditional manufacturing methods. Additive manufacturing process basically refers to layer-by-layer creation of 3D objects using metal, polymer or composite materials. Though 3D printing has been used for a long time now for polymer materials for rapid prototyping, with advances in laser technology, robotics, material science, imaging and engineering simulation, it is steadily making inroads into metal additive manufacturing. There has been a recent spurt of activity in metal additive manufacturing in the past 4-5 years with new, powerful, faster and reliable printers coming into market, inception of new companies and acquisitions providing solution around additive.
 
The global additive manufacturing market is expected to reach $ 23.33 billion by 2026, growing at a high rate of 14.4 per cent, according to a new report by Reports and Data.Nearly all industries have initiatives in the area of creating cleaner, lighter, and safer products. With shorter lead times and lower costs, Additive Manufacturing makes a compelling case. Industry 4.0 focuses on automated factories, increased use of robotics, AI and digitized manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology is an indispensable component of this revolution. Additive manufacturing gives immense benefits to all industries in the areas of design freedom, part consolidation, reduced product development costs, among a few. Let’s explore how additive manufacturing is transforming different industries already.
 
Transforming the medical industry
Medical field is one of the early adopters of additive manufacturing and is getting hugely impacted by it. Additive’s inherent design customization leads to patient specific implants. We are witnessing complete digitalization of process to produce the 3D printed hearing aids from companies like Sonova mass producing custom 3D printed hearing aids in millions per year. Dental is another medical application that has already adopted metal and ceramic 3D printing in mass production way. Patient specific implants in maxillo-facial prosthesis, hip, spine, etc. are other emerging applications.
 
3D printing is also helping in increasing precision in surgeries by creating prototype medical models and surgical guides. 3D printing of prototypes is very popular as accurate models can be produced in lesser time and lower costs. Creation of physical model gives a better idea to doctors before performing procedures and helps surgeons in reduction of operating time, providing pre-surgical planning and thus help medical students and surgeons. 3D printed implants, even the ones of complex designs, can be easily light weighted. Such implants with lattice structures lead to improved osseointegration and more successful acceptance by patients.
 
Transforming the tooling industry
Continuous technological breakthroughs in Additive manufacturing are increasing its quality and making it more cost effective. This is increasing the applicability of additive manufacturing in more and more applications in the tooling industry even with traditional manufacturing still dominates this space. Tooling by nature, is required in low volumes and can be very complex in shapes depending on the application. This is leading to very high adoption of additive manufacturing techniques in tooling applications. Also, if tooling is made from additive, then there is enormous design freedom to change it as many times as required. This accelerates the overall product design process multiple times. 
 
According to Wohlers report, AM equipment OEMs claim that their systems can be used to reduce lead times for the tooling fabrication by upwards of 40 per cent. The general thumb rule is that if tooling requires material removal of 75 per cent or more in its fabrications, then its cost would be less if produced by additive processes. Conformally cooled tools can be manufactured using AM with physics based cooling holes and features that can provide more efficient and homogeneous heat transfer from tool, yielding improved performance and finally resulting in better part quality. 
 
Transforming the aerospace industry
The Aerospace industry undergoes a lot of new-design testing. New designs or ideas need to be tested and validated. This generates huge prototyping activity. Additive manufacturing that started as a rapid prototyping model thus becomes a natural choice. It enables rapid design reviews and validations. One can completely skip the tooling process and directly manufacture the parts with Additive processes. This helps design engineers to validate multiple designs to reach the most efficient one in the least amount of time and cost. According to a study done by Stratasys, if additive processes are adopted over conventional methods, one can get time benefits ranging from 43 percent to 75 percent 
in prototyping.
 
Additive manufacturing allows design freedom to manufacture very complex parts in a single piece. This eliminates the steps of joining multiple parts to make a complex part that require resolving the issues of assembly like compatibility, testing, leakages, etc. In-fact, part consolidation leads to increased reliability and durability of components as the number of parts to assemble goes down. Leap engine fuel nozzles from GE that last year printed its 30000th part, is reduced to a single part from what was earlier 20 different parts. This also comes with 5x increased durability and 15 percent better fuel efficiency. Aerospace utilizes superalloys like that of titanium, Inconel, extensively. These are hard to machine using traditionally available processes but are readily made using additive manufacturing processes. Further, high “buy-to-fly” ratio in additive manufacturing leads much less material wastage and it compensates for the expensive powder form for these super materials. Bionic designs from topologically optimized designs that can readily be made with AM are leading to extremely lightweight functional parts in aerospace industry that is quite sensitive to the weight aspects of the parts.
 
Transforming automotive industry
Sports auto segment has been an early adopter and is extensively utilizing Additive Manufacturing in their design iterations for exploring the most efficient design in the shortest possible time. With the tightening regulatory and environmental norms, all automakers are constantly seeking ways to lightweight in order to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles to meet standards and to also deliver greater value to the end users. Additive manufacturing is transforming the tooling for automotive industry in a big way. Few automakers have already started reporting its immense cost and lead time benefits in tool making that is directly affecting their time to market and overall design costs.
 
Transforming supply chains
An important effect of AM is the shortening and simplifying of the enormous automotive supply chains that are currently under operation. Using AM, maintenance and repairs of automobile parts can be done in an on-demand basis. More and more suppliers are 
now realizing AM as complementing the traditional processes like casting and forging, and not as a threat to replace them. Traditional metal manufacturing like forming, milling, etc. need large amounts of energy and create lot of waste. As AM enables components to be printed on the fly, have little or no material waste and can be manufactured on-site, it is significantly reducing the carbon and energy footprint.
 
Going ahead
With the inherent attributes, AM is a natural fit for advanced manufacturing and an enabler for Industry 4.0. However, AM technology still has a long way to go to reach the maturity and confidence level of conventional processes. Especially metal AM has some peculiar challenges that need to be overcome before it becomes common place. Further advancements in material science, process understanding and engineering simulations that mimic entire AM process will usher required reliability and effectiveness into it and make it another regular manufacturing method on the lines of traditional manufacturing processes.
 
 
About the Author:
Anil Kumar is the Lead Application Engineer of ANSYS - a leading provider of engineering simulation software solution. For over 45 years, ANSYS has pioneered the development and application of simulation methods to solve the most challenging engineering problems.
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