3D Printing and Its Impact on Manufacturing Processes

By: Scott Cranford

3D printing will bring revolutionary changes in manufacturing processes. To better grasp the impact we must define the "subtractive" and "additive" manufacturing processes.  

Subtractive Manufacturing

Conventional manufacturing uses the subtractive process. This type of manufacturing is a process in which objects, such as machine parts. Are made by cutting away from a piece of material like iron. This process creates lots of waste. Losses of 60-70 percent of the base material are not uncommon. Often the waste material is gathered and recycled. This recycling comes at significant cost to the manufacturer.

Additive Manufacturing

This is the process that 3D printers use. In basic terms it involves the adding of layers as the part is being formed. Additive manufacturing is quicker and produces less waste.

Advantages of 3D Printing

  • 3D printing substantially reduces material costs.
  • 3D printers are no longer limited to plastic reproductions. They're using an ever-growing variety of materials; bio-materials, metals, composites, ceramics, and glass to name a few.
  • These printers are very good at making highly precise, personalized, custom parts. Especially in low volumes.
  • As the price of these printers continues to fall, their ability to mass produce at an ever-increasing return on investment (ROI) is growing exponentially.
  • Tools, prototypes, and parts can be produced faster and at a much lower cost.
  • As companies operate with smaller inventories, 3D printers easily fill on demand requests.
  • Prototypes can be produced at much less risk to the investor, entrepreneur, or inventor.
  • 3D printers are more amenable to production line changes.
  • 3D printers are easily integrated into robotic processes.

The Future of 3D Printing

3D printers are going to create paradigm shifts in many manufacturing processes. They will open doors for new ideas and innovative products. Previously out-priced entrepreneurs will be able to take their prototypes from design to showroom. Forward thinking owners, managers and technology leaders are keeping up to date with the latest advances in 3D printing.

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Topics: Manufacturing

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