In July 2020, BMW officially launched its Additive Manufacturing campus in Munich. Since then, it has been pushing the boundaries of production capacity AM. And it is not alone. Toyota. Ford. Airbus. Shell. All housename companies from a wide variety of industries committing millions of dollars into additive manufacturing.

And it isn’t only so they can prototype more quickly.

Metal AM is big, and getting bigger.

This post and the next will review the most dynamic reasons why metal AM is beginning to redefine so much of our production process.

Additive manufacturing is the direct layer-by-layer production using digitized output – typically in the form of a CAD model. It is in direct contrast to traditional methods which generally employ more wasteful, or time-consuming and labor-intensive steps.

A more comprehensive comparison between the methods can be found reviewing our blog entry, which you can find here:

Mind of Metal: A Quick Review of Traditional vs Additive.

Product Centric Advantages of Metal AM

Product centric advantanges are identified as those advantages that directly affects product development, production and market introduction. They include:

Lightweighting: Reducing material required without compromising essential mechanical properties.
  • RAPID PROTOTYPING: Rapid prototyping is perhaps one of the most well documented benefits of AM. This is because it can be used to significantly cut costs and time.

    Prototyping is the creation of a ‘draft’ version of a design concept used to test out the items desired functionality. You could say its a test to make sure the designed item ‘works’ as intended.

    Prototypes can also be used to test the market to allow designers to see how customer reactions to the product. This can result in confirmation of the existing design before investing in production. But it can also be used to collect information for potential changes.

    Strides in software development have helped ‘democratize’ the development of product prototypes. ‘Democratize’ implies ease of access and use. There are dozens of computer aided design (CAD) options available ranging from TinkerCAD to the more professional Fusion360. Aptly named slicing software simplifies the conversion from CAD design to machine code, which directs printer movement.
  • GREATER DESIGN COMPLEXITY: The incremental layered approach to production lends itself it considerable design flexibility. This reduces reliance on traditional manufacturing restrictions and design requirements like draft angles, undercuts and tool access.

    The AM process can lead to the design of innovative new products. Of equal importance however, is that AM lends itself to innovation in rethinking existing designs.

    The benefits are many, but here are two of them.
    • REDUCED ASSEMBLY REQUIREMENTS: AM designed flexible hinged of flanged components can be produced as one piece. This not only reduces labor requirements, but can impact the net weight of the final component.
    • LIGHTWEIGHTING: Lightweighting is exactly what it sounds like. It is the reduction of component weight by optimizing material used. While this can certainly benefit by reducing material costs, lightweighting primarly is used to reduce friction and wear.
  • MASS CUSTOMIZATION: Changes to a design whether for iterative prototypes or to enhance end-user satisfaction can be produced without incurring capital and set up costs associated with traditional methods.
  • LEGACY PARTS: While it is great to consider new and innovative designs, AM can also be used to produce parts for obsolete products. For example, a number of car makers have turned to 3D printing to revitalize and reintroduce classic cars.
  • REDUCED WASTE: Even when accounting for possible support structures, 3D printed parts produce less waste than traditional methods like CNC milling that can result in 50% or more material weight.

Coming Up Next….

Many of these benefits are well document and you may already know of them. You may even be able to add a few, and we encourage you to get in touch with us and let us know what you think we should add to flesh out this list.

However all of the benefits listed above can have a profound impact on organizational structure and management.

In our next Mind of Metal article, we will look at the organizational benefits of additive manufacturing.


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