Complex, flexible, affordable, and usable. These are all watchwords that describe the paramount role that 3D printing is delivering in today's technology stream. For the smart factory and the product life cycles it produces, 3D printing makes it a bit smarter each month and year that passes.
Additive manufacturing plays an instrumental role in automotive manufacturing. At the forefront of this industry, 3D printing has enabled the production of many parts within an early prototype of an automobile's design.
General Motors, for example, added 17 Stratasys FDM 3D printers to boost its 3D printing efforts for both prototyping and production efforts. They are representative of an all-out sprint in so many industries to incorporate 3D printing and additive manufacturing to supplement their design and development process.
The flexibility of additive manufacturing, when combined with advancements in materials innovation, provides an edge to manufacture goods better, cheaper, and faster.
Here are five areas where additive manufacturing is disrupting conventional manufacturing as we know it:
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Easier Integration to Smart Factories
Recently, Stratasys teamed up with SSYS technology to allow for an agile interface between its printers and whatever software technology is working for the all-out manufacturing effort. The integration is expedited by GrabCAD® Software Development Kit (SDK) to make integration as "plug and play" as possible.
Each package includes application programming interfaces, documentation, and code samples. This enables development partners and manufacturers to establish a two-way connectivity between Stratasys FDM® 3D printers and whatever enterprise software applications may be used to support additive manufacturing for production of end-use parts within a smart factory floor.
Dick Anderson, senior vice president for manufacturing at Stratasys, who is leading the charge with their partners explains:
“Additive manufacturing enables almost anything to be manufactured almost anywhere quickly, and that is the kind of agility our customers need in a world of supply chain disruption.”
A Self-sufficiency for Aftermarket Spares
Adeptly managing spare parts is science, and requires considerable investment, time, and calculus to ensure adequate inventory levels are available where you need them, whenever you need them. Whenever also does not only mean the present, but long into the future.
With additive manufacturing, parts feasibly may be printed on demand, without outsourcing, avoiding cumbersome processes, quotes, and supply chain headaches.
According to Deloitte, additive manufacturing is making it "commercially interesting" to build a digital inventory—in lieu of a physical one—for spare parts printing.
"We see our clients challenged by the short life cycles of parts, which causes a quick rotation of new parts to be held in stock. Asset-heavy companies sometimes must wait weeks for the replacement of a broken spare part, which has a negative impact on the uptime of their assets. The alternative—to have all parts in stock and express-delivered—is a huge cost or pressure on balance sheets."
Tooling and Jig Making
When we think 3D printing, we think fabrication of a finished good. To the contrary, 3D printing allows manufacturers to make custom jigs, guides and tools that help make assembly more precise.
A part or object can be produced to help parts line up correctly, or to position parts in the manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing helps manufacturers fabricate tools and jigs to be more efficient and precise within a smart factory.
More Capable Prototyping and Complex Finished Products
Certain manufacturing categories, such as medical device and implant manufacturing, may not demand high volume production runs. They are made when patients require it.
Now, with 3D printing, such finished objects may be fabricated with properties and geometries that are unique to the patient and the application. Thanks to modern innovations, patients can have joint replacements with a very non-standard geometry. They also may have very finite printed circuitry on membranes that are placed within the brain to break through to new frontiers of patient treatment, not possible before.
Exploiting New and Exciting Advancements in Engineered Materials
Materials are being developed through additive manufacturing with properties that may be uniquely formulated with special fibers or made with thermoplastics and thermosets that weren't possible before because of the scale of production required to ever try such materials.
Thus, MEDtech firms are printing things like lattice structures that stack like tiny Lego bricks to help bones mend. The material is such that it does not promote infection (a serious concern with metallic and titanium materials) and lasts for a long time, avoiding another visit to the operating room some 10-15 years after, say, a joint replacement.
These are just a sampling from the buffet of benefits that 3D printing offers smart manufacturing. It enables engineers, designers, and manufacturers to accomplish what was, only a few years earlier, written off as untenable.
Additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly complex, flexible, affordable, and usable. And the best is yet to come.
Visit us to learn more about the GrabCAD Software Development Kit. If you’re interested in joining our growing network of Stratasys Software partners, who help customers integrate with Stratasys technology in their smart factory, visit our GrabCAD Software Partner Program.