Additive manufacturing: Integrate than replace.

Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is something I have been interested in and would like to get more involved in. The reason being is AM has a couple of benefits that I would like to utilise for my own personal projects. Some of the benefits of AM are: reduction in waste, adaptability,manufacture complex shapes that would be impossible to machine, reduction of storage as parts can be stored virtually and created on demand and easier assembly due to a reduction of parts. 3D printing has been hailed as a manufacturing revolution that will replace traditional manufacturing. There has been commentators who see 3D printing having a bigger economic impact than the internet [1]. It will have a major impact on how we manufacture products and change the supply chain as we are seeing 3D printing being used more and more in the aerospace, defence, automotive and space industries.

However I’m rather sceptical of the notion that additive manufacturing will be completely replacing traditional manufacturing, not in the short or medium term at least. This is due to surface finish, available materials, process time and poor mechanical properties of parts. Even if these issues were addressed the main focus should be towards integration rather than replacement as there will be instances that some of the more traditional processes to manufacture the components will be more suitable.

The focus of AM should be towards integrating rather than a complete replacement of current manufacturing processes as the new and traditional methods can compliment each other. Integration with other processes such as welding will help provide more possibilities for AM [2] as being able to create complex assemblies with less parts will help create stronger and more reliable components. Selective laser melting have shown some promise in creating friction stir welding (FSW) tooling with better anti-wear properties than tooling that was turned [3]. Another example was electron beam (EB) welding was used to reduce porosity within a complicated heat exchanger that was 3D printed [4]. By combining various techniques could be the key to eliminating some of the issues such as mechanical properties that have been an problem with 3D printed parts. It also again adds that extra flexibility that will enable manufacturers to reliably produce components that would have been impossible or difficult to manufacture.

As the technology improves we could see 3D printing being used to create more reliable tooling in a shorter period of time out of materials that would have been prohibited due to difficulty and cost of machining. Forging and extrusion could also benefit as parts could be created to net shape with less post machining as dies with more complex geometries that are close to the final part could be manufactured.

Another exciting application for AM is re-manufacturing where damaged components or tooling are restored to their original state. The RECLAIM system developed at the MTC [5] is one example of re-manufacturing where the machine identifies the defects by scanning the component. The system then compares the scan against the 3D model and restores the shape by laser cladding new material. This helps reduce down time and costs as damaged tooling or components could be restored instead of replacing it with a new one. This would also result in less material being used and a reduction in maintenance costs. Another bonus is these repairs can be carried out in house.

However could AM result spark the end for local machine shops and toolmakers due the decline of machining and being able to build final parts in house? Possibly yes as some of those services will become obsolete but like every new technology advancement there are new opportunities and the parties who can identify and exploit them will thrive. New services and needs will be required and the expertise from the machinists and toolmakers can be transferred to the new technologies. One service could be re-manufacturing broken or upgrading parts or tooling as with the greater emphasis on helping the environment, reducing waste and tighter deadlines.

Additive manufacturing is an exciting prospect that will revolutionise manufacturing, just I don’t believe it is wise to see it as a replacement for traditional manufacturing. New technologies and techniques can be great if they are implemented correctly. Those who incorporate AM into their current processes will not only enhance their current but will obtain new capabilities. This makes adopting AM a more appealing proposition which will attract more organisations to adopt and develop the technology. This will result in an increase in applications that will see it moving from a novel set of technologies for prototyping into manufacturing final products.

Bibliography

1: Sarah Sedghi and Eleanor Hall, 3D printing will have a bigger economic impact than the internet, technology specialist says, 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-01/3d-printing-impact-bigger-than-internet-expert-says/6365296

2: Antti Salminen, Welding opens new possibilities to utilize 3D-printing in industrial applications, 2016, http://hightech.fimecc.com/results/welding-opens-new-possibilities-to-utilize-3d-printing-in-industrial-applications

3: Jian Luo,Hong Wang,Wei Chen,Longfei Li, Study on anti-wear property of 3D printed-tools in friction stir welding by numerical and physical experiments, 2015

4: John DeLalio, How To Weld 3D Printed Parts, 2016, http://www.fabricatingandmetalworking.com/2016/08/weld-3d-printed-parts/

5: , Reclaim Project- Remanufacturing the Future, 2012, https://hvm.catapult.org.uk/news-events-gallery/news/reclaim-project-remanufacturing-the-future/

 

Image used:

Trumpf,.3D Printing. 2015. http://www.3ders.org/images2015/german-laser-manufacturer-trumpf-to-unveil-1.jpg. Accessed 11 Oct. 2016.

 

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