4 applications you should produce with additive manufacturing
Additive technology has advanced rapidly over the past decade, promising new, exciting manufacturing possibilities for businesses across the industrial landscape.
When people think of additive manufacturing (AM), however, one of the applications that immediately springs to mind is prototyping. When engineers need to iterate on a design quickly, without worrying about the constraints that apply to a traditional manufacturing run, AM – often referred to as 3D printing – works so well because it doesn’t involve any hard tooling, and so enables rapid iteration. The more efficiently a prototype can be developed, the faster a company can move to volume production – where traditional manufacturing methods can take over if desired.
But there’s much more to additive manufacturing than prototyping, and it’s not just companies in the research and development phase that stand to gain from its use. In fact, additive manufacturing offers significant advantages in an array of applications, from delivering savings on time and materials, to opening-up new design possibilities.
Additive manufacturing applications
With that in mind, to help you explore the potential of the 3D printing technology, we’re taking a look at four specific additive manufacturing applications, and an associated industrial use-case. Additive manufacturing has revolutionized projects across a spectrum of industries, including aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, medical, and robotics – and the examples we highlight here demonstrate ways in which it surpasses traditional manufacturing methods in speed, efficiency, quality, and cost.
Low volume, on-demand parts
Additive manufacturing technology is uniquely positioned to cater to the needs of on-demand, low volume production.
Traditional manufacturing methods often require large volume orders to drive down unit cost. Injection molding, for example, may entail tooling costs of $20,000 to $110,000 before a project even moves to production. By contrast, additive manufacturing involves no capital expense for tooling: 3D printed parts can be produced in small numbers, without minimum order quantities, when they are needed — allowing you to lower manufacturing costs and reduce inventory.
The low volume advantages of AM mean that part production can be scaled to exactly meet market demand. Evans Motorsport Performance (EMP) worked with Fast Radius to design an aftermarket bolt cover for the Chevrolet Corvette C8. Originally made from aluminum, the part was complex and costly to manufacture, and EMP needed a solution that made low volume production with automotive quality material possible. Using the Carbon Digital Light Synthesis (DLS)™ printing process and EPX 82 thermoplastic, we reduced tooling costs by $12,000 and production time to a matter of days. The part could also be stored in our Virtual Warehouse for on-demand production.
Single consolidated parts
In addition to low volume production advantages, additive manufacturing offers new possibilities for parts previously considered ‘unmakeable’, including consolidations of separate components.
Single consolidated units tend to have complex geometries, such as lattice structures, or even moving assemblies. Additive manufacturing makes these parts possible because it allows for the printing of a whole assembly as one part – rather than as multiple parts to be assembled later. Consolidation has specific advantages in the consumer product sector, where the capability to create simplified, more efficient part designs means:
- Less money and time spent on assembly.
- Decreased risk of hidden costs and project delays.
- Lower material requirements.
- Lower risk of supply issues.
- Decreased risk of part failure.
In a real-world example of the consolidation benefits of additive manufacturing, Fast Radius worked with Steelcase™ on the design of its high performance SILQ office chair, winner of the prestigious Innovation Award at the 2018 NeoCon. The arm caps of the SILQ chair were traditionally manufactured as three separate parts, and assembled later – a process that extended the product timeline. Using the Carbon Digital Light Synthesis (DLS)™ Process, we were able to consolidate the manufacture of the arm cap into a single 3D-printed part: a contiguous unit designed with a lattice structure to substantially reduce material usage and assembly costs.
Very small parts
Additive manufacturing is particularly useful for the production of smaller components, around the size of a softball or smaller, at very low volumes.
When small part production is scaled-up in additive manufacturing, speed and cost advantages often emerge. In fact, for plastic parts the size of a ping pong ball (or smaller), it frequently makes more economic sense to use additive rather than traditional manufacturing. The capability to produce small parts in low volumes can be advantageous in the medical industry, especially when those parts need to be tailored for individual use – such as in prosthetics or implants.
Coapt, a Chicago-based company that produces upper limb prostheses, enlisted Fast Radius to refine the second generation of its flagship product: the Coapt COMPLETE CONTROL system, which uses electrical pattern recognition to enable people who have lost upper limbs to fully control movement in their prosthetic arms. The innovative system includes two very small parts: the calibration button and the can plugs. Both parts are integral and the button features a specific textural finish required for precise user interaction. Additive manufacturing allows us to keep the design of the plugs and the calibration button under explicit control, and achieve impressive throughput: using Carbon DLS™ and HP MJF printers, we produced 135 buttons (11 x 11 x 5.5 mm) in 35 minutes, and 848 can plugs (1.75 x 5.2 x 3.2 mm) in 23 minutes.
Additive manufacturing brings unprecedented customization opportunities to the design process.
Without the cost and time constraints of initial tooling requirements, designers can tailor 3D printed parts for specific applications or consumer needs – right down to a single unit. The customization possibilities of additive manufacturing span functionality, aesthetics, and branding: unique elements can be introduced quickly, and at a very small scale, and include:
- New structural features
- Surface textures
- Company logos
- Text and designs
- Variable serial numbers
As an added bonus, research suggests that three quarters of consumers are willing to pay up to 20% more for customized products – which means any added costs introduced by unique design choices are likely to be mitigated in the long term.
In addition to reducing material costs and production timelines, the capability to customize parts has significant potential benefits across the industrial landscape. In the robotics and consumer retail industries for example, as clients place ongoing orders, 3D printing technology would allow us to add unique features, such as logos, with a simple change to the design file. Similarly, in the dental and medical industries, parts, such as prosthetics, implants, or surgical guides, could be modified to fit the individual recipient. Custom dental trays, for example, could be printed from a scan to fit someone’s teeth perfectly.
Explore Fast Radius 3D printing applications
If you’d like to harness the power and possibility of 3D printing technology, and the applications outlined above make sense for your needs, it’s worth exploring your options outside traditional manufacturing methods. Reach out to the Fast Radius team today to make your next project possible with additive manufacturing.