Article

What to expect during the additive manufacturing (AM) process

Printing a CAD file for a non-functional prototype is a relatively straightforward process. Going from concept to proven, production-grade products for an entirely new product development and manufacturing process is not.

To help you understand what to expect when adopting additive manufacturing (AM) production, we’ll shed light on the stages and decisions involved when going from concept to on-demand production at a global scale for a part or product. In this article, we’ll:

  • Compare three common approaches to additive product design.
  • Show you a workflow diagram highlighting the stages and decisions involved for each approach. 

Comparing three approaches to additive manufacturing

While the specific process for each part or product is different, there are three general categories projects fall into:

Approach A: Quick-turnaround production and prototyping  

Example: An approved CAD file for a prototype or part already exists — and you need to receive the part in 30 hours

Approach B: Modifying an existing design to optimize for AM 

Example: You currently produce this part with injection molding but think you could simplify your supply chain and eliminate warehousing costs by producing it on-demand with additive.

Approach C: Design a new part or product from the ground up with additive in mind

Example: You have a concept for a new part that you want to produce with AM for one of two reasons: either because it’s not possible to produce with legacy manufacturing methods or because the economics of AM are favorable for low-to-mid volume production.

Designing a new part from the ground-up for additive production offers the greatest opportunity for performance and cost benefits. While it tends to be a longer process, starting with a blank page allows you to fully optimize the part using design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) principles.

The majority of projects Fast Radius does fall into the second category: modifying an existing design to optimize for AM. In this scenario, a company has a part they’re already producing with traditional methods that they want to transition to additive production.

For both the second and third approaches, the initial file will be verified for full-scale production according to your requirements — which might require a comprehensive production part approval process (PPAP). After that, subsequent orders become a simple, quick-turn production process. An AM provider like Fast Radius can accelerate the production cycle and deliver your parts with next-day delivery.

The part and production of design process for AM: A brief overview

Each of the three approaches follows a different product development process, reflected in the workflow diagram below. Whichever category your proposed project falls into, you’ll need end-to-end support from your AM provider to deliver the parts you need at the levels of quality, reliability and performance you require. 

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The process for modifying an existing part for additive manufacturing

Step 1: Identify parts with a strong business case for AM production 

Let’s say you want to qualify an existing part for production-grade additive. First, a company like Fast Radius will work with you to identify a part that has a strong business case for AM production. High-turnover spare parts are good candidates. While the original part might be made with injection molding, spares can be made to the same performance standards with AM technologies. And because additive allows you to order in quantities of one, you can eliminate warehousing costs and adopt never-out-of-stock inventory programs.

Step 2: Design your part

When spare parts are modified for AM production, the geometry of the finished part must be made to fit seamlessly into an existing assembly. In these cases, the real design work isn’t making significant changes to the shape of the part. Rather, it’s performing minor design modifications to optimize for additive production and designing the build to ensure the finished part meets critical required dimensions. Throughout design iterations, if the part is out of tolerance for even one critical dimension (i.e., linear dimension of a clip or gap), it becomes a question of how you can redesign or re-orient the part to get a stable dimension. Essentially, you begin with the existing design and perform the reverse engineering required to qualify the existing design for additive production.

Step 3: Material and process selection 

You’ll first identify materials that are acceptable for your application and then compare the AM technologies that can produce parts with those materials. Start with the performance requirements that your part needs (e.g., the modulus, the tensile strength, the compressive strength, etc.) and the environment your part will be in (e.g., in the elements, inside a compressor, etc.), then come up with a list of materials that are suitable for the application. You can then compare the AM technologies that are able to produce parts with those materials. 

When multiple processes and materials are acceptable for an application, your production partner can print sample parts made with each of those technologies and let you determine which you prefer for full-scale production.

Step 4: Iterative production design and testing 

After a list of acceptable materials and processes has been chosen, the production engineering process begins. This involves understanding and locking in the variables of the print process until you’ve reached the level of dimensional accuracy, performance and appearance that’s required for full-scale production. You might go through multiple iterations to get to the desired output. 

Once you have a part that meets your requirements, and it’s verified through PPAP testing if needed, all the production information will be compiled into your virtual tooling package. The virtual tooling package contains all the information about the printing parameters, post-processing and packaging considerations needed to ensure your produced and delivered exactly as expected. This will include support structure design, what tools to use for support removal, what media mixture to use in surface finishing, the number of coats of paint, cure time and even how to jig a part in the oven. All of these details essentially design failure out of the additive production process. It dials in the parameters necessary to allow anyone from a company like Fast Radius to print the part reliably, anywhere in the world.

Step 5: On-demand production and global fulfillment 

After your part is approved, it’s ready to be produced on-demand and delivered globally. On-demand manufacturing is a key benefit afforded to organizations through AM production. Essentially, it allows you to store your parts digitally until demand necessitates production, eliminating the need to warehouse a large inventory of spare parts to be sold and distributed over time. At Fast Radius, we not only store your part’s file in our Virtual Warehouse, but also its virtual tooling package. And through our alliance with UPS, you can order parts anywhere in the world and receive them days later. 

Designing and producing an end-use part for additive is iterative. If at any point in the product development process, the part fails to meet client expectations — in performance, dimensional accuracy or appearance — we must analyze what went wrong and how to design failure out of the process.

Start the process today

Wherever you are in the additive manufacturing design process, Fast Radius can provide the end-to-end support and additive design expertise needed to get your idea across the finish line. Reach out to our team today to start the process.

Or to continue exploring AM, check out our infographic showcasing the AM technology landscape. It’ll help you get a jumpstart on process and material selection, organizing AM machines by production material.