What are the applications of Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing (AM), is an innovative way to industrial production also known as 3D printing. AM warrants the production of tougher, lightweight and complex designs. These complex shapes are difficult to create using conventional manufacturing technologies. AM can be used to make a tool that wouldn't make sense to fabricate conventionally due to its high cost. Here we’re going to discuss various applications which are affected by AM.

The key applications of AM are –

  1. Prototyping
  2. Tooling's
  3. Performance enhancement
  4. Part Production
  5. Custom parts
  6. Spare parts
  7. Architecture

 

Prototyping

For the past decades, prototyping was the only application of AM. Many of today's AM technologies were referred to as RPT or rapid prototyping. Prototyping is still the key driver of sales of most AM set-up

Types of prototyping –

Direct prototyping - AM is used to create a quick prototype part for analysis or proof of concept.

Indirect prototyping - AM is used to create the tool used to make the prototype using a conventional process.

The application of AM for prototyping can differ in major ways. Depending on the selected process and final application of the part. AM application for fast prototyping is an important stage in any product development process. It can increase confidence in the product manifolds and reduce risks.

 

Toolings

AM is searching for its place in the industry to improve the performance of conventionally made toolings. AM can be used to create prototype molds for short-run productions. AM can be used to create tools that assist in different operations, such as locating fixtures, jigs, and ergonomic supports. Some AM processes can be used to produce main tooling's, molds. Also, for cutting tools for high-production injection molding and machining.

AM made tooling can offer the following benefits:

Speed – AM-based tooling can be produced faster than conventional tooling. The specific comparison depends on the tooling type, material, and application. AM supply chain for tooling is different from the conventional supply chain. The digitization of the tooling design promises to cut steps in the production process. Fast production of tooling is achieved when the required AM set-up is located close to the production floor. The same is true for use of AM to make short-run mold tooling. For production mold tooling made thru AM, many steps are still involved. The digital design tools necessary for AM result in fewer production steps.

Cost – AM created tooling is more cost-effective than traditional tooling for prototyping. AM to make jigs and fixtures is also more cost-effective. Especially because of the ability of AM to build complex geometries for holding parts with complex geometries.

Photo Credits - Diversified Plastics & EOS

 

Performance – AM can create more complex casting patterns or cores. Create conformal cooling channels within mold tooling for uniform heat distribution. For jigs and fixtures, production-related performance features can be customized within individual tools. For example, markings to identify replaced parts, orientation, and embedded features to ensure easy part alignment, clearing of debris, etc.

 

Performance Enhancement

AM can create new designs where complexity in materials and part geometry is leveraged for improved performance. Understanding of these parameters is often critical to justify AM as an end-use production technique. And, often comes also with reduced engineering and supply chain costs. These are the main parameters the industries have started to deploy. Still one can visualize further improvements as design innovation to expand the uses of AM beyond its current applications.

The below list summarizes the main performance parameters.

Geometry optimization – The use of AM to access a complex geometric design space allows optimization of part properties, such as strength to weight ratio, in a manner unachievable by methods such as machining and casting. The topology optimization applies a fixed set of constraints (e.g., material,  joints, bounding box and mechanical requirements, etc.) to cut material consumption while maintaining or improving mechanical properties. The generated geometries often resemble organic structures and are only possible to be created using AM. In new methods, internal lattice structures can be re-distributed throughout the member to further optimize weight and strength otherwise rigid structure

Hollow cavities and channels – Internal channels and cavities can be designed as heat exchangers, which need maximum surface area contact between the fluid or gas. And, the heated block surrounding the material to enable more effective heat transfer. Linear geometries are less effective than surfaces that can form zig-zag shapes to increase surface area to maximize heat transfer.