Breaking the Stigma of Metal Additive Manufacturing: It's Not Just for Prototyping Anymore
If you haven’t taken a close look at metal additive manufacturing in a while, you may be surprised at just how much the process has evolved - and if you only know the process as a method of prototyping production - you may be missing out on the many benefits of using metal additive manufacturing for production at scale.
The Roots of Metal Additive Manufacturing
The origins of metal additive manufacturing (MAM) can be traced back to the 1960s, but the first commercially viable MAM systems began to appear in the late 1980s. Although these systems gained widespread acceptance and popularity in the following decades, the vast majority of adopters exclusively employed MAM for prototyping.
Manufacturers who need to test the form, function, and/or fit of a specific component have long employed rapid prototyping to create extremely small numbers of that component. Although metal 3d printing quickly proved an effective and efficient way to create prototypes, companies would inevitably send those prototypes to traditional manufacturing facilities to begin the mass production process.
The Early Limitations of Metal AM
In the earlier stages of MAM’s evolution, the limitations of the process made applications beyond prototyping unattractive if not entirely impossible. The most well-known MAM disadvantage, in most people’s estimation, have been its production cost and its manufacturing speed.
However, rapidly evolving advancements in technology and methodology have transformed most of these MAM disadvantages into MAM misconceptions. In short, the metal additive manufacturing of today has emerged as a practical and often preferable method of full-scale production.
The Realities of Metal Additive Manufacturing Today
The principal reasons that manufacturers continue to shy away from mass manufacturing with metal 3d printing continue to be cost and speed. Others may have concerns over repeatability, material properties, and dimensional precision of 3d printed parts.
Despite these lingering concerns, more and more companies are relying on MAM across all stages and phases of the manufacturing process. In fact, many of the perceived drawbacks of MAM are either dramatically overestimated or patently untrue. The supply chain crisis that our world continues to face is inspiring more market penetration for this technology, which is inherently opening people’s eyes to the ever evolving capabilities.
Benefits of Switching to MAM for Full-Scale Production
Faster Time to Market
In addition to allowing you to avoid traditional tooling processes, MAM can lead to a considerable reduction in overall time-to-market by cutting lead times on the creation of both prototypes and end-use parts. We estimate that MAM can shorten production times from a period of weeks to a period of days.
Bypassed Expensive Tooling Costs
By avoiding the tooling process, you not only save time but also money. For this reason, we position MAM as a cost-effective alternative to traditional manufacturing methods such as metal injection molding.
High Degree of Precise Customization
Despite its reputation among some segments of the manufacturing industry, MAM offers a tremendous amount of precision, even in high-volume production situations. Even better, it allows engineers to rapidly change any model or component in mid-production with minimal downtime. Traditional manufacturing methods, by contrast, require quite extensive and time-consuming redesign processes.
Sustainability and Environmental Friendliness
While traditional manufacturing processes are subtractive in nature and therefore produce a tremendous amount of waste materials, additive manufacturing can be more sustainable and ecologically responsible. MAM can also decrease your company’s overall carbon footprint, and many MAM technologies use recycled raw materials.
Even manufacturers slow to wake up to the full reality of modern MAM are discovering just how well the process works in specific instances. Discussing one of its most recent studies, The Manufacturer reveals that survey respondents “would choose additive over conventional manufacturing processes when they were dealing with low volumes, complex shapes, shape manufacturability and customization.”
Success Stories Involving MAM at Scale
Metal AM has become a cost-effective solution for mass production of complex, lightweight, near net-shape parts with a high amount of design freedom and little waste.
Here are just a few companies that have found tremendous success by adopting MAM production at scale:
- According to Medical Design & Outsourcing, the leading orthopedic device manufacturer Stryker has employed 3D printing additive manufacturing to make complex orthopedic implants with “porous geometries that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
- Additive Manufacturing revealed that the aviation giant Spirit AeroSystems has begun installing the first MAM titanium structural component on the Boeing 787 aircraft.
Metal Additive Manufacturing: The Future is Now
Metal additive manufacturing is a rapidly growing technology with new advancements made every day. Not only is it more than a tech for prototyping, it’s also a viable option for the mass production of complex, lightweight components for a wide range of industries, from aerospace, medical, automotive, and beyond.
Ready to learn more about MAM? Check out our resources page.