The manufacturing industry is always looking at new and innovative ways of working and in recent years, 3D printing has been at the forefront. Advancements in the 3D printing technology, equipment and materials has resulted in the costs being driven down, making it a more feasible option to general manufacturing use.
Traditional manufacturing has to deal with the ever-growing demands of the world but it has some restrictions. That is where 3D printing can step in to take over. 3D printing for manufacturing comes with a number of exciting and unique advantages when compared with traditional manufacturing.
3D Printing in Production
Low volume manufacturing
Moving across to 3D printing will make it possible for businesses to consider short-run part production, where focused product teams can launch new products more frequently. They will be able to work beyond the realms of their imagination and certainly beyond the restraints that come with traditional methods. It delivers an agile development process for physical parts and has the ability to accelerate the production and the time it takes to get to market.
There is no doubt that 3D printing is way ahead of conventional methods when it comes to manufacturing the first several hundred parts. But is 3D printing also suitable for manufacturing on large scale?
High volume manufacturing
3D printing is a technology that is developing and growing faster than most other technologies due to the way it can influence manufacturing processes and help businesses perform to a higher level. A production line that is set up for 3D printing is easier to alter than that of a production line for traditional manufacturing, making 3D printing a feasible option for many reasons.
The whole production line can be adjusted and adapted with the speed of the printing production line. Therefore, improvements to machinery, adjustments to the print speed or even a change of product can be made almost instantly. When you consider this against older methods, it can take several weeks or months to make the changes and then begin producing again.
It is inevitable that the capabilities that come with 3D printing and the way in which technology is evolving will enable businesses to adopt this new way of producing products or parts and it is likely that this adoption is going to grow well in the future.
What are the advantages of using 3D printing for manufacturing?
1. Reduction in costs
Traditional manufacturing methods are notoriously expensive, whereas the 3D printing process makes the creation of parts products cheaper and more accessible. Unlike traditional manufacturing where many different people may be required to operate a number of machines or a production line is required to piece together the product, 3D printing removes this. Each 3D printer will require an operator to start the machine before it begins an automated process of creating the uploaded design. Therefore, when using 3D printing for manufacturing, the labour costs are significantly lower as there is no need for skilled machinists or operators to form part of the process.
2. Reduction of risks
When businesses have the ability to confirm a design before committing it to production, it can help to remove the risk of errors, wasted materials and money. Creating products with 3D printing can help to increase confidence, especially when you consider that a 3D prototype is easier to redesign and alter than anything that has been created using a traditional method.
When it comes to setup costs, manufacturers won’t have to produce so much of a product in order to justify the setup costs. The traditional methods of production often relies on the efficiencies of mass production and requires a large number of assembly workers, whereas, 3D printing requires the filament material and not a lot more to fulfil an order.
3. Failure is cheaper and faster
3D printers will not need to be retooled between production runs. The speed at which a 3D printer can assemble could be deemed to be slower than that of a traditional assembly line. However, when you factor in machinery problems that can stop production and human error, there is more that can go wrong with traditional manufacturing.
4. Time to market
3D printing makes it possible to develop ideas at a faster pace. In some instances, it could be possible for 3D concepts to be designed and printed on the same day but in terms of large-scale manufacturing, it is certainly faster than conventional methods. This can help companies to reduce manufacturing time from months to days while ensuring that they remain ahead of their competitors.
5. Build and grow
For businesses that adopt 3D manufacturing, it is possible to continue to grow and evolve through the production of items that have been created from their imagination. There are no limits when it comes to 3D manufacturing because things can be created virtually and then printed in a very short time frame. Therefore, for any business, a product can go from an idea, to a concept right through to the finished part.
6. No Limitations in geometries
For many years, standard manufacturing techniques have held back the design of products. However, with many improvements made already and more to come in the future, the 3D manufacturing process can create an endless list of possibilities. Geometries that were once difficult can now be achieved such as holes that change direction or square interior cavities. These kinds of designs have become possible and simpler to construct.
7. Less waste
As this is a relatively new technology that is gaining momentum, the material cost can still remain high. However, the range of materials is growing and this makes it possible for the price to decrease over time. But, in comparison to traditional methods, the overall cost is a lot lower. The manufacturing process can result in a lot of waste, particularly where traditional manufacturing is concerned. However, this is where 3D printing for manufacturing can transform the amount of waste, because of the way in which it uses resources more efficiently.
When it comes to using 3D printing for manufacturing, a 3D printer will only use the material that passes through the extruder of the printer and that is used for the assembly of the product.
In comparison to injection–molds, often there is a requirement to use additional materials to fill the molds. In the majority of mass production needs, 3D printing will deliver a lower amount of waste (for example the support material) than traditional manufacturing.
8. Less storage space
Many industries require businesses to store the parts and products that they need or sell. This means that a significant amount of storage space is required to house goods that can sit on a shelf for months or even years. This costs a lot of money. By using 3D printing for manufacturing, costs can be cut by reducing the amount of storage space that is needed. 3D printing makes it possible for goods to be made as they are sold. This means that there will be no overproduction and reduced storage costs.
What are the challenges of using 3D printing for large scale production?
The benefits of using 3D printing for manufacturing cannot be ignored: efficiency, speed, waste reduction, fewer errors and reduced costs to name a few. Nevertheless, many manufacturers are still deciding on whether to make the move across from using traditional methods to this new manufacturing method. Identifying the main challenges can help you to make a decision as to why 3D printing will work for you and how you can overcome the challenges by seeing just how much of an influential technology 3D printing is and will continue to be in the future.
When it comes to the manufacture of certain large-scale parts, using a 3D printer does come with some challenges, which companies have to deal with, such as:
- The cost of the equipment
- The materials available for your industry
- Post processing needs
- Manufacturing costs
- (Lack of) Expertise
- Software development and capabilities
These are not all of the challenges that any business will face when it comes to using 3D printing, but the main challenges that businesses will face is the financial implications.
Despite the challenges, 3D printing will change the way of manufacturing
However, in the main, these are not challenges that cannot be overcome with some careful forward thinking and planning. The manufacturing industry is filled with competition and that means that these challenges are nothing more than hurdles to overcome. This is because the industry has to not only think about the technical benefits that 3D printing for manufacturing can bring, but also the value it can add to a business.
It is crucial that businesses do not only identify applications and parts that they can create with 3D printing, but their manufacturing strategy as a whole and how 3D printing should fit into that. This is down to the fact that the technology can enhance innovation and value to overall operations. So, it is not about finding products that fit the technology but ensuring that the technology fits the product and the business model.