As the world continues to move away from the traditional manufacturing process, more and more manufacturers are looking for ways to speed up production without sacrificing quality.
This is where additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, comes in.
Additive manufacturing technology is a process that creates objects by adding layers of material one at a time.
Unlike conventional manufacturing processes, which involve the subtraction of material or formative moulding or shaping processes, additive manufacturing processes add material to create an object from scratch.
This process is often used to develop prototypes or small batches of products, as it is more efficient and less expensive than other manufacturing methods.
There are many benefits to using additive manufacturing over other manufacturing methods, but it’s not suitable for everyone, so let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of additive manufacturing to help you decide if this technology is suitable for your manufacturing needs.
9 Advantages of Additive Manufacturing
There are many advantages to using additive manufacturing technology. We’ve outlined some of the most significant benefits below.
1. Rapid Prototyping
One of the most significant advantages of additive manufacturing is that it can be used to create prototypes quickly and efficiently.
In the past, creating a prototype could take weeks or even months. With additive manufacturing, a prototype can be created in a few days.
Once the prototype is created, it can be used to test the functionality and design of a product before it goes into production. This allows for necessary changes before mass production, saving time and money in the long run.
2. Improved Accuracy
Additive manufacturing also offers improved accuracy over traditional manufacturing.
With additive manufacturing, there is no need for human intervention during the manufacturing process, so there is less room for error and objects can be created with greater accuracy.
In addition, additive manufacturing processes allow for a higher degree of customisation and flexibility.
The ability to digitally adjust the design of an object before it is printed means that objects can be customised to meet the specific needs of a customer or application.
This is a significant advantage for manufacturers who must produce precisely customised products for their particular needs.
3. Material Waste Reduction
Another advantage of additive manufacturing is that it generates very little waste material.
With traditional manufacturing processes, such as machining, a large amount of waste material is produced as excess material is removed from the workpiece.
Additive manufacturing processes build objects from the ground up, reducing the waste material, and sometimes, the only waste generated is the powder or filament used to create the object. This makes additive manufacturing a much more efficient and eco-friendly manufacturing process.
In addition, the waste material generated by additive manufacturing processes is often easier to recycle than the waste generated by conventional manufacturing processes. This is another way that additive manufacturing can save manufacturers money.
4. Energy Efficiency
Traditional manufacturing processes require a lot of energy to power the machinery and equipment. The equipment also often requires secondary tools, such as cooling systems, which use even more energy.
Additive manufacturing processes are much more energy efficient. The machines used in additive manufacturing are smaller and use less energy. In addition, minimal auxiliary equipment is required, further reducing energy consumption.
This reduced energy consumption can lead to significant cost savings for manufacturers. In some cases, the energy savings can be so substantial that the cost of the additive manufacturing equipment can be offset in just a few years.
5. Reduced Costs for Small Production Runs
Small production runs can be very costly with traditional manufacturing. This is because the setup costs are fixed, regardless of the number of products produced.
Additive manufacturing has no setup costs and can be used to produce small production runs very efficiently. This is a major advantage for manufacturers who need to make small quantities of products.
6. Inventory Reduction
Most manufacturers will tell you that one of their biggest concerns is inventory. They need to have enough stock to meet customer demand, but they must also keep costs under control.
Additive manufacturing can help manufacturers reduce their inventory costs. This is because AM can be used to produce products on demand, as needed. This means that manufacturers can make only the products that they need when they need them and don’t have to worry about keeping excess inventory on hand.
This can lead to significant cost savings for manufacturers and reduced risk.
7. Environmentally Friendly
We all know what happens when products are manufactured using traditional methods: pollution. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturing account for 76 per cent of all industrial emissions worldwide. This pollution takes a toll on the environment and human health.
Additive manufacturing is a much more environmentally friendly manufacturing process. As we’ve seen, it generates very little waste material and is much more energy efficient than traditional manufacturing processes.
This reduced environmental impact is a major advantage of additive manufacturing and is something that all manufacturers should consider.
8. Unique Designs
Companies that use additive manufacturing often create unique designs that are impossible with traditional manufacturing methods. Additive manufacturing allows for much more complex designs and shapes than conventional manufacturing.
This gives companies a competitive advantage, as they can create products that are not only better and more efficient but also more unique and appealing to customers.
With AM, the sky is the limit when it comes to design. This technique allows the creation of nearly any geometric form, which would otherwise be impossible or too expensive to produce using traditional processes.
9. Supply Chain Flexibility
The supply chain for traditional manufacturing is inflexible and often very complex, which can lead to problems, such as long lead times when demand for a product suddenly increases.
Additive manufacturing is much more flexible, as it can be used to produce products on-demand, as needed. This means that manufacturers can respond quickly to demand changes without worrying about the complex supply chain.
Also, because additive manufacturing is so energy efficient, it can be used to produce products locally without having to transport them long distances. This further reduces the complexity of the supply chain and can lead to significant cost savings.
4 Disadvantages of Additive Manufacturing
1. Limit on Materials
Additive Manufacturing is limited to a handful of materials, which means there can be some circumstances where it’s not a suitable procedure.
For rapid prototyping purposes, this usually isn’t as much of a problem as parts are simply being produced for early testing and review before final production can begin.
However, with parts that are being produced for use in final assembly, it’s important to ensure the materials chosen have the correct properties for their application.
2. High Production Costs
Although the cost of additive manufacturing has been falling in recent years, in some cases it can still be more expensive than traditional manufacturing methods.
Another reason for the high cost of additive manufacturing is the need for specialised raw materials. AM machines often require exceptionally small or fine particles, which can be expensive to produce, increasing the raw material cost.
3. High Cost of Entry
The initial cost of setting up an in-house additive manufacturing operation can be high as you need to invest in the right equipment and materials and train your staff on how to use the machines.
This cost can be a barrier for small businesses or start-ups that want to use additive manufacturing, and switching to additive manufacturing can be costly and disruptive for companies that already have a traditional manufacturing operation.
4. It Can Be Slow
Compared to traditional manufacturing methods, for some components, additive manufacturing can be relatively slow.
While it can produce multiple parts simultaneously, additive manufacturing is still not the right choice for companies that need to produce large quantities of products quickly, unless you work with a specialist 3D printing partner like Prototal.
Applications of Additive Manufacturing
The aerospace industry was one of the first to adopt additive manufacturing. This is because additive manufacturing offers many advantages for this industry, such as the ability to produce complex shapes and make parts with a high degree of accuracy.
Both the military and commercial aerospace sectors need strong and lightweight parts, and additive manufacturing can help meet these requirements.
Typical aerospace applications for additive manufacturing include the production of combustor liners, complex engine components, and fuel nozzles. The technology helps to reduce weight and allows for the production of parts with a higher level of complexity.
In energy, additive manufacturing’s innovation in producing efficient, on-demand, lightweight components has driven success. This is due to AM’s ability to quickly create tailored parts and environmentally friendly materials that withstand extreme conditions.
Everything from solar panels to wind turbines can benefit from additive manufactured parts. In the oil and gas industry, additive manufacturing is being used to produce various components, such as pressure gauges, control valves, turbine nozzles, and pump manifolds.
The energy sector also benefits from additive manufacturing’s ability to create bespoke parts quickly and efficiently. This has led to a reduction in downtime, as well as an increase in safety and reliability.
For undersea and other extreme environments, additive manufacturing is an attractive proposition as it can create corrosion-resistant metal materials and parts with a high strength-to-weight ratio.
The medical industry is a promising environment for additive manufacturing with its ability to produce personalised medical devices and implants. AM solutions have created everything from artificial hips and knees to dental implants and prosthetics.
Additive manufacturing is also being used to create custom surgical instruments, as well as to produce implants that are tailored to an individual’s anatomy.
The use of additive manufacturing in the healthcare industry is not only benefiting patients, but it is also helping to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
The rapidly innovating medical industry will likely see even more additive manufacturing applications in the healthcare sector.
The transformation of the transportation sector is well underway, and additive manufacturing plays a significant role in this. Since the transportation sector needs strong, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant parts, additive manufacturing is well-suited to meet these requirements.
One area where additive manufacturing has a significant impact is the development of electric vehicles. The ability to develop lightweight components quickly and efficiently is helping to drive the adoption of additive manufacturing in the transportation sector.
In the automotive industry, AM is being used to produce engine blocks, customise the interior and exterior components, and create prototypes.
The Future of The Additive Manufacturing Process
As additive manufacturing technology develops, we expect to see more innovative and transformative applications across various industries.
Many of these applications are already in development, and it is exciting to think about the future of this technology.
One thing is sure: additive manufacturing is here to stay, poised to change how we live and work.
Companies needing unusual or complex components, or those who want to save time and money, would be well advised to investigate the potential of additive manufacturing.
What Are the Advantages of Using Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing offers several advantages over traditional manufacturing methods, including:
- Major waste reduction aspect
- The ability to produce customised or bespoke parts
- A reduction in lead times
- Increased energy efficiency
- The ability to produce components with a high strength-to-weight ratio
- Improved accuracy and repeatability:
What Are the Most Common Disadvantages of Additive Manufacturing?
The main disadvantages of additive manufacturing are:
- High cost of equipment and materials
- The need for skilled operators
- Limited choice of materials
- The slow speed of the process
- The need for post-processing (sintering, heat treatment, etc.)
What Advantage Does the Additive Method Have Over the Subtractive?
The main advantage of additive manufacturing over subtractive manufacturing is that it offers much more flexibility. With additive manufacturing, it is possible to produce parts with a much higher level of complexity and less waste.
What Is Direct Metal Laser Sintering 3D Printer?
Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is an additive manufacturing technology that uses a high-power laser to fuse small metal particles. The resulting parts are robust, accurate, and have a high level of detail.