3D printing is a advanced manufacturing technology for complex parts, it can create parts layer by layer at one time. This method has various advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques like CNC machining, injection molding or die casting. Although 3D printing is unable to replace traditional methods, there are many applications 3D printing can provide quick production with high accuracy form functional materials.
3D printing as an additive manufacturing method has one main advantage of speed. It can produce complex parts in hours form a CAD file. This advantage is the rapid verification and development of design ideas. As in past, it will take days or weeks to get a prototype, additive manufacturing can deliver a real model for designers within hours. While 3D printers will take longer time to print parts, the ability of functional end parts production at low or medium volume will offer time-saving comparing to traditional manufacturing techniques. As injection molding leading time is at least weeks.
One Step Manufacturing
The biggest concern for every designer is how to produce a part in most effective way. In traditional manufacturing technologies, there are a large number of steps to follow, these steps order affect the final quality and manufacturability of the design.
For a custom steel bracket, traditional manufacturing methods will start with a CAD model. Once design is confirmed, steel materials will be cut into suitable size profile, then clamp these profiles into position and weld them for form the bracket one by one. Polish welds to a good surface finish, drill hole on suitable position. Finally, the bracket is sandblasted, primed and painted for better appearance.
While addictive manufacturing machines can finish this in just one step, there in no interaction form operator in manufacturing process. Once CAD design is finish, we just need to upload it to the machine and print in one step for a few hours. It can reduce the dependence to different production methods and provide greater control of final products.
Manufacturing cost can be divided into 3 categories: machine operation cost, material cost, labor cost. 3D printing at low volume production is significant competitive comparing t traditional manufacturing methods. It is cheaper than other alternative methods for prototypes production with form and fitness verification, such as injection molding. As volume increase, traditional techniques become more and more cost-effective and the high setup costs are justified by larger volume production.
Machine operation cost
3D printing technology will consume amount of energy to produce one single part, but for complex geometries parts, it will give rise to higher efficiency and turnaround. In this process, machine operation cost has the lowest contribution to the overall cost.
The material cost varies significantly for different 3D printing technologies. Filament coils for desktop FDM printers are $25 per kg, while resin for SLA printing is almost $150 per liter. The material for additive manufacturing is difficult to make a quantifying comparison with traditional methods. Material cost is the main contribution to part production cost.
3D printing has the lowest labor cost in manufacturing process. Except post-operation, operators major work is pressing a button on 3D printer. Then the machine will follow an automotive process to finish part production. Comparing to traditional methods, where high skilled machinists and operators are required, the labor cost for 3D printing is nearly zero.
3D printing has nearly no restriction, once comparing to traditional manufacturing process, as components are produced layer by layer. Design requirements like draft angel, undercuts and tool access are not applied in 3D printing design. Although, there are some restrictions on the minimum size feature, most of the limitation are how to optimize printing orientation, reduce support dependency and failure likelihood. This will increase design freedom and enable complex geometries creation.
3D printing allows not only more design freedom, but also complete customization design. As current 3D printing always produce a single part at one time, it is the most suitable way for one-off production. This concept is widely applied in medical and dental area, such as custom prosthetics, implants, and dental aids. Additive manufacturing allows cost-effective single production of custom parts.
3D printing will only use suitable volume of material to produce a part. In most process, raw materials can be recycled and reused in next production, so there is very little materials waste. While subtractive manufacturing methods, such as CNC milling or turning, will remove a mount of materials from raw blocks. This result to high volume of material waste.
A fault prototype will cost the designer time and money, a small change in molds or fabrication methods will impact final cost significantly. 3D printing can produce prototypes before expensive investment equipment such molds, jigs. In order to verify design and eliminate the risk, build confidence before large mass production.