3D printing is among the leading manufacturing processes, also known as an additive process, paradox to the CNC machining, a subtractive process. Having lingered the stereotype of being merely a ‘prototype,’ industrial 3D printing has emerged as a proper manufacturing process. It majorly involves in the industrial manufacturing of various products such as cabin brackets of Airbus A350, ribcage replacement, fuel nozzles for general electric’s leap engine, LED power-indicator housing for robots, and patient-explicit hearing aids.
Fundamental Rules of Industrial 3D Printing
3D printing has been the most famous and reliable process for preparing prototypes used to ensure the 100% validity of the desired product. But now, the process of prototyping is way beyond the confined concept of prototyping. It has become a proper manufacturing process that offers ultimate convenience for producing low-volume products, especially where injection molds are not justified. Meanwhile, prototyping may better consider the complexity of the part than machining. So, here we will discuss the fundamental rules and information for Industrial 3D printing.
Typically, it involves three additive manufacturing processes as stereolithography (SLA), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), and selective laser sintering (SLS). All these technologies are specified to the nature of their work. For instance, DMLS is highly suitable for end-use applications. In the same way, SLS and SLA are also fully effective against different applications, including low-volume end-use parts and prototype-centric processes.
2. Selection of Material
When prototyping different parts, around two dozen 3D-printable powders and resins are available that possess the qualities required by various mechanical and electrical components. Many end-use parts can be manufactured from glass-filled Nylon to cobalt chrome, incurring lower costs and increased durability.
3. Important Considerations for Design
Sometimes, there could be a minimal difference between a prototype design and a model that possesses the ability to serve for years. Here comes the real power of 3D printing, which eliminates that minor difference from the prototype and makes it a proper workable design with complex design and organic shapes. However, this much flexibility is certainly not possible with conventional manufacturing processes, such as CNC machining and injection molding.
4. Quantity of the Production
Ascertaining the production quantity is an essential part of the design process. Technically, 3D printing is only suitable for low-volume production, necessitating knowing the exact amount required for end-use products. Nevertheless, it is a fact that 3D-printed parts are the most cost-effective if compared with alternative manufacturing methods.
Decisions Regarding Direct Metal Laser Sintering
Whether DMLS or any other process, the choice depends on the material and its consequent properties. Suppose the material is metal like aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium. DMLS seems a suitable option. At the same time, DMLS is involved in manufacturing many parts used in the aerospace and medical industry. Over the concerns of the use of metal powder in DMLS, experts are now collaborating with customers to eliminate the loopholes produced by using metal powder.
Moreover, metal is the most suitable for the manufacturing of end-use parts. However, it does not indicate that DMLS is an altogether proper process to manufacture those end-use parts. DMLS involves using a powerful laser to fuse and melt the metal particles to form the desired shape using layers. During this whole process, extreme heat is required to melt the metal particles. This factor initiates the need to use a scaffold-like support structure to hold curls and wraps. They are likely to be removed once the process is built, making the process less cost-effective.
Selection of Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Direct metal laser sintering is the most famous and reliable process for manufacturing low-volume and end-use parts without any argument. But selective laser sintering is a close competitor to the DMLS while being on the second number. As far as its working process is concerned, it is similar to DMLS. Both approaches use a high amount of heat to melt the material layer by layer in a powder bed to form the required shape.
As plastic requires a lower amount of heat to be melted, support structures like curls and wraps are unnecessary. It makes it a pretty simple process to utilize the entire volume of the build chamber fully. It also simplifies different processes (part setup and post-processing) that reduce the overall cost of the process. The only restriction faced by the SLS is its compatibility with plastics of the nylon family. On the other hand, fiber-filled and glass materials are useable. Unlike DMLS, the SLS can form a layer whose thickness is 0.0004 inches.
Other Consideration for SLS
When needed to have an extra-finishing on the part manufactured using SLS, unfilled Nylon is used to develop the requirements. In contrast, filled Nylon is a more suitable application for gears and pullies. The use of Nylon in the medical industry is also overwhelming, as it can sustain the process of autoclaving. Likewise, the parts manufactured using Nylon are hygroscopic and porous, making them least suitable for moisturized conditions. Apart from this, Nylon is widely used in injection molding. Subsequently, Nylon in SLS offers a potential solution for manufacturing production tools expected to serve a specific term or deserve to be built using lower costs.
Do Not Underestimate the Importance of SLA
It is an admitted fact that stereolithography has been pivotal in rapid prototyping. The reason behind the success of SL as a reliable and valuable process is that it offers very accurate and finely produced parts. Nonetheless, it is not suitable for the manufacturing of end-use parts. Usually, a photo-curable resin is used in SL, which reacts with UV light if exposed to it for a long time. This exposure to UV light leads to part movement and material degradation.
But if these end-use products are enclosed in a light-weight ceramic-filled nickel, they will become as tough as nails and stable to provide their services for many years.
Benefits of 3D Printing Processes
The global market size of 3D printing is expected to reach $62.79 billion by 2028. This rapid growth explicitly shows the comprehensive benefits of different processes associated with 3D printing. Following are the significant benefits offered by the various techniques of 3D printing:
- It provides rapid prototyping that quickly brings a physical model of the coming product.
- It offers more flexibility in the design and assembly simplification.
- Parts manufactured using 3D printing are majorly light in weight and strong.
- The waste is massive in subtractive manufacturing processes, but not in 3D printing.
- More cost-effective for the production of parts required at low-volume.
Irrespective of the process used for the 3D printing, the foremost factor is to consider the complexity of the part. Only that process should be chosen, which is convenient to meet that level of complexity. This step provides users with endless potential for product improvement. As experts are interested in exploring 3D printing for different end-use applications, the growth of 3D printing and its capabilities is inevitable.