Additive manufacturing is a process in which a piece is manufactured by laying down successive layers of material based on a 3D model.
Additive manufacturing may be based on different technologies: extrusion (FDM: Fused Deposition Modelling), sintering by laser (SLS: Selective Laser Sintering), light curing (SLA: Stereolithography), etc.
These technologies are not new, they have already been with us for some time, however until now they have been mainly used in the Rapid Prototyping sector. The expiration of the patents of these technologies is what is leading to the democratization of these technologies, and their expansion.
What are its main advantages?
We can summarize the main manufacturing advantages of additive manufacturing as:
- The possibility to reproduce any geometry. Freeing the design process from traditional manufacturing (machining, punching, injection, etc.).
- Geometric complexity does not increase the price of the process.
- It allows for products to be differentiated and personalized for consumers. Personalization does not increase the price of the process because it allows for products to be manufactured without penalizing cost, regardless of the number of like pieces to be manufactured; even if all of the pieces are different.
- It does not depend on tools or moulds, which allows for an immediate response to the changing needs of the market (reducing time to market).
- Competitive manufacturing of a short series of products, where the advantage of being able to carry out modifications during the life of the product is added with hardly any additional cost, or parametrizing the product and manufacturing it as needed without being tied to a costly mould (initial cost, maintenance, storage, etc.).
- The possibility of integrating different geometries and materials in the same object. In this way we can integrate a mechanism into the piece which must be worked, without the need for later adjustments or assembly.
These advantages have led to it already being used in the following sectors:
- Moulds and dies: manufacturing of pieces with interior refrigeration channels, inserts, or hybrid moulds.
- Design / Engineering / Automotive industry: development of products, mock-ups, first series, coverings…
- Aeronautics: manufacturing of pieces with light structures or internal channels, submitted to frequent design changes or short series.
- Architecture: manufacturing mock-ups.
- Medicine: implants, prostheses, tailored surgical tools…
In the following entry we will try to analyse the way in which additive manufacturing will change our daily life.