Starting to use additive manufacturing as a production method requires more than just an investment in a 3D printer. Many companies start at the wrong end, wasting both time and money and winding up disappointed. This technical roadmap will help you ask the right questions and get started in the right way with this technology so that you don’t get derailed and can more quickly gain market share and increase profitability.
There has been much hype about additive manufacturing since the 1990s. But only now has it matured to the point where companies now feel ready to start using it as their production method.
Unfortunately though, many go about it in the wrong way.
“Many companies make the mistake of trying to transition to additive manufacturing without first developing a real business case. For example, they will frequently want to test the technology on a particular component or make a prototype in some sort of cool material. Then, after all of that, they tend to conclude that it just wasn’t worth it,” says Seyed Hosseini, head of the AM-center at RISE.
What he would like to emphasize, in other words, is the importance of doing things in the right order. The five steps presented below are based on RISE’s unique expertise and experience of the entire chain, from initial concept to verified product. RISE has been involved in additive manufacturing projects in all types of industries. It has developed 3D printing as an industrial production method for metals, polymers, concrete, fibre composites and sand molds for casting, to name just a few. RISE also conducts research that contributes to a more efficient production chain via digitization of production, product and post-processing.
“At this point, we really do know all of these steps extremely well. We’ve done it for ourselves and all on our own, except for the final stage of industrialization,” says Seyed Hosseini.
STEP 1. Build a business case based on additive manufacturing
Invest first in building a business case where you focus on manufacturing an existing product more efficiently and ideally with higher customer value. For example, GE Aviation, which manufactures and leases aircraft engines to airlines around the world, managed to reduce fuel consumption on their latest GE9X jet engine by ten percent. Furthermore, it was possible to cut the weight of the turbine blades in half using this technology and a material that had been developed specifically for this purpose.
Another pathway in is to test a new business model made possible by additive manufacturing.
“The important thing is to start with a strategy formulated by the executive management team. Calculate the costs and specify the possible new business opportunities. It is also important that you have the budget for it all right from the start,” says Seyed Hosseini.
RISE designs workshops that help executive management teams identify and ponder the possibilities, avoid mistakes and pave the way for transitioning to additive manufacturing in the best possible way.
STEP 2. Developing expertise for the key functions
Additive manufacturing is partially based on other principles than traditional manufacturing. In order to succeed with this new technology, product managers, purchasers and designers need training to supplement their existing knowledge and experience.
“Traditional manufacturing typically involves making components with straight edges so that they will fit together during the various stages of assembly. The usual method involves slicing and cutting away at the material until you have the shape you want. Additive manufacturing is entirely different. Instead, you start with the organic structure that is the most durable and offers the best function for the desired purpose. We have a lot to learn from nature, where we see shapes and geometries that utilize materials optimally. Designing with these new opportunities in mind requires new ways of thinking, creativity and additional training,” says Seyed Hosseini.
RISE offers training tailored to the needs of product managers, purchasers and designers. Product managers learn about the product characteristics that you can achieve with additive manufacturing. Purchasers learn how to set the requirement specifications in the right way and designers learn how to design products more efficiently, with a higher level of geometric freedom and with lower consumption of materials.
STEP 3. Develop the product
Once you have a good business case and staff have received the training they need on additive manufacturing, it is time for the next challenging phase: production and quality assurance.
“Typically, you will need to develop new materials or adapt the ones you have already been working with. But there are still some limitations as to which materials are suitable for additive manufacturing. RISE helps you specify the parameters for materials that can be used in 3D printing.”
In some cases, it is necessary to exchange or modify certain materials. In other cases, another round at the drawing board is necessary.
STEP 4. Production
Once you reach the stage of product manufacturing, it is necessary to consider all aspects of production: health & safety, premise requirements and the work environment, standardized work processes, production planning, post-processing, traceability and a high level of knowledge about the equipment.
One important decision that needs to be made is whether or not to do the additive manufacturing in-house or to use one of the service agencies offering additive manufacturing. Many factors need to be weighed in, financial as well as strategic. Here are some of the things to consider:
- The number of units that will be manufactured. If only a few components will be manufactured, it is better to use a service agency and benefit from their expertise. They quickly grasp which function you are trying to achieve and can offer cost-effective manufacturing.
- If your company has identified several suitable components for additive manufacturing and there are good strategic business opportunities, you might want to take the manufacturing in-house. Doing so accelerates the accumulation of expertise at the company and significantly increases its opportunities.
- The need for own continuous quality assurance (the greater the need, the stronger the case for in-house manufacturing).
STEP 5: Industrialize
There aren’t many companies in Sweden, or even in the world, who have progressed so far with their additive manufacturing that they are doing it on a large scale.
“Siemens in Finspång is one of the first, however. They are using the technology for rapid repair of the burner tops for industrial gas turbines. Rather than discarding an entire burner, they just slice off the top and then construct a new one using additive manufacturing. Doing so radically reduces material consumption and makes it possible to build in new functions as well, such as cooling ducts for higher performance and longer life. It significantly reduces the time required and the costs of repair work,” says Seyed Hosseini.
“Once your company has gotten this far, the important thing to think about is meeting industry-specific needs and standards for additive manufacturing. Because additive manufacturing is relatively new, the standards are still being developed,” he concludes.
RISE is working with most industries and monitoring progress in additive manufacturing. So just give us a call when you’ve gotten that far. We can help you succeed with quality assurance, process validations and product certifications.