Expert Manufacturing Advice tailored for step-by-step implementation in the workplace. Small Manufacturers, Machine Shops and CAD Engineers improve and thrive with our hands-on help. 3D Printing - Additive Manufacturing: Explanation and Business Advantages for Engineers & Industry

3D Printing - Additive Manufacturing: Explanation and Business Advantages for Engineers & Industry

3D Printing Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing Additive Manufacturing for Engineers...

There has been a lot reported about 3D Printing, both within engineering and in the wider media. It’s fair to say some of it is hype, whilst on the other hand other aspects are incredibly useful, and some even potentially dangerous!

Here we’ll take a closer look at 3D Printing, with a view to gaining a better understanding of how it can assist product development for small manufacturers, CAD designers and engineering consultants.

Whilst downloading models is useful, acquiring modern CAD skills enables you to fully exploit this technology.

Most acknowledge the potential is huge and 3D printing has caught the public imagination in a way few manufacturing technologies have for a long time. 

In contrast to lots of the media hype around 3D printing, we take a strictly industry-based approach and outlook as to how this technology can be exploited for better products and commercial gain.

  • 3D Printing Explained… (Below)
  • How it Works – From 3D CAD to Real Components (Below)

3D Printing Benefits for Small Manufacturing Businesses and Engineers

Product, assembly or component concepts were traditionally modelled using materials like foam, wood and clay. However the problem with this is it requires specialist skills, it can be quite expensive and it is rarely completed quickly. For many small manufacturers this meant modelling was more an aspiration rather than a reality. Consequently designs would go straight from CAD or technical drawings directly to production. Sadly the result was often mistakes and defects, which require expensive and time consuming modification.

This is where 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing comes into its own. It enables engineers to refine and prove-out designs, before committing to costly manufacturing and production tooling. What’s more, it is relatively inexpensive, widely available and plenty of help exists. Importantly, it is also quick and entry level skills and knowledge required are relatively low. All you need to start is a 3D CAD model. As such, the benefits for small manufacturers are significant.

 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing for Engineers...

3D Printing Explained…

3D printing is sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, as parts are built up by adding layers of material on top of each other. This is in contrast to subtractive manufacturing processes where material is removed, like milling and turning.

One of the key advantages of 3D Printing is the ability to quickly produce components. As such, 3D printing during product development is sometimes referred to as rapid prototyping. For final production parts, it can be described as rapid manufacturing.

There are a number of different 3D printing technologies which we’ll look at in a moment. They all have their pros and cons depending on what you want to achieve. However they are all based on the same idea of building up a component by layering material.


3D Printing Additive Manufacturing for Engineers...

How it Works – From 3D CAD to Real Components

  • To start with the 3D CAD model is created.
  • Then the CAD file is exported as an STL file. At this stage all model surfaces are broken down into triangular facets.
  • Next the model is sliced into very thin, essentially 2D, layers.
  • Following this software assigns parameters, values and (depending on the 3D Printing technology) support material information.
  • The file is then interpreted and built layer-by-layer by the 3D Printing machine.
  • When the process finishes the completed 3 dimensional component is revealed.

A Quick 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing Overview (Courtesy of Stratasys)


3D Printing Additive Manufacturing for Engineers...

3D Printing Advantages: Inc Development Process Benefits

  • 3D Printing is quick compared to other conventional methods of prototyping and manufacturing. Depending on the complexity and size of the component, most parts can go from CAD model to finished parts, in minutes or hours.

  • For prototyping purposes, typical prices are a fraction of the cost of conventional model making.

  • 3D Printing means high quality prototyping is possible without having to learn or buy-in a range of increasing rare and expensive conventional modelling skills.

  • Very complicated geometry and shapes can be printed, which couldn’t be produced by conventional manufacturing processes. For the design engineer, this means they are free to design for the optimum ideal form, rather than having to compromise the design so it fits conventional production methods. Plastic and metallic parts can be produced in this way.

  • Related to the last point, multiple part assemblies can be printed in one go. Support material is removed afterwards enabling parts to move and interact as designed.

  • The very nature of additive manufacture means there is very little waste. Layers are only printed where they are needed, to the exact shape you have designed. Minimum waste makes this a low cost, sustainable production method.

  • Small manufacturers have the option of bringing 3D printing in-house to enhance their product development capability, or alternatively to conveniently outsource to bureaus which typically have turnaround times measured in days. Both are relatively quick.

  • A broad range of materials are now available for different 3D printing technologies. Moreover, more materials are routinely becoming available. For more details see this section here for the broad range of materials now commercially available.

  • Short production runs are available without investing in very expensive conventional tooling, making it ideal for low volume production. ‘Soft 3D Printed rubberised tooling’ makes these short production runs a possibility. The cost and lead-time savings are considerable.

  • It is possible to print parts and even assemblies in different colours with some 3D Printers. Additionally, selected 3D printers can print two different materials.

  • 3D printed parts can be surface finished and painted as well as drilled, tapped and sanded down – all ideal for presentation purposes.

  • 3D Printed parts can be used at various stages in the product development process. Examples include:

Engineers can better communicate their design thinking by enabling others to handle components and assemblies. Ergonomics and function can be checked and refined, particularly for moving parts.

Design engineers and production technicians can gear up for manufacturing, planning and resolving potential issues long before any material is cut. Avoiding defects, scrap and rework means lead-time and cost savings can be considerable

Obtain buy-in, explain proposals and assist decision-making for non-technical employees.

They can also assist concept testing, helping to obtain feedback from the market, clients and users.

3D Printing, often in conjunction with traditional model making, can produce professional mock-ups for exhibitions and trade shows.


Basic 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing Overview (Courtesy of CAD Dimensions)

3D Printing Industrial Engineering Application for NASA (Courtesy Newsy Science)

The 3D printing Association (3DPA) is tasked with the development and promotion of a thriving 3D printing industry globally. Our role is to advance the awareness and implementation of 3D printing and additive manufacturing around the world.

We are dedicated to providing manufacturers, designers, resellers and the entire 3D printing community with a committed resource that actively promotes, develops and supports all elements of the industry acting as a robust advocate for the technology. More...

Next... Designing for 3D Printing – Hints and Tips

Back to CAD Engineering Essentials 

3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing... Genuine Transformative Technology or Over-hyped by the media? Have your say...

There's been a lot said about 3D Printing / Additive manufacturing. But for manufacturing industry what do you think its true potential is? And is it starting to fulfil that potential?

Some manufacturers have had tangible results. But what's your experience? We’re interested so please let us know!

- Share your story... and get a FREE copy of our report 'Helping You and Your Manufacturing Business Thrive'...

PS: Feel free to name-drop your firm! There's nothing wrong with a bit of free publicity!

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