Initially seen as a process for concept modelling and rapid prototyping, AM has expanded over the last five years or so to include applications in many areas of our lives. From prototyping and tooling to direct part manufacturing in industrial sectors such as architectural, medical, dental, aerospace, automotive, furniture and jewellery, new and innovative applications are constantly being developed.
It can be said that AM belongs to the class of disruptive technologies, revolutionising the way we think about design and manufacturing. From consumer goods produced in small batches to large scale manufacture, the applications of AM are vast.
The number of users of these technologies has been growing constantly, from artists, designers and individuals to large companies and enterprises using AM to manufacture a wide range of final products.
|Typical applications for metal Additive Manufacturing|
|Production of models and prototypes during a product’s development phase|
|Parts for pilot series production in medical, automotive and aerospace industry|
|Short series production where tooling costs for casting or injection moulding would be too high|
|Parts of high geometrical complexity which can not be produced by means of conventional manufacturing (moulding, grinding, milling, casting, etc.)|
Typical applications for metal AM processes
Typical applications for metal AM processes are summarised in the table above. Currently, metal AM is not a process suitable for the mass production of millions of identical simple parts. However, as systems and technologies advance and processing time is reduced, the use of AM for producing large quantities of parts will become a viable option.
The advantages of AM derive from its high flexibility due to the product being produced directly from a CAD model without the need for tooling. This also allows the AM process to produce almost any geometry that can be designed.
There are some applications, for example dental restorations, that really tap the full potential of AM. In this highly individualised production process it is economically viable to use AM technologies, speeding up the production time without inflating the costs per part.
Applications in aerospace, for example the fuel nozzles for the GE LEAP engine, highlight the possibilities of AM in this demanding sector. Additive Manufacturing allowed engineers to design a fuel nozzle which is 25% lighter and five times more durable than the previous part.
Additive Manufacturing complements the vast group of production processes, allowing designers and engineers to improve existing process chains, as well as offering new opportunities for production.
It is difficult to state exactly when AM production becomes the first choice for an enterprise, but, for small series production (depending on the part, some thousands parts per year for example), functional prototypes and individual parts, AM is a good option.
Changing the paradigm of “design for manufacturing” to “design for function” will change the way we experience improvements of future components and will improve the performance of the system.