By 2020, additive manufacturing has finally become a mature technology that can be used in more and more areas of production. Over the past decade, it has completed the entirety of the technology hype cycle, finally reaching peak productivity.
Custom fixture system produced by Pankl Racing Systems using Formlabs technology
Despite the recent advances in 3D printing technology, many 3D printer owners are still not as profitable as they thought. One of the biggest reasons for this is low equipment utilization: equipment is not used frequently enough. Underutilization can be caused by a lack of applications or inadequate technology, and a serious lack of design skills for additive manufacturing in-house. When designers and engineers don't know how or when to use additive manufacturing, they create expensive parts of poor quality.
In addition, there are three reasons why additive manufacturing is difficult to make profitable.
1. Additive manufacturing processes are still misunderstood
Although 3D printing equipment manufacturers continue to introduce industrial 3D printing equipment with better efficiency and performance, part design will never truly be optimized for 3D printing design (DFAM, design for additive manufacturing ) if users are not familiar with the basics of the additive manufacturing process.
For example, DLP and FDM 3D printing are getting faster and better materials every year. However, neither technology can overcome the need for support materials. By redesigning with the goal of eliminating support materials, Blueprint engineers have a new design that is only 33% of the original cost to produce. While it does not differ in performance from above, it is much faster to produce due to some simple understanding of 3D printing design optimization.
Designs with self-supporting structures are just one way to reduce time and material consumption and can be performed on many technologies including DLP, FDM, DMLS, stereolithography, and more.
Many 3D printing service providers find low return on investment for their machines, frequent print failures, difficulty removing support materials or excess powder, and complaints about the inadequacy of 3D printing technology.
2. Lack of availability of additional design software
The design of complex geometric shapes originates from the world of digital art: concept design, video game design and illustration. The software and engineers used to make these designs are completely different from the engineering CAD software used to make the parts. Additive manufacturing introduces a new design discipline that brings manufacturability to optimal design, breaking the limitations of traditional manufacturing design processes.
To fill this gap, many software companies are faced with the challenge of designing geometrically manufacturable parts. Here are a few examples of these products and their current limitations.
Autodesk Generative Design is a simple tool that generates geometry to connect anchor point features. To this day, it still does not enable 100% manufacturable designs and the output needs to be adjusted or completely redesigned based on the generated results.
Materialize 3-Matic offers a variety of 3D printing design optimization modules ranging from part lightweighting to digital texturing. The process of using it can be complex as it relates to the manufacturability and file integrity of the output mesh file, so it remains a concern.
nTopology introduced nTop, a promising new software that combines the generation of design shapes with easy-to-understand geometric patterns. It is a fairly new software that has not yet been tested for widespread adoption.
Users must accept the fact that there is no perfect design software yet, and we should focus our efforts on selecting the type of software needed to create value and use it.
3. No additive manufacturing mindset
Unless additive manufacturing is introduced at the beginning of the product lifecycle, it will not generate much value. Without support from all departments to embed additive thinking from the beginning of a project, the necessary CAD data, requirements analysis, or design resources are not available, leading to failure and wasted effort.
Thinking about additive manufacturing for prototypes, designers should embrace the "agile" nature of additive manufacturing at all stages of product development, assuming that each part needs to be 3D printed twice: once for testing and once for use.
Additive manufacturing is often seen as too expensive or too fragile for fixtures and tools. Adding auxiliary parts to increase strength and reduce material use is a way to improve design performance and economy.
Additive manufacturing thinking must drive two things in the design of production 3D printed parts: guaranteeing functionality (including surface quality, mechanical loading, and economy), and goals (weight reduction, cost reduction, and improved functionality). Designers should abandon traditional manufacturing assumptions and start anew with these two considerations.
3D printing requires new thinking and collaboration across multiple departments. While traditional manufacturing methods have tied designers to manufacturability, the flexibility of additive manufacturing liberates designers in ways never before possible. And, while 3D printing shifts control from the manufacturing process to the engineer, it can make designers miserable due to waste (whether it's time, materials or iterations).
This is why 3D printing optimizes design skills and is so important to achieving the desired benefits.