Although additive manufacturing has been around for several years, the process is gaining more and more interest and applications every year. Why should you be interested? It represents an alternative to conventional machining process and offers some advantages over these processes. Additive manufacturing can be a fast and less expensive way to create small runs of products than other processes you may be currently using at your shop. It also can create virtually any shape with a machine as small as a desktop printer, in some cases.
Additive manufacturing involves building plastic or metal parts using equipment that constructs complex 3D objects layer by layer, rather than removing material, as is the case with conventional machining. Also known as 3D printing, this method reads data from a CAD drawing and from a series of cross sections, builds up the model with material in the form of liquid, powder or sheet metal. These layers are bound together by heat, chemicals or other processes.
In its conception, the process was fairly slow, but as a result of many companies’ hard work, the process has greatly improved in many areas, including speed, and advances are being made every day.
According to David Burns, president and CEO of The Ex One Company, describes the importance of additive manufacturing in his column, Additive Manufacturing, Ready for Prime Time. “If manufacturing parts in an industrial environment is part of your life, then it would be wise to anticipate that additive manufacturing will be part of your future.”
Mr. Burns also describes the biggest benefits of AM as unconstrained design, complexity vs. simplicity, speed, and customization in his column.
After doing some research on AM for this e-newsletter column, I think that this process is worth learning about, if not for implementing it in your shop, for at least knowing what your competition is, or will be, delving into.
The perfect place to start your research is on the Additive Manufacturing Zone, which is full of articles, case studies and products regarding additive manufacturing.
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