Basics of Additive Manufacturing: What is the background, main categories and the benefits of this new manufacturing process?

Basics of Additive Manufacturing: What is the background, main categories and the benefits of this new manufacturing process?

How does Additive Manufacturing work?

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a manufacturing process that enables lighter, more complex parts to be created. The process starts with the design of parts in a computer-aided-design (CAD) software or 3D object scanners to precisely model the shapes and parameters of the object.  By feeding this information into the Additive Manufacturing machine, the data guides the nozzle or print head to insert material upon the preceding layer. Additive manufacturing, as the name suggests, works by adding material (such as metallic or plastic powders) layer by layer in order to create a product. Each layer is melted on top of the other, creating a strong bond. At the end of the manufacturing process, the excess powders are reclaimed generally with the use of a vacuum system, where they can be kept for later use or kept for reuse.

What are the different Additive Manufacturing methods?

While sometimes the words “Additive Manufacturing” and “3D printing” is used interchangeably, 3D printing is slightly different, as 3D printing is defined. To be precise, the definition of 3D printing is the “fabrication of objects through the deposition of a material using a print head, nozzle or other printer technology”, whereas Additive Manufacturing is distinguished by its specific layer by layer printing process. The most common process methods used in Additive Manufacturing are Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM). Although they are all part of the Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) technology, which uses lasers, electron beams or thermal print heads for the melting of subtle layers of materials, they differ in terms of materials and processes. There is not much difference between SLS and DMLS in terms of the process itself, as they both use laser sintering to melt particles. However SLS can be used for a wider array of materials such as ceramics, plastics and glass, whereas DMLS refers only to metal particles. The process of SLM differs slightly from the previous two, as it uses the laser to fully melt the materials, and therefore involves both a heating and cooling process. See about the various types in more detail here.

What are the primary materials used for Additive Manufacturing?

One of the most attractive attributes of Additive Manufacturing is the wide range of materials that can be used to create objects. While metallurgy is a crucial application for the aerospace and automotive industry – which can be seen in this case study – using powders such as titanium, aluminium and Inconel, materials can range from ceramics, composites, glass, thermoplastics and even food ingredients like pasta and chocolate. One of the most recent materials to adapt to this industry is bio-inks, which are used to create artificial organs and soft tissues.

What are the benefits of Additive Manufacturing?

As additive manufacturing produces objects by adding layers rather than producing an end result by taking material away, it has a significant benefit for minimising waste materials in the production. Apart from waste reduction, by utilizing the CAD software and the machine`s ability to build up products layer by layer, the end product achieved is much lighter, often more build from lot more complex geometrical shapes than what regular manufacturing would allow. This system also allows for objects with hollow space in them to be created as a single object instead of having to weld and mould parts together, increasing resistance and enables a much stronger product to be produced. Another benefit of this method is the reduced timeframe that it requires to produce parts, as changes in the CAD file can be made relatively quickly, and smaller parts can take only a few hours to be produced from start to finish, which result in overall cost reduction through the manufacturing process.

Tom Spiggle
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