Metal 3D printing is changing the way we create parts. In low- to mid-volume production runs, the parts themselves can be made faster, cheaper, and with lower effort than traditional manufacturing processes. Since additive manufacturing forms parts in such a different way, it makes it much easier to produce certain types of parts that require complex features. The process uses no tooling, is almost fully automated, and adds rather than removes material to allow for more optimized geometries. This makes metal 3D printing a great fit for parts that might be traditionally very difficult or expensive to manufacture, including legacy parts, line automation tools, and functional cast prototypes.
This set of gripper jaws, for example, moves pieces of sheet metal to and from a press brake. These jaws were 3D printed in metal, and solve three problems for the shop that uses them:
- The gripper jaws are printed using 17-4 PH Stainless Steel, which has high-abrasion resistance. This means the jaws won’t wear down from repeated contact with the steel sheet metal parts.
- The closed-cell infill within the part makes it much lighter than a traditional steel part, meaning the arm can move faster than with a machined equivalent and output higher yield.
- The tips of the jaws are shaped and low-profile to avoid the press brake tooling, but designed to grip the part securely. This would have been difficult and expensive to machine out of the same material, so they decided to print the complex geometry instead.
The Metal X can solve a lot of problems when it comes to manufacturing, and you can see more of these solutions on our Applications page. Many of these examples stem from three core benefits of additive manufacturing, and how they can help cut down your cost per part:
Three Benefits of Metal Additive Manufacturing
Geometric Freedom: Complexity and optimization come at a cost for most traditional manufacturing processes — additional features mean more operations, longer machining time, or multi-part molds. These all heavily consume both material and your machinists’ time. Additive manufacturing removes many of these constraints. The process builds material up instead of cutting it down, so its design methodology encourages putting material exactly where it is necessary, at no cost to the operator. In fact, you consume less material and time by doing so.
Full Automation: Metal 3D printers require minimal designated operator time. The printer’s software automatically generates toolpaths based on configurable settings, so no specialized manufacturing knowledge is needed to work with a given material — the machine handles all of that based on your selections. Once you kick off a print, it can operate without supervision, so you can maximize machine uptime by letting the printer run during non-working hours.
Minimal Tooling or Setup: When making a part with traditional methods like milling, turning, or molding, some amount of effort and time needs to be spend non-revenue generating parts. These are parts that support the manufacturing of the final part, including custom tooling, workholding, or molds. Metal 3D printers can create parts without extra manufacturing work or machine setup — all you have to do is press print to get the machine started!
What Challenges Does Additive Manufacturing Solve?
From these three benefits we can derive many different applications in a variety of industries. The key to discovering the high-impact parts is understanding how it can impact you and your business’s bottom line. Where do you face challenges that impact yield? What is the cost of these inefficiencies? When metal 3D printed parts increase or maintain part performance with lower effort, cost, or time, they are valuable. In our white paper, we show how you can use metal additive manufacturing to solve three challenges relevant to many industries.
Simplified Assemblies: Metal additive manufacturing encourages part consolidation with more geometric freedom for complex geometries. Consolidate parts that have been split into multiple segments because of manufacturing design constraints.
Optimized Geometries: The design space for additive manufacturing is far different from traditional manufacturing processes, so you can consider how much material you’re adding to your part, rather than what you’re taking away. Save weight on critical components by adding material only where it is needed to make your part perform.
Digital inventory and Legacy Parts: Using metal 3D printers and a cloud-based fleet management system, you can design and manufacture parts wherever there is a printer. Manage your inventory without warehouses full of spares by printing replacement parts onsite and on demand.
Download our white paper on Problems to be Solved with Metal Additive Manufacturing to see examples and details about each of these use cases!