From 3D software tools, through 3D printing technologies, to automated post-processing solutions - how could large manufacturers build their own tailor-made end-to-end additive manufacturing workflow?
Source: AdditiveWorks - Simulation Software
The 3D printing industry emerged several decades ago with a goal of transforming manual prototyping techniques to digital ones through the use of 3D printers. Since then, the printing industry has made vast progress as we know it today when the clear vision is to digitize manufacturing processes, from design to end-use parts. To make this happen, large manufacturers will need to integrate new 3D solutions coming from three different segments: 3D Software, 3D Printers and Automated Post-Processing solutions. Thus, connecting all the dots between them is essential to create one complete digital workflow.
Integrating 3D printing in manufacturing makes sense when the benefits of using digital fabrication overcome traditional manufacturing methods. It starts with application which involves producing dozens/hundreds of end-use parts, after considering parameters such as cost per part, time to market, complicated geometries, personalized products etc. When having the proper 3D printing technology, production is possible, but not scalable. To do so, a full digital workflow is required built out of the following 3D solutions:
3D Software Solutions
Includes tools that can support the optimization and management of large amounts of parts. Interesting solutions in the market today includes Topology Optimization to achieve the strongest geometries with minimal material and weight, Workflow Management Tools to streamline OEM’s internal and external production, Decision Support Software for better utilization of 3D printing, simulation software and more.
Source: AdditiveWorks - Simulation of Metal 3D Printing
3D Printing Technologies
Includes mainly metal and plastic 3D printing technologies that offer features that focus on high printing speed, special materials for specific industries/applications, high accuracy, and repeatability. Furthermore, reliability is a major factor since down time in a real production environment is more critical than using 3D printers for prototyping.
Source: MoldJet 3D Printing Technology by Tritone Technologies
Automated Post-Processing Solutions
Setting the proper digital workflow will enable the production capability of printed parts, but scalability will not be possible without automated post processing solutions. These types of solutions includes automated systems for support removal, surface finish, and dyeing. All are stand-alone units that are able to process large sum of parts with high productivity and repeatability, taking manual intervention and labor costs to minimum.
Source: PostProcess Technologies - Support Removal and Surface Finish
End-to-end Automated Workflow
Connecting all the dots when considering these three solutions segments will enable manufacturers to set their tailor-made digital manufacturing workflow for their specific needs, considering the industry they are in and type of products they produce. Although the journey to digitize manufacturing is only at its beginning, now is the time for manufacturers, small to large, to explore new solutions in the industry that seems to have the right offering. The main goal would be to use the proper compatible tools that can create an automated workflow, similar to how traditional manufacturing is today. Without automation, costs will stay high and scalability will not be possible. In this case, 3D printing will stay on the prototyping side.
Knowledge is the Key
To make this transition possible, manufacturers will need to acquire knowledge which in some cases they don’t own themselves. One of the ways to achieve this is to closely work with consulting companies that have the right experience and perspective, and or use the help of professional 3D printing resellers. Today, many of them understand that selling boxes or software license will not be enough to position themselves as ‘one 3D stop shop’ for their customers. Therefore, as the first step, they are adding to their portfolio innovative solutions that include 3D Software, 3D Printers, and Automated Post Processing solutions. Once they have a complete design to end-use parts offering, they could set up workflow solutions for each of their customers from different industries.