Unlike conventional manufacturing processes that involve subtractive methods like cutting or machining, additive manufacturing or 3D printing, builds objects layer by layer, offering numerous advantages in terms of usage, design freedom and production efficiency.
Here we share how additive manufacturing works to help you gain a better understanding of the process and how it can benefit your product development.
Learn how Additive manufacturing/3D printing process works below.
Process of Additive Manufacturing (3D printing)
Designers and engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) packages such as Solidworks or Fusion 360 for precise engineering models. Alternatively, more freeform software like 3DS Max or Blender can be used to create artistic and organic designs.
The most common file format for AM is the STL (Stereolithography) file, which allows for seamless integration between various software tools. However, it is worth noting that the landscape of file formats is continuously evolving, with developers exploring new possibilities to enhance the versatility of 3D data files.
Once you have the 3D computer model you will then need to slice it into thin layers. The height or thickness will be determined by the Additive Manufacturing process used, and the purpose of the object. The thinner the layers the better the geometric integrity.
However, there are limits with each AM process as to how thin the layers can be. Thinner layers also mean more layers to create the part, and this in turn can affect production time. Thicker layers produce parts more quickly, but the layers are more likely to be visible and noticeable in the finished part.
After the slicing process, the layers are then sent to the 3D printer, where the physical object is created layer by layer. The choice of AM technology depends on the requirements of the part.
There are various 3D printing technologies available, including selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modelling (FDM), and stereolithography (SLA), each with its own strengths and limitations. These technologies utilise different materials and fabrication methods to build the final part.
Learn more about the different types of 3D printers here.
Benefits of Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
Additive manufacturing offers numerous benefits across various industries. Its flexibility in shaping and geometry allows for the production of complex and intricate designs that would be challenging or impossible to achieve with traditional methods.
This technology is particularly advantageous for small batch production, where customisation and rapid iteration are essential.
Additionally, AM enables the use of innovative materials and combinations of materials, expanding the possibilities for creating parts with unique properties. It also facilitates the production of near net shape parts, reducing the need for post-processing and saving time and resources.
Some of other benefits of Additive Manufacturing include:
- Great flexibility for shape/ geometry
- Bespoke part production
- Small batch production
- Speed, simplicity of iterating new ideas or development.
- Use of innovative materials and, increasingly combinations of materials
- Produces near net shape parts
- Parts can be created on demand, at location.
- Reduces supply chain issues
One of the remarkable advantages of additive manufacturing is the significant reduction in material waste. Traditional manufacturing methods often involve extensive material removal, resulting in substantial waste. In contrast, AM builds parts by adding material only where it is needed, minimising waste generation.
Sectors that use Additive Manufacturing (3D printing)
In engineering, 3D printing can be utilised to create prototypes, functional parts, and jigs/fixtures. In architecture, it enables architects to visualize designs and create intricate models. The medical field benefits from AM through the production of custom implants and prosthetics.
Below are some of the sectors that Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) can be used in:
- Media/ Film/ Animation
- Jewellery/ fashion
- Art/ design
Additive manufacturing is also ideal for:
- Model making
- Product prototypes
- Legacy parts
- Functional parts
- Jigs and fixtures
At the 3M BIC, we have additive manufacturing capabilities in both metals and plastics. You can find out more about our AM/ 3D Printing technology here.