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The 3D printing sector is no stranger to growing pains, but it appears adulthood is approaching. In the last few years, 3D-printed parts have replaced traditional parts in everything from running shoes to cars. Hearing aids, dental guards, and prosthetic limbs are all produced using this technology. Homes are built using specialized 3D printing technology both domestically and abroad. To cope with pandemic supply shortages, it even aided in creating nose swabs, face masks, and critical care ventilators.

Now, we have reached a stage in 3D printing’s development where manufacturers can print with metals. This development allows manufacturers to go from design to complex metal parts faster and easier with more cost efficiency. 

What Is 3D Printing?

The first models of 3D printers for home usage were produced in 2010, but the technology was first developed in the mid-1980s. 3D printing was expected to start a revolution in which the 3D printer would become a staple in every home with the hope that people would start printing everything they needed.

Because the first 3D printer was too sluggish and pricey for the typical customer, the technology never caught on in mainstream society. The printers of the time were limited in the types of objects and shapes they could create. These limits led many people to think that 3D printing was never going anywhere, and while the possibility of 3D printing excited people’s imaginations, the subsequent expectations were never met.

However, now that technology has advanced, certain 3D printers have been successful, especially among manufacturers. They find 3D printing useful for simple and quick prototyping. This use case for 3D printing will become even more common once the techniques for making metal parts become cheaper and faster.

How Does 3D Metal Printing Work?

Metal 3D printing is accomplished by focusing a laser onto a thin layer of metal powder, which melts it, and then welding it to the layer below. The layers build up, and the item grows as the digital design takes shape. While this is not the only metal 3D printing method, it is the main process used in manufacturing.

Metal 3D printing offers up new performance possibilities for technical parts in particular. Any unique shape, such as holes, threads, texturing, or connecting parts, can be “built into” the part and printed directly. The entire lead time to manufacturing the finished product can be reduced by weeks.

Additionally, the process of creating the molds or tooling needed to make the final components for injection molding can be expensive and take weeks or even months to complete. With metal 3D printing, this process may be entirely skipped, bringing new levels of efficiency from both a time and a cost standpoint.

Types of 3D Metal Printing

Metal Binding

A glue-like substance is applied to each thin layer of metal powder when using metal binding. The structure takes shape as the alternating layers of glue and powder start to come together. It can take several hours to complete the design with this technique.

The leftover metal powder utilized to support the construction is separated when finished, and the completed product is placed in an oven set at 350 degrees for 34 hours to eliminate any remaining liquid and solidify the binding.

Powder Bed Fusion

Powder bed fusion is like metal binding, except instead of adhesive, it uses an energy source such as a laser. The laser heats the metal powder in the design, which is then fused and formed into a solid layer. The process repeats until the completion of the entire design.

Directed Energy Deposition

This technique uses a metal wire or metal powder. Until completion of the design, a nozzle shoots out metal wire or powder in multiple directions. Once finished, a laser or electron beam melts it. This procedure can also create brand-new objects from scratch and fix damaged metal artifacts.

The Business Case for 3D Metal Printing

The promise surrounding 3D metal printing has many real-world economic advantages. Applications for 3D metal printing have expanded as a result of the technology’s tremendous development, and its benefit to businesses’ bottom lines has become evident in three ways:

  1. Bringing products to market faster. Reducing the length of the product development cycle with a 3D metal printing procedure helps organizations increase income. Organizations can quickly and economically prototype functional products using a metal 3D printer. With a finalized design, this technology can assist in creating tools, fixtures, and other elements to generate parts quicker.
  2. Conformal cooling reduces time and increases productivity. With conformal cooling in plastic injection molds, cycle times can be reduced by anywhere from 10-40%. Conformal cooling solutions also significantly reduce the total cost of production.
  3. Metal additive manufacturing was designed to consolidate the machining process. Instead of using multiple machines to build and finish a part, metal 3D printing brings all of the necessary processes into one. 

For instance, applications in the aerospace industry highlight the possibilities that 3D metal printing brings to a field constantly in demand. Well-known examples include fuel nozzles that have been altered and improved for performance (more lightweight and enhanced durability).

But it goes further than that. Metal 3D printing offers new production opportunities with considerable improvements that enable value creation (innovation and distinction) and value capture, allowing designers and engineers to optimize existing manufacturing operations (optimization and efficiency in time and cost).

The application advantages of metal additive manufacturing can be seen across a wide array of industries and companies, including GE (aerospace), Volkswagen (automotive), Cobra Golf (consumer products), and Parmatech (manufacturing).

How Affordable Is 3D Metal Printing?

While the price of printers has decreased as more advanced models become available, they still require a sizable investment.

That said, they can still be a wise investment, even—or especially—for a small business wanting to launch a new product. With the ability to create more iterations of prototypes and products faster, consolidate the machining process, and bring products to market faster, small businesses can greatly benefit from additive manufacturing. 

As engineers understand how to design for 3D printing in manufacturing and gain confidence in the performance characteristics of 3D output, the use cases begin to expand.

3D printing is a revolutionary process that allows you to make three-dimensional objects from plastic, metal, or even ceramic. It’s a form of additive manufacturing, which means it adds layers of material one at a time to build a 3D object.

3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s and has become increasingly popular in recent years. As it becomes more accessible, it’s also becoming an essential part of many industries—from medicine to construction and even food production. 

In manufacturing, 3D printers have many purposes: From prototyping new products to creating custom tools and parts on demand anywhere in the world. Aerospace and automotive companies led the charge on adopting the technology with companies like GE and BMW using 3D printing to develop prototypes for new engine parts. This removes a significant amount of cost from Research and Development Budgets.

​​The advantages of 3D printing make it one of the most promising technologies to enter the manufacturing industry in recent years. Being an additive technology, 3D printing marks a whole new way in which products are created and thus offers many advantages compared to the traditional manufacturing methods.

Advantages Of 3D Printing—Cost Cutting

Cost reduction is crucial for any firm, and one benefit of 3D printing is that it will contribute to lower prices. Machine operating costs, labor costs, and material costs are all categories of manufacturing expenses where savings can be realized.

Machine Prices

The overall cost of the manufacturing process is mostly accounted for by machine operation costs. Although producing parts in an industrial setting can demand a lot of energy, it is more efficient and faster to develop and produce complicated parts and products all at once. As a result, the savings realized during the manufacturing process more than offset the cost of operating the equipment.

Labor Costs

Unlike traditional manufacturing, where a production line is needed to assemble the product or where several workers may be needed to operate a variety of different machinery, each 3D printer requires one human operator to make sure the uploaded design can be automatically created. As a result, labor expenses are far lower than in traditional production.

Materials Prices

The variety of 3D printer filaments available is expanding, which has allowed the cost to come down over the past few years. However, the overall cost is significantly reduced as compared to conventional procedures, much like the costs associated with machine operating.

Lower Shipping Expenses

The ability to shorten the distance that a product must travel is one of the main benefits of 3D printing. Designers can design a product in one nation and email it to another in preparation for manufacturing, all thanks to 3D printers’ ability to build an object from scratch. It is not necessary to build prototypes that must be transported from one manufacturer to another in order to finish the process. Because of this, the 3D printing sector may be developed globally without leaving a trace, reducing shipping, air travel, and ground transportation.

In addition to designing and producing prototypes, it is also feasible to build spare components locally, which can drastically minimize the carbon footprint.

Other Advantages Of 3D Printing

While cost is a large concern for manufacturers, this isn’t the primary reason that they are turning to 3D printing to create prototypes and products. Other advantages of the technology include:

Less Waste And Greater Sustainability

The typical manufacturing process is mostly a subtractive process, which leads to high costs and waste because raw materials are wasted and reused again. A benefit of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is the distinctive way it constructs the object with relatively little waste. Even while garbage from more conventional ways can occasionally be recycled or reused, it still takes time and effort to plan how and when the waste will be used. Due to this, large-scale 3D printing has become a very sustainable choice.

For instance, thermoplastic materials can be melted, cured (cooled until they solidify), melted again, cured again, and so on. As a result, manufacturing “waste” can be recycled, keeping it from ever turning into “waste.”

Shorter Lead Times

In our fast-paced society, when everything must be completed swiftly, 3D printing can make all the difference. One of the major benefits of 3D printing is that products and parts can be produced much more quickly than they can using conventional techniques. In just a few hours, a complex CAD model can be developed and then turned into a working prototype. This provides design concepts in a way that makes it possible for them to be swiftly validated and fast designed. This is vastly superior to conventional approaches, which might take weeks or months to progress from the design stage to the prototype stage to the actual production process.

Stronger Competitive Advantage

Businesses can produce better, upgraded, and enhanced products in less time if they can shorten the prototype period. These prototypes also enable early product development and more frequent development until the product is polished and prepared for production, resulting in a highly successful product launch.

With Sodick 3D printers, the competitive advantage of 3D printing is elevated to a new level. Designers are able to rethink the items they develop because they have the opportunity to build a life-size prototype.

Enhanced Market Research

It takes a lot of research to determine whether a product will be successful, especially when traditional production processes are involved. But by using 3D printing to create a prototype, businesses will be able to get input from prospective customers and investors in a way that has never been feasible before. Traditional manufacturing techniques do not allow for this kind of last-minute customization and modification of the product. Accordingly, 3D printing presents a special and useful method of determining whether a product has the ability to reach the market and be profitable at the same time.

Fewer Mistakes

Designers must take efficiency into account while developing parts and products. Traditional manufacturing processes call for a large number of steps to manufacture many parts and products. As a result, every stage carries the potential for error and the possibility of having to start over again, which could cause issues with the manufacturing process as a whole. It is better to create something in a single stage.

One benefit of 3D printing is that it produces the product in a single phase without the need for human engagement. Finish the design, then send it to the printer. This improves control over the finished product by removing reliance on several manufacturing procedures.

Protecting Trade Secrets

In-house 3D printing and continuous prototyping ensure that designs never leave the company’s walls, protecting your intellectual property. Nobody else will ever claim your innovations as their own. Confidentiality concerns are no longer necessary because every novel design is kept in-house.

Manufacturing On Demand

One significant benefit of 3D printing is the opportunity to have complete creative control, even to the point of personalizing designs. Because 3D printing is ideal for one-off manufacturing and producing individual parts in a single step, it implies that the option for customization is available and should be used. As a result of the potential to produce individualized implants and assistance, numerous sectors, including the medical and dentistry fields, have embraced 3D printing and design. For example, athletic equipment may be made to fit certain athletes, allowing for the production of unique, person-specific pieces in ways that have never been done before.

Because traditional techniques relied on molds and cutting, personalizing takes a lot of time. On the other hand, objects generated by 3D printing can be customized to have greater structural integrity, sophisticated alterations done, and pieces adjusted to meet specific specifications. Such customization opens up a world of possibilities for 3D printing.

3D Printing is Already Here, and it’s a Game Changer

The question isn’t whether or not 3D printing will change the industrial manufacturing landscape (our answer is a resounding yes), but when it will happen. Many industries, such as the automotive and aerospace industries, have already been using 3D printing to manufacture parts for decades. Other industries might not have caught on yet, but that is liable to change. It is predicted that the 3D Printing industry will see compound annual growth in metal printing grow by 24% to reach $44.5 billion by 2026. 

That said, the reality is that this technology is currently in its infancy compared to its conventional counterparts. The increasing demand for 3D printed products will spur the growth of this market, especially as companies realize that mass production is a lot more efficient when separated from design. 

But that only means that it pays to have both conventional production lines and 3D printing capabilities under the same roof. If you are interested in 3D printing capabilities for your business,  contact us to discuss your 3D printing machine requirements