Additive Manufacturing 102
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Ever since the industrial revolution pretty much everything is produced in mass numbers to drive down the cost of products. But we are stepping into a new era where more and more we want customized products. 3D Printing is a revolutionary way of manufacturing that can allow us to easily customize products. We will touch on three main sections: how 3D printing is different from regular manufacturing, how 3D printing is used in healthcare, and how 3D printing is used in aerospace. For those of you who haven’t already, check out my first post about 3D printing!
To first talk about how 3D printing is different from regular manufacturing, I’ll explain what 3D printing is. 3D printing is a new way of manufacturing called “Additive Manufacturing”. What this means is that instead of putting things in molds or chipping pieces off of things, you only use the amount of supplies you need. 3D printing does this by making something layer by layer. They do this by using a filament, melting it, and then using the melted filament to build something layer by layer. So as you can see, 3D printing is very different from the regular way of manufacturing called “Subtractive Manufacturing”. With subtractive manufacturing you can make things in a factory where robots do different steps. But with additive manufacturing it’s all done in one place.
3D printing is used in healthcare when there is something that requires tailoring to individual patients. Two big applications include hearing aids and hip replacements since every ear is shaped differently and every hip is as well. 3D printers can make these things by scanning the hip area or someone's ear and by using software they can make tailored hip bone replacements and hearing aids that fit perfectly to each individual. Medical devices beyond hearing aids and hip replacements are also being manufactured with 3D printers. Metal implants and instrumentation used for orthopedic, spinal, craniomaxillofacial (CMF), dental, and veterinary applications are common.
Aerospace has been using 3D printing because of its precision and ability to combine multiple parts into one. A key benefit is that parts being printed can be printed hollow with supports inside of them. This makes the parts extremely light but also just as strong because of the supports. To put this in perspective, it is said that the weight of the pieces they print drop in weight by 40 - 60%. This will also drop costs on fuel because the thrusters need to push a lot less weight. Also, if the design is wrong with traditional manufacturing, and the calculations are wrong, you have to adjust the entire manufacturing process. But with 3D printing, all you have to do is change the design in the software, and reprint it. There is also a large cost reduction when you don't need to make too many of the same parts because you don’t have to buy an entire factory, buy all of the molds, machines, extra materials, and all of the other things building up the assembly line in the factory. 3D Printing is also faster because of the reduction of steps.
There are costs and benefits of 3D printing but many industries are reconsidering their manufacturing processes and some have already made dramatic switches after realizing the extreme benefits on cost and time if they switched to 3D printing. But it is unclear which industries will benefit the most from switching to 3D printing, and which ones are better off with mass producing their product. To learn more about 3D Printing, check out my other articles!