ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

You have probably heard of 3D printing before. That is simply the most common name given to the process known as Additive Manufacturing (AM). Starting from a 3D model on a computer program, AM is used for the manufacturing of parts and for product development.

It is an important and revolutionary technology in every step of the development process, being versatile in the support and design of individual parts and done much quicker and cheaper than other methods. Even though the costs for the raw materials needed for the Additive Manufacturing of parts can be considerably higher than for other traditional methods, AM is ideal for highly personalized products, or even products with shorter life cycles when in lower production volume.

There are different types of technologies when it comes to Additive Manufacturing, not only the Layer by Layer one may immediately think about when thinking of 3D printing. A few examples are Power Bed Fusion, Stereolithography and Fused Deposition Modelling.

  • Powder Bed Fusion uses lasers or an electron beam to melt and fuse material powder together in what is called the “bed”, layer by layer, following the digital 3D design pattern until the part is complete. Once that process is done, the part made is left to cool, and the bed is raised so that it can be broken out. Any remaining materials can be reutilized and recycled into other projects; thus, Power Bed Fusion is a technology that conserves a high amount of waste material compared to traditional ones. It can utilize many different types of materials, but mainly uses plastics such as nylon.

 

  • Fused Deposition Modeling: A plastic filament is utilized for this technology. The filament, coiled in a support, is melted in a heated nozzle that moves in a horizontal axis, and laid into a build platform or already existing layers. After that, the filament is instantly cooled, and it solidifies. The object is created by layers, from the bottom up, always following a 3D digital design. This amazing technology, though utilized fundamentally with plastic materials, has the capacity to be fluidly injected and subsequently solidified allowing it to be utilized in the 3D printing of heavy materials such as concrete, or even used for food and bio-printing!

 

  • Stereolithography: this technology utilized resin and ultraviolet lasers. The build platform for this is completely submerged in resin, and the laser reads the inputs from the digital 3D model, solidifies the resin and creates the needed parts. This is also created layer by layer, and that is done by lowering or raising the submerged platform to the exact height of one layer, and the laser process is repeated until the part is complete. The finished product of the Stereolithography technology is then immersed in a chemical bath in order to get rid of excess resin and then transferred to an ultraviolet oven for curation. However limited in terms of the size of a part that can be created with Stereolithography, this technology has important uses. It can be used for the production of 3D models for medical use, based directly on 3D scans of a patient’s anatomy (it can be crucial for surgical planning and the design of implants, for example). It is also a very accurate technology and is utilized by many different industries for models and castings.

 

One particular industry that can benefit greatly from these technologies is the Injection Moulding Industry. Additive Manufacturing can be used to develop the perfect inserts for injection moulding. This can reduce the lead time to manufacture tools and the cost of producing parts through this process. The AM technologies and tools allow for more complex parts to be created, something that is not possible through traditional means. Combined with conformal cooling systems, injection moulding operations results in shorter cycle times, increased productivity, and higher product quality in injection moulding operations. The use of Additive Manufacturing is certainly something to be considered, with lots of benefits for many different kinds of industries. It is a field that will continue to grow and evolve with the years, only getting better and better with the new technologies that arise. 

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