What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive Manufacturing (AM) can be defined through its dramatic difference from conventional manufacturing techniques such as machining, casting, and forging; where by products are formed layer by layer as matter is repetitively built up rather than removed. AM is a truly cross disciplinary stream; with applications from aerospace and automotive parts, to medical devices, drugs and even food.
The term AM encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.
The advent of AM has opened up new exciting research opportunities as industry begins to realise the potential impact that AM can have on their business. AM has its roots in the rapid prototyping revolution of the 1990s, which helped manufactures reduce lead times and speed up product development. However, AM creates far greater benefits than just rapid prototyping.
What advantages does AM offer?
- AM affords designers a freedom in geometric complexity previously unavailable to them, and the freedom of variety to manufacturers as tooling changes are no longer required between design updates. Paired with computer-aided design (CAD) software, AM techniques enable the creation of new types of object with unique material and structural properties, e.g. lattice structure or topologically optimised structure to increase functionality and performance of a product.
- Construction periods and cost can be dramatically reduced as AM offers the opportunity to eliminate production processes, assembly steps, and the reliance on skilled technicians. Low volume production and mass personalisation: e.g. personalised hearing aids and implants at reasonable cost
- The step change from subtractive manufacturing process significantly reduces material waste and environmental impact. e.g. aerospace and automotive industries are using AM to reduce weight and improve the fuel efficiency of their engines
- AM also encourage the emergence of distributed manufacturing and new supply chains, as consumers can now engage in the design of products. These products can then be manufactured at a location close to consumer, instead of in a centralised factory.
Overall it can be seen that AM offers greater product and process benefits compared to traditional subtractive manufacturing systems.