What Is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing, which is synonymous with 3D Printing, is the process by which layer by layer of material is added through the use of a nozzle or laser beam over a powder bed, successively, until a full 3D object is produced. You can think of it as being like 2D printing except repeated thousands of times, stacked on top of each other and fused together. Additive manufacturing has been around since the 1980s and has been used primarily for prototyping purposes up until recently. Recent improvements in 3D printing technology have allowed AM to be used in a variety of end-use applications, rather than just for prototyping.
The process starts with creating a 3D CAD model that contains all of the dimensions for the product. A special software called a slicing software then takes the 3D model and slices it into many thousands of layers and creates a tool path that builds the product from the ground up. The low setup costs and increased design freedom of 3D printing allows for some unique advantages over conventional manufacturing methods.
What Are The Advantages of Using AM?
Additive Manufacturing offers several advantages over traditional manufacturing methods. These include the ability to create customized products with complex geometries without an increase in cost. 3D printing does not require any tooling so setup costs are low and product lead times are much shorter. The layer by layer process of 3D printing allows complex geometries to be produced with ease, which would otherwise be impossible with traditional methods.
Lower setup costs and faster lead times also have some great implications for new product development as companies will be able to iterate from various concept revisions faster and more cost-effectively. This leads to faster new product development processes and a shorter time to market. Small batch manufacturing also allows companies to lower the amount of risk during product launches as resources for large batches of inventory do not have to be invested in before demand for the product has been proven. 3D printing allows companies to quickly scale to meet demand, but still run a lean operation that does not create high excess inventory.
What are the factors that affect pricing?
The main factors that affect pricing are: the price of the printer, the volume needed for the build, the amount of material, the type of material, and the amount of post-processing required. The price of the 3D printer will influence the cost as different types of printers are more expensive than others. Volume refers to the size of the part and how much of the build area on a machine would be required. The material usage refers to the actual amount of raw material required to make the part. This is affected by the infill rate, which is the degree to which the part is solid on the inside. A lower infill (more-hollow) will drive costs down and a higher infill (more solid) will drive costs higher. A typical infill is 15-20%. The type of material specified also affects pricing as higher quality materials are more costly to produce. Check out our guide to 3D printing materials to learn more about some of the available materials. Post-processing refers to the amount of surface finishing that is required on the part. Adding surface finishing to your quote request will require a longer processing time and subsequently a higher cost.