Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) is Changing (Almost) Everything
A new production method is shaking up the manufacturing industry for good. MIT Technology Review calls it one of the top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013. Additive Manufacturing – the latest breakthrough technology – is redefining how producers compete in a global industrialized economy.
A Brief History of Additive Manufacturing
At its core, Additive Manufacturing is based on 3D printing technology. And while it all seems to be shiny and new, 3D printing has actually been around for a while – since the late 1980’s. “… [I]n fact, 3-D printing has been slowly evolving in labs and in the market since Chuck Hall invented stereolithography back in 1986 with his company, 3D Systems” says Tim Hessman, Industry Week Associate Editor in a slide show titled “The History of 3D Printing”. It was a short step from there to the concept of laser additive manufacturing in 1997 by Aeromet (an MTS Systems company). According to a 2005 Aeromet press release, laser additive manufacturing (LAM) was the “process for the direct, rapid fabrication of three-dimensional titanium components, directly from computer-based solid models without the use of molds or dies”.
The beginning of commercial 3D printing for manufacturing had become a reality. Aeromet’s radically new technology gave them a competitive advantage in the production of laser formed titanium components to the worldwide aerospace industry that both reduced costs and accelerated time to market across aircraft manufacturing.
Although the idea of 3D printing has been with us for a while and research continues, the broader concept of Additive Manufacturing as a viable production process in manufacturing is relatively new. It also consists of far more than 3D print technology alone. The Additive Manufacturer Users Group (AMUG), which has been in existence since the early 1990s, educates and supports users of all additive manufacturing technologies including:
- 3D Printing (3DP)
- Direct Metal Deposition (DMD)
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
- Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Laser Consolidation (LC)
- Laser Sintering (LS)
- Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM)
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Stereolithography (SL)
Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Most would agree that Additive Manufacturing reduces raw material use and provides a fast production, low cost method of delivery. Ed Morris, director of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, in a recent presentation to the AMUG conference, was more specific in what he believes are the benefits of the process as it relates to the Department of Defense (DoD).
- Efficient use of Resources
- Small-Lot Production
- Rapid Manufacturing
- Agile Manufacturing
- Reverse Engineering
- Lightweight Structures
Manufacturing news and insight website Manufacturing.net sites five more top benefits of Additive Manufacturing that you might not have considered:
- Freedom to design and innovate without penalties
- Increased supply chain proficiency with ‘3D faxing’
- Support of green manufacturing initiatives
- Bottom line improvements through factory physics
- Get parts – fast
Additive Manufacturing and the Role of Parts Management
The last benefit on the Manufacturing.net list of top benefits really caught our attention. “Get parts – fast”. While the technology exists for rapid manufacture, not everyone will have at their disposal a 3D printer (or other additive manufacturing method) and detailed CAD drawings for easy reproduction of parts.
So, even though the methodology of manufacturing production may undergo a radical paradigm shift in how things are actually produced, the one constant is that complex equipment will still be constructed of individual parts. And parts (identification, ordering, payment, installation instructions, assemblies and service related bulletins) must be managed regardless of whether the parts are pulled from the warehouse stocking shelves or picked fresh from the 3D printer.
Integration with a manufacturer’s business systems has long been a key benefit of Enigma’s InService EPC software. It builds the bridge between the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) and product life management (PLM) that includes the critical aftermarket parts and service component of complex equipment maintenance.
Looking forward, Enigma is perfectly positioned to adapt to the new manufacturing paradigm that Additive Manufacturing is sure to introduce to the world. We’ll be helping to redefine how producers compete in a global industrialized economy.