3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a disruptive technology that will change the way you think about producing parts. ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials) defines Additive Manufacturing as the “process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Synonyms: additive fabrication, additive processes, additive techniques, additive layer manufacturing, layer manufacturing and freeform fabrication.” In simple terms, it is a new manufacturing method that goes from CAD to part in one step.
In traditional factories, billet material comes at one end of the factory. The material goes to the plasma cutter to be cut into smaller segments, sent to the press to get an initial form, then the material is sent to the welding station to be combined, and finally sent to the machine shop to achieve final dimensions and tolerances. Along the way there material is cut, sheared, ground and machined to shape the material creating waste streams and significant inventory in the form of work in progress.
In 3D printing, metal feedstock and a CAD model are fed into a single machine. The machine prints a series of planes or layers. Each layer is printed in small increments of material (similar to how a traditional printer only lays ink in specific areas). Through a series of hundreds, or even thousands, of layers, the shape of the part is formed. By selectively not printing at any given layer, a cavity or internal passageway can be created.
Most metal 3D printers print a near net shape that needs some light machining to achieve the required tolerance and surface finish. Fabrisonic’s SonicLayer series of machines are hybrid including both an additive weld head as well as a subtractive Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) mill. Thus, the parts coming out of the machine are truly ready to ship.
Traditional manufacturing has been optimized for high volume, low variability products that change slowly over time. New pressures in a global market are accelerating design changeover and requiring increasing customization. 3D printing enables manufacturing driven by design; wherein CAD can be tweaked for every part and there is little to no cost for variation.