Hybrid additive manufacturing is a newer term in the additive manufacturing industry used to describe machines that combine additive and subtractive operations within a unified machine framework. Thus, hybrid additive manufacturing machines can print and cut in one machine. This is a logical combination since:
- Essentially ALL additive manufacturing processes have rough surface finishes or oversize areas which require subtractive operations eventually on the exterior to enhance part quality and performance.
- The combination of these two operations makes things A LOT faster and A LOT more accurate due to secondary machines, setups, and reference points being avoided.
- Internal features can now be machined to be made equally as awesome as external features (sometimes).
When you read about hybrid additive manufacturing, most people discuss how it is a new and game changing concept. We at Fabrisonic chuckle some since Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM), our 3D process, has ALWAYS combined additive with subtractive processes. In fact, our original patent discusses this combination, from 1999! It is not a true UAM system unless it has a subtractive stage with it. Anyhow, I digress.
Combining additive and subtractive operations into a unified framework is a fantastic concept due to previously listed advantages. Hybrid additive manufacturing is more advantageous for metal technologies rather than polymer process due to the differences part cost, applications, and customer base. There are many metal hybrid players out there in the market today. Some make customized or modified machines, some are CNC manufacturers who have added additive manufacturing (AM) capability, some make AM laser heads which can be added to CNC equipment, and some just make software to help manage the two operations. Hybrid AM will continue to grow in use. We think there is a high likelihood that most metal AM processes will eventually become hybrid due to the advantages of part surface finish, tolerance, and performance which the concept brings.
For UAM, utilizing a hybrid process has not been that challenging since we do not use special atmospheres or use eye-blinding lasers. We can toggle between the two stages very quickly, literally less than a minute. For some of the “newer” directed energy deposition processes, toggling and use it not quite as easy since vacuum chambers, shielding gases, and safety slow things down and make things more expensive. However, people are still doing it because the advantages outweigh the added cost. It will be exciting to see how the industry continues to evolve as more players enter the market. One thing for sure, people will get better at using cutting tools.