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BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a diverse set of technologies where products are created by building layers of material on top of another until a complete 3D object is formed. Additive Manufacturing is already demonstrating its potential to revolutionise the way products are designed, manufactured and supplied. Additive Manufacturing is already transforming the way some companies manufacture their products and has the potential to put the UK at the forefront of global manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing is not new; this ground-breaking technology has been used for 'rapid prototyping' within sectors such as automotive and for tooling for more than 30 years. However, rapid development of the technology means that Additive Manufacturing is now becoming reality for end-use parts and tooling across a range of sectors, from aerospace to construction, as companies seek to take advantage of design freedoms, product performance enhancements and waste reductions that can be achieved with Additive Manufacturing.

The worldwide market for all Additive Manufacturing products and services is estimated to be worth over £6bn in 2017, growing to £20bn by 2022. In 2017 the UK had a 5% market share, and as a worldwide leader in High Value Manufacturing (HVM) the UK has strong foundations to expand its share of this global market opportunity resulting in new job creation and a significant increase in Gross Value Added (GVA). Source: Additive Manufacturing UK National Strategy 2018-2025.

Key opportunities for the UK include: Direct revenues from the production of Additive Manufacturing components; Creating a robust UK supply chain for AM part manufacture; Provision of best in class process chain equipment and services to the worldwide Additive Manufacturing market.

This short video gives an overview of Additive Manufacturing in a simple accessible manner:

Benefits

The potential benefits of the adoption of Additive Manufacturing technologies are huge. This technology provides the capability to transform and enhance product development and production in a wide range of sectors and applications. It can enable the reconfiguring of supply chains allowing production close to the point of consumption and deliver the benefits of mass customisation. Many of the wide-ranging benefits when adopting Additive Manufacturing can be summarised as below:

Product Function Attributes:

Ability to design parts with geometric features that cannot be made any other way. This design freedom enables products with enhanced functionality such as higher structural efficiency through light weighting, or increased thermal control through complex internal and external geometric features, or improved fluid flow through optimised flow paths.
Materials are being specifically designed for use in these processes to improve processing and to provide better material properties. In addition, being able to control the spatial distribution of a material through a solid body which is possible in many Additive Manufacturing technologies is also a huge opportunity to optimise a products’ performance.
As tooling isn’t required for Additive Manufacturing parts, each part can be tailored to its specific use or user, providing economic mass customisation options.
Additive Manufacturing enables parts to be designed and manufactured as one part due to design freedom, leading to reduced part counts and assembly costs, and a more optimised overall part that can be significantly more size- and material-efficient.

Product Supply Attributes:

Additive Manufacturing uses a layer-by-layer approach to add material to create the final geometry compared to subtractive manufacturing approaches which remove material. This can result in significant material savings during production on top of reduced material required for new lightweight or more compact designs, and greater efficiencies of running lighter vehicles (e.g. reduced fuel requirement).
Additive Manufacturing can be used as an ‘on demand’ service, where parts are produced just ahead of when they are needed. Once a part is qualified for Additive Manufacturing this can reduce the need to hold extensive (and costly) product stocks, and also provides more resilience to the supply chain.
As tooling isn’t required, parts can be manufactured more quickly or without the lead time constraint, and rapid design iterations can be realised without expensive outlay on tooling. The absence of tooling also means manufacture can be nearer to the point of use reducing lead times further.
Additive Manufacturing can offer significant through-life benefits in terms of reduced cost. This can occur at all stages of the life cycle, including manufacture, but commonly the biggest benefits are experience in the use phase through improved performance. Costs of using Additive Manufacturing are reducing all the time which broadens the range of economic applications.

Challenges

There are significant opportunities for companies to improve their competitiveness by successfully adopting Additive Manufacturing. However, the process is not as simple as it is often portrayed and “just clicking print” is far away from the truth when serious production application is concerned. The entire process from part design and production, to inspection and certification needs to be considered before Additive Manufacturing can be successfully deployed. There are real challenges to be understood and overcome as a company adopts Additive Manufacturing which are now briefly explained.

The productivity of the Additive Manufacturing systems and the complexity of the process chain can mean higher costs for manufacture for many parts, including a significant burden of post-processing steps. The technology is new and there is a general lack of understanding and availability of data. There are rapid developments in the technology across the whole process chain and whilst these can improve capabilities and efficiencies, it proves a challenge as companies try to qualify parts.

Material choices, whilst growing, are still limited, and variability of material properties and surface finish pose a challenge to achieving performance levels required. In addition, the material feedstock required by Additive Manufacturing processes, such as fine metal powders, is unfamiliar to many companies and requires significant understanding and control procedures to be in place to ensure quality and safety.

High value complex parts that are ideal candidates for Additive Manufacturing are often a challenge to design, produce, and verify as the AM process chain relies upon a wide range of non-AM processes to achieve a finished part. Designing parts for Additive Manufacturing often requires a reappraisal of the functional requirements of a product and a desire to avoid being constrained by previous designs for conventional manufacture, as well as a good understanding of the constraints that do exist for Additive Manufacturing. The less-constrained design space can be explored with use of new design simulation and optimisation tools, which helps a designer achieve a better performing product that can be manufactured using Additive Manufacturing.

Getting started and achieving success with Additive Manufacturing requires significant commitment and support, and the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing helps companies through their entire Additive Manufacturing journey. We can provide advice and solutions for the whole process, from initial designs to product delivery, and even factory implementation, irrespective of your previous experience in Additive Manufacturing.

Find out more about Additive Manufacturing through our training and Knowledge Hub services.