Additive Manufacturing in 2022: Why Additive, and Why Now?
Additive manufacturing technology has come a long way since its invention in the 1980s. Some 40
years from the beginnings of 3D printing, this technology is continually transforming and
Production of everything from prototypes to end-use parts is faster, cheaper, easier to use, and more accessible than subtractive manufacturing methods - which are more complicated and expensive to operate.
2022 marks the start of a new wave of changes and advances in the field of additive manufacturing that will redefine the wider manufacturing sector, helping it address some of its longest standing challenges. So, what are these challenges, how do they translate into concrete benefits for manufacturers, and why is now the time for businesses to invest in additive manufacturing? Read this post learn directly from our resident engineers and technical experts.
Additive Today: What's Changed?
By 2022, 40 years after the development of the first commercial machines, analysis of the additive manufacturing sector showed it had grown at an incredibly fast rate. The last five years have produced some of the largest advancements, as vendors have competed to build solutions that meet the needs of specialized industries.
- Power and reliability
To meet manufacturers' needs for scaled production, industrial 3D printers evolved with significantly improved print speeds, reliability, maximum part sizes, leaning edge accuracy, and part quality. Even desktop sized 3D printers can now be trusted to produce consistent, high-quality results in key manufacturing roles.
Historically, industrial-scale 3D printers required dedicated operators with extensive user training. Development of userfriendly 3D printing software has since streamlined and automated many previous points of complication into a far more easy process.
Operating newer 3D printing platforms has a minimal learning curve, and does not require additive manufacturing expertise. Users can even automate quality inspection of parts during the 3D printing process itself, to verify that the parts will be immediately usable. Rather than breaking up printing and part inspection into two separate stages, parts can be inspected as they are fabricated.
- Innovative Materials
3D printing applications expanded in many new directions. The range of available materials has also grown to fit new needs. Materials now fit specialized purposes, such as aerospace-grade composites that are stronger than machined aluminum but with just a fraction of the weight.
- Metal Made Accessible
The introduction of metal fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology means 3D printing metal parts is now faster, safer, and more cost-effective than ever. Metal FFF printers offer a wide range of material availability — such as stainless steel, tool steels, Inconel, and copper — and can be operated with minimal PPE and safety precautions.
Tackling Today's Supply Chain Challenges
Obviously, a massive topic of the past couple of years has been supply chains and logistics. Not
only has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated weaknesses in existing global supply chains, but
other factors like climate change and the obstruction of the Suez Canal in 2021 have really
driven home that global networks need to be rethought and reinforced.
As these problems escalated—deeply affecting people, companies and economies—3D printing proved to be an important part of the supply chain solution.
Access to on-site 3D printers allows companies an autonomy of their supply chains. Individual printers can be placed across different geographic locations; parts stored in a cloud-based digital inventory can then be sent to be printed at any 3D printer within the network, enabling OEMs to return production back to their home markets and begin 3D printing their way to streamlining supply chains while reducing their footprint on the environment.
For parts that must be machined, using an AM system for rapid prototyping will help engineers ensure that when the machined part is finally received months later, it will work as expected.
The Immediate Impact
Implementing an additive manufacturing solution leads to diverse business benefits. Beyond the
multifaceted improvements it provides to manufacturing operations, adoption of 3D printing
technology is representative of a cultural shift that puts innovation and individual autonomy
Previously, many of these benefits were limited to select industries with less demanding manufacturing needs. Advancements to additive technology, however, have made these immediate benefits applicable to manufacturers of all scales, across almost every industry.
- More Parts Produced In House
Producing parts inhouse allows companies to better protect intellectual property, proprietary innovations, and other trade secrets.
- Significant Savings
As a single step manufacturing process, 3D printing saves time and therefore costs associated with using different machines for manufacture.
- Put Parts to use Faster
With 3D printing techniques, a business can design a part, manufacture it in-house on a professional 3D printer, and test it, all within a few days (and sometimes even less).
- Increased Speed to Market
Access to in-house AM accelerates design cycles by enabling rapid prototyping. It can produce any part in a fraction of the time it would take to request and receive via traditional manufacturing processes.
- Full Supply Chain Control
Use of a 3D printing platform allows them to control their full supply chains from end to end. Manufacturers can reduce dependence on external suppliers and minimize risk in their supply chain operations.
Today, Additive Manufacturing is a mainstream manufacturing technology for everything from
prototyping to production of end-use parts. Leading manufacturers across all industries continue
to adopt AM at increasing rates while scaling up use of their 3D printing systems with
additional printers, software tools, and new materials. While industry leaders continue to reap
the many business benefits associated with 3D printing, organizations without an additive
manufacturing strategy will fall behind their more agile, efficient, and innovative competitors.
Markforged has empowered thousands of customers to adopt additive manufacturing strategies. We've learned from working with these organizations that earlier adoption of AM technologies produces superior outcomes. While earlier 3D printing technologies were not always applicable to the full range of industries and uses relying on AM today, these companies had longer to build and refine their additive strategies. They've had more time to integrate AM into their workflows, experiment with different settings, and discover additional applications for additive within their operations. When printers with new capabilities arrive in the future, these organizations are better prepared to make the best use of newer equipment, equipped with the knowledge and experience to increase the scale of their AM operations more smoothly.
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