Contract Additive Manufacturing Parts & Tooling in Grand Rapids, Mi
What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is the method of manufacturing that uses 3D printing technologies to produce parts. 3D printing is a generic term for a number of different manufacturing technologies or methods that are all additive processes, processes that create parts one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing refers to not only the 3D printing technology used to create a part, but the entirety of manufacturing processes used to create a functional product or service with 3D printing at its core.
What is subtractive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is different than subtractive manufacturing, which involves a part being created out of a mass of raw material. The material is subtracted from the starting mass to sculpt or carve out the product. Picture a sculptor with a block of marble, moving around and removing pieces of stone until they reveal the completed sculpture. A lot of machine tools work this way. For a machined part, for instance, you may start with a block of aluminum and use a CNC machine, or different cutting tools to selectively remove material from the block, resulting in the part you want.
Is additive manufacturing replacing subtractive manufacturing?
In some cases, it can replace subtractive manufacturing. Generally, if there are more than 3 subtractive processing steps, additive manufacturing may be a viable alternative.
Are additive manufacturing and 3D printing the same thing?
No, not always. 3D printing is a subset of additive manufacturing. 3D printing is a key step in the process of additive manufacturing. A 3D printer is a tool we can use to make an object. Additive manufacturing encompasses a collection of tools that can be used to produce an end-use product. The primary tool used in additive manufacturing is 3D printing, but there can be secondary or tertiary additive manufacturing processes after the initial 3D printing process.
Is Additive Manufacturing always the best solution?
We have a singular focus on producing your parts in the most efficient means possible with 3D printing. We are transparent in our capabilities and advise many of our customers when there is a more cost-effective method of production available. This focus allows us to make additive production a reality for the many complex components which have capital-intensive barriers to conventional manufacture.
Through our understanding of the production usage of 3D printing, we’re able to devise strategies that consider the trade-offs of part orientation, secondary processing and pack density ensuring that our parts will meet your expectations time and again. This in-depth knowledge of the additive manufacturing process enables us to provide highly competitive pricing on a per part basis.
Is Additive Manufacturing Parts expensive?
We produce 3D printed parts for a large variety of customers year round. This variety allows all of our customers to leverage economies of scale for pricing of materials and machine time that other providers can’t easily match or replicate.
While we can produce one-off prototypes or components, we have projects that run into the 1000s of parts. Contact us today to see if your project may be a good fit for the contract additive manufacturing process.
What are different additive manufacturing processes?
Material extrusion is the process of taking a feedstock, usually a plastic wire or plastic filament, and heating it up and extruding it through a heated nozzle. The nozzle then moves along the x, y, and sometimes z axis extruding material only where needed. It is commonly referred to as FDM or Fused Deposition Model.
Directed Energy Deposition
Directed energy deposition uses a high power energy source, such as a laser, directed at a melt pool. The feedstock, typically wire or powdered metal is placed directly into the melt pool of the laser, which fuses the particles or wires together, creating a solid object.
Binder jetting is a method of 3D printing in which a raw material, typically in powder form, is spread across a build plate. A print head passes over, similar to an inkjet printer, but depositing a binding agent rather than ink. The binding agent is ejected only where it is needed for the product, just as ink is placed only where letters or images are needed when printing on paper. After one layer is printed and the binding agent is placed, a new layer of raw material is placed and the process is repeated until the design is completed, stacking layer on layer.
Material jetting is also known as Multi Jet Printing or Poly Jet Printing. Similar to how a high-speed printhead deposits ink, these printers deposit a UV-cured photo acylate. This is a liquid plastic resin that gets jetted out of thousands of incredibly small ports called piezos. Piezos are electronically activated to jet microscopic droplets of the molten plastic material onto a build plate. It scans back and forth extremely rapidly, curing the deposited liquid plastic into a solid.
Sheet lamination involves sheets of raw material being laminated or layered with each other. With metal sheet lamination, each layer is a very thin foil that is laser cut into the correct shape. Each layer is shaped slightly differently, so when they are placed on top of each other and welded together, it creates the final desired geometry. One of the earliest forms of 3D printing was sheet lamination using sheets of paper cut, layered and glued together.
Vat polymerization is also known as Stereolithography (SLA), or Direct Light Processing (DLP), or even Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP). We talked about UV-cured photopolymer or thermal set resin which is cured by a flash of UV light, used for Material Jetting. In vat polymerization, there is a vat of liquid resin in which the build plate is submerged. A laser beam is used to cure the photopolymer. It is submerged further and cured again, submerged and cured again, and on and on repeatedly until the build is completed.
Powder Bed Fusion
Powder bed fusion is also called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). It uses a powder bed, on which the powder is selectively fused together layer by layer using a laser. These are generally powdered nylons or metals.
What materials are used in additive manufacturing?
Thermoplastic resins are predominantly used in 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Most widely used are nylon resins through the SLS process, however FDM uses common engineering plastics such as ABS, PETG, Ultem and others.
Stainless steel, Titanium, and Aluminum are the most commonly used metal materials in additive manufacturing though Inconel, Cobalt Chrome and other metals are available.
What are common applications of additive manufacturing?
Replication of parts
The replication methodology of additive manufacturing uses 3D printing to replicate an existing part. This could be a service part for machinery that is no longer produced, something that has design restraints or restrictions. This is the initial use of additive manufacturing. It can replicate parts down to specific features and materials.
Adaptation of parts
The adaptation methodology gives designers a little more freedom to improve and existing geometry to allow for process differences. It can be changed to be more self-supporting or lightweight using honeycomb or lattice structures.
Optimization of parts
The optimization methodology allows designers to optimize parts using additive manufacturing. The designer has complete freedom for the part design, and is open to improve the design as long as any necessary features or restraints are met, such as load-bearing requirements or required attachment points. Using these mechanical inputs, the designer can use all the benefits of additive manufacturing to design and produce a unique, additively produced part. Oftentimes computer software completes the final design.
Which industries benefit from Additive Manufacturing Parts?
Automotive applications for additive manufacturing are quite varied.
Performance racing industry
In the performance racing industry, speed is directly related to weight. Additive manufacturing allows race car designers to create very lightweight and high-performing components.
Off highway vehicles
Additive manufacturing is used to create off highway vehicle components such as components for large diesel engines, low volume emission controls and high performance engines.
Customization of vehicles
Additive manufacturing allows you to order custom nameplates or custom floor lighting that references some aspect of your identity or your car that you want displayed on your vehicle.
Medical Field & Healthcare
Most applications of additive manufacturing within healthcare are in the dental, orthodontic and orthopedic fields.
Dental alignment products, such as Invisalign retainers, are a great example of the mass customization benefits and opportunities of additive manufacturing. Each product Invisalign makes is created custom to each individual customer.
An orthodontist performs a scan of a patient’s mouth, and determines how to correct dental alignment. They work with Invisalign to create 10-13 different steps between the current placement and ideal placement of teeth. Those steps are realized as orthodontic retainers. 3D printing is used to create the molds for those retainers. Invisalign prints upwards of 30 million unique additively manufactured alignment products each year, each one custom to the patient.
The aerospace industry was one of the earliest industries to use additive manufacturing on a wide scale.
The most obvious benefit for aerospace is the ability of additive manufacturing to create strong , structural geometries that are exceptionally lightweight. This is extremely valuable for aerospace applications.
The ability of additive manufacturing to consolidate parts is valuable for aerospace applications. A more well-known example of part consolidation using additive manufacturing is the fuel nozzle used in GE’s Leap engine.
The original fuel nozzle design used 21 different stamped or welded metal components that all had to be produced, brought together, and placed and welded with extreme precision. You can imagine 21 pieces, possibly coming in from different supplies, each with its own verification and quality control process. Each part could have 5-7 different manufacturing steps of its own before it was built. On top of all that, each plane could have upwards of 100 fuel nozzles. This required hundreds of parts to all be gathered and fused together, massive amounts of paperwork and time spent on these multiple pieces of high-performance critical flight hardware.
With additive manufacturing, GE was able to consolidate these fuel nozzles into one part that was 3D printed. This eliminated all that paperwork and bureaucracy, not to mention the time and tooling costs. It also improved the fuel economy of the fuel nozzles and planes. With every new LEAP engine that goes into service with the 3D printed fuel nozzles, the airline is now saving on fuel costs.
What are the benefits of additive manufacturing?
There are many benefits of additive manufacturing over conventional manufacturing, especially for low volume or high performance parts. A lot of injection molding parts require tooling to produce the end-use parts. An AirPod, for example, has a white plastic casing around all the wiring, microphone, and speakers within. That shell is injection molded.
Reduced Tooling Expenses
For injection molding, blocks of steel or raw material have to be shaped into the injection mold for the end-use piece. High volume injection molding is expensive due to the tooling costs. Additive manufacturing can bypass the tooling expense.
Because of this, additive manufacturing makes it easier to prototype and revise without getting rid of all the tooling or casts each time, resulting in more affordable prototyping and much easier entry into markets.
Design & Production Flexibility
Additive manufacturing allows designers and product developers to be more nimble and flexible. If you need to make a revision to your product, you don’t have to scrap all your tooling.
With additive manufacturing, there are opportunities for part consolidation. Assembly of 7-8 pieces that connect after injection molding, such as helicopter ductwork or ventilation parts, can be consolidated into one complete piece. Further part consolidation benefits include the ability to design and produce parts for optimal integrated fluid flows, and lightweighting.
One famous example is the SuperDraco engine used by SpaceX. 3D printing of these rocket engines results in the ability to create very complex fluid channels that wrap around the shell and control the temperature of the shell as the fuel travels through it. They also avoid the tooling costs associated with casting an engine of this size and complexity.