Additive manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing, builds objects from thin layers of materials according to software instructions. The various AM techniques can produce everything from the smallest precision surgical tools to the largest airplane parts. 3D printing has transformed from a rare, rapid prototyping technology in the 1980s to an industry standard manufacturing method. Components made using AM technology occur in aerospace, medical device technology, electronics, advanced scientific research, defense, and more.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Optimizing structure and finding the best balance between weight, strength, and cost, no matter the complexity of the part, means 3D printing can result in significant cost savings in the manufacturing process. With many different means of producing robust, aesthetically pleasing parts that are smoother and more streamlined than their assembled counterparts, 3D printing technology can produce objects of almost any shape and geometry.
Additive manufacturing greatly reduces the parts and steps required for assembly, This results in decreased production time and quicker turnaround, no matter the size of the order. AM achieves per-unit economy for on-demand production of prototypes or smaller volume production. Thus it is nearly as inexpensive to fabricate single items as to mass-produce them. As a result, AM reduces inventories and wait times, enables rapid deployment, and supports new designs and applications using lightweight, flexible materials.
From producing the next generation of an in-demand part to recreating a discontinued item, 3D printing enables manufacturers to meet virtually any need by quickly rendering 3D models and CAD files into physical objects.
Additive Manufacturing Methods
Additive manufacturing has expanded to include a number of processes. Perhaps the most used are Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) techniques. These include Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) for metal parts, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) for plastics, and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP. MJF offers a fast, efficient nylon powder method for high production runs.
Other additive manufacturing production methods include Polyjet, which is comparable to a laser printer. Polyjet is used for a variety of precision uses. For example, medical and dental applications need specialized materials. Polyjet can fabricate appropriate parts inflexible, rubber-like materials and hard, durable polymers. Another method, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) extrudes ABS plastic in layers. Thus, FDM can produce high flexible, high-strength parts in exceptionally small or large sizes.
Methods like Binder Jetting (BJ) deposit a binding adhesive onto layers of ceramic or metal powdered material. Finally, the oldest 3D printing process, Stereolithography (SLA), makes use of a UV laser to cure parts one layer at a time. SLA is still widely used and highly regarded for its exceptional accuracy. It can produce parts as thin as .002” from a variety of different resins.
Each additive manufacturing technique has its advantages and disadvantages. Specific needs to choose a method include desired materials, colors, and finishes, and specified engineering tolerances. NPI Services, Inc. can work with you to determine which process best suits your project. We’ll help you design and create accurate, high-quality components that enclose or enhance printed circuits. Call NPI today to speak to our expert staff about 3D printing and your mechanical fabrication needs. #WhenQuickTurnMatters
Photo by NASA shows successful hot fire testing of a Composite Overwrap 3D-Printed Rocket Thruster