Additives’s Impact on Manufacturing Pt. 1: How 3D Printing Is Changing Manufacturing Today

Over the last decade, 3D Printing has garnered many headlines. Whether it's the hype around consumer 3D Printing or the massive impact on the industrial community, a substantial amount of ink has been dedicated to the technology. 3D Printing changes manufacturing through the way we design, make production parts, and support products in the aftermarket. In this blog post, in conjunction with CMTC and the NIST MEP Network, we will spell out a variety of ways that additive is changing manufacturing today. Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming post where we will discuss how additive stands to further change manufacturing in the future.

3D Printing Changes How Fast Products Get to Market

A direct result of 3D Printing's impact on design processes is the rate at which new products can be developed. Instead of having to wait for tooling for a given design, designers can simply print onsite or send a CAD file to a service bureau and get parts in hours or days. Previously, waiting for weeks, months, or even years was the norm. This has a comprehensive effect on the overall product development life cycle. Decisions on final part designs can be reached much faster because the amount of time required for effective design is compressed.

3D Printing Changes How Effectively We Design

3D Printing grew up as a prototyping technology. It offered a faster way to go from an idea to a tangible model than previously imaginable.  By allowing for designs to be drafted in a computer program and then printed once a viable design is reached, the time to market for new designs was condensed massively - sometimes by an order of magnitude.  In conjunction with this speed, 3D printing has also helped better products come to market.  By allowing for fast iteration on tangible designs, design flaws and bad ergonomics that might have taken months (and a lot of additional investment in tooling) to identify can be spotted sooner, and fixes incorporated into the design.  As a result, the general quality of parts is improved by designers’ ability to explore more designs in a shorter period of time, arriving at a better final design.

3D Printing Changes the Way We Make Tools

A lot of attention has been focused on how 3D Printing helps us create end-use parts through prototyping. Now, increased attention has been paid to how 3D printers are fabricating actual end-use parts for select applications. However, one of the first uses outside of prototyping was tool creation. Around a decade ago, the range of polymers available for 3D Printing expanded significantly. This happened in conjunction with the emergence of extrusion and powder bed 3D Printing systems, which processed true thermoplastics rather than thermoset resins like vat photopolymerization (a.k.a. SLA) machines.

Once engineering thermoplastics like ABS, polycarbonate, and polyetherimide became available, managers and engineers began considering if 3D Printing could solve unique practical challenges that they encountered on a daily basis. These shop floor applications extended well beyond fit or form models, such as creating custom jigs, fixtures, or end arm effectors to allow for better handling of items. 3D printers are capable of economically fabricating these often unique geometries that would never be suitable for mass production. In this way, 3D Printing changed how manufacturing supports people on the shop floor as well as the ones designing and fabricating end use parts.

3D Printing Changes the Way We Fix Things

Another way that 3D Printing changes manufacturing today is in how we fix things. 3D Printing allows for on-demand fabrication of replacement parts. Naturally, this is not always necessary. Sometimes a replacement part is readily available at Lowe's, Home Depot, Grainger or McMaster-Carr, to name a few. But sometimes those parts are difficult to come by, especially for products out of production. If your collector car from the 1950s breaks down, it can sometimes make sense to print replacement parts rather than attempt to hunt them down in the global marketplace.

This is even more pronounced if a 50-year-old part breaks down on your assembly line and the holdup is costing revenue every minute. Or perhaps you are in a forward-deployed location and your aircraft cannot fly without printing a replacement part straight away. In any of these circumstances, the ability to 3D print stopgap solutions is significant, and with the rapid advancement we have experienced in printing quality, these “short-term solutions” may soon become “long-term” ones.

Summary: Additive is Changing Manufacturing in Many Ways and More is to Come

As we explained in this post, additive manufacturing has fundamentally changed the way we manufacture things. From design to tooling to replacement parts, additive manufacturing is a game changer. And its impact is just beginning to be felt, as the speed and capability of machines has just passed a tipping point.  You may note that we hardly touched the topic of actual production parts, which we view as still just breaching the tip of the iceberg at the moment, but that’s soon to change. Read our next blog post when we talk about how additive manufacturing will come to further impact manufacturing in the years to come.

Walters & Wolf Engages 3Diligent to Manufacture Exterior Wall Components That Contribute to Unique Look of Seattle’s Upcoming Rainier Square Tower

3Diligent Worked with Walters & Wolf from Prototype Through Production; Provided 3D Printing of 140 Unique Aluminum Nodes in Varying Dimensions

El Segundo, Calif. – March 6, 20193Diligent announced today that Walters & Wolf, a commercial cladding company, engaged 3Diligent to manufacture 140 unique exterior curtain wall nodes that Walters & Wolf designed to deliver the iconic exterior look and feel of the upcoming Rainier Square Tower in Seattle.

Expected to be finished in 2020, the new Rainier Square Tower will become Seattle’s second-tallest building. The structure will be a 58-story tower with a unique sloping appearance. With a step back on each building floor, the cladding system for each floor will have a different angle and require complex geometries to fit together perfectly.

Walters & Wolf worked with 3Diligent from prototype through production to produce 140 unique nodes with varying dimensions up to nearly a cubic foot in size. As geometries changed throughout the building’s design, 3Diligent leveraged its deep metal 3D Printing expertise to ensure each unique geometry met Walters & Wolf’s exacting specifications.

“From an operations standpoint, we were impressed with 3Diligent’s consistency in delivery of highly accurate and complex parts in a timely fashion that was in sync with the production schedule we established early on,” said Tony Parker, Project Executive at Walters & Wolf.  “At the end of the day, 3Diligent upheld their end of the bargain – they simply did what they said they would do.”

3D Printing of Challenging Geometries

NBBJ rendering by Atchain

Each piece of the curtain wall needed to be custom fabricated to meet the unique geometry of that section of the building. Walters & Wolf determined the best approach would be to create v-shaped nodes that ranged in size that would bring together square cut parts of the curtain wall. After experimenting with a variety of manufacturing processes and having some vendors say they couldn’t complete the work, Walters & Wolf turned to 3Diligent.

3Diligent presented two manufacturing processes – investment casting and 3D Printing - and delivered first articles from the different processes. These were assembled into curtain wall units and sent for performance mock-up testing. After testing, Walters & Wolf selected 3D Printing as their preferred path forward.

“We were honored when Walters & Wolf engaged 3Diligent as its manufacturing partner for this project,” said Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent. “Both the tower and these specific parts represent the sort of innovation that 3Diligent strives to enable every day.  It was great collaborating with Walters & Wolf on such a compelling project and look forward to seeing the completed tower in 2020!”

To download the full case study highlighting Walters & Wolf’s work with 3Diligent, visit this case study's page.

About 3Diligent

3Diligent is an innovative digital manufacturing services provider offering CAD/CAM-based fabrication services such as 3D Printing, CNC machining, casting, and injection molding.  3Diligent launched in 2014 to provide businesses seeking a more convenient and efficient way to utilize cutting edge digital manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing.  3Diligent uses the right combination of in-house engineering expertise and data science-driven algorithms to assess, price, and fulfill customer requests with its global manufacturing network.  3Diligent counts companies from Fortune 500 enterprises to startups among its customers.

For more information on 3Diligent and its capabilities, visit https://www.3diligent.com.

2019: 3D Printing Trends

It's that special time of year when we start taking stock of what happened in the past year and begin looking ahead to what 3D Printing trends may likely happen in the future. With that, let’s look ahead to 2019 in the world of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing...

Production 3D Printing Headlines

The first thing that we think 2019 will be known for in the additive industry are  plastic production 3D Printing headlines.  Leading the way in "buzziness" are global multinational enterprise HP and Silicon Valley-funded Carbon, which garnered many headlines for their efforts introducing faster next-gen polymer printers. This in turn raised the efforts already underway by incumbent polymer 3D Printing OEMs (or lit a fire under them, depending on your perspective), driving companies like 3D Systems and Envisiontec to emphasize their abilities when it comes to production.

 

Metal Extrusion Heats Up

The second topic that we expect to find in 2019 is a continued heating up of the Metal Extrusion 3D Printing market. In 2018, there was a lot of legal infighting between leaders in the space, which likely slowed market penetration by these technologies. We expect these technologies to gain increased adoption in 2019.  While much of the air about emerging metal 3D Printing technologies is consumed by binder jetting, we still expect these technologies to gain traction, especially around tooling and prototyping work.

An Expanding Universe of Metal Technologies

The third focal point for 2019 is the continued proliferation of technologies in the metal 3D Printing market, which you can read about in-depth in our 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report. The fundamental issue at hand is that metal printing is still lacking on various levels as it relates to delivering production parts, particularly speed and cost.  Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) technologies have garnered many headlines in recent years, particularly with programs in the aerospace and medical sectors. We can point to GE's successes, both with fuel injection nozzles and sensor housings, as great reference points that reflect the broader trend within the aerospace industry.  We can also point to successes in the medical industry around implants, particularly in Europe and other overseas markets. These 3D Printing trends within powder bed will continue to emerge, although the technology remains too pricey to displace traditional technologies for all but the most complex and/or low volume metal parts in the market. With that in mind, expect further advancements in the speed of powder bed fusion but also the continued emergence of new metal printing technologies.  These emerging metal technologies are not as likely to battle powder bed fusion head on for highly complex and precise geometries so much as they attempt to steal market share from casting and metal injection molding technologies.  

 

Continued Material Expansion

3d printing materials, additive manufacturing materials, additive manufacturing material library, 3d printing material library

The fifth and final focal point for 2019 we would want to highlight is the continued expansion of material options. As we mentioned, production is the buzzword in the additive manufacturing industry right now. Obviously, the material science underlying some new resins have facilitated the arrival of production polymer applications for Carbon and the Futurecraft shoes we mentioned earlier. We expect that continued exploration of thermoset resin and thermoplastics will be pushed by players in the polymer market to open doors to specific market niches. With that being said, the opportunity seems even more rich within the metals market for custom alloys.  Given the relative expense and weight of plastic parts to metal ones, the benefits of utilizing additive to eliminate weight and improve performance for metal 3D Printing are significant.  Taken a step further, the stresses inherent in printing metal relative to plastic are greater.  As a result, the opportunity to explore new alloys better suited to this process and/or the opportunity to introduce new metals into the additive universe through new processes is great.  We anticipate 2019 heralding the meaningful arrival of some new alloys in market.

Honorable Mention: Design Software

A final area that we see prominently impacting the additive manufacturing industry in 2019 is advancement in 3D Printing-related software, especially generative design and simulation.

Generative design, as you may be aware, is technology that allows for designers to enter design parameters, and then the software algorithmically develops designs based on those parameters.  Empowered by 3D Printing, these software packages can explore geometries that are fundamentally more complex and organic than conventional design would typically create.  In theory, such designs allow for higher levels of performance and reductions in material usage.  In practice, industry is still a little ways away from such software making a noticeable impact on the broader scene.  More on this in a future blog post.

Another 3D Printing trend that also stands to positively impact advancement of additive in 2019 is simulation software.  A close cousin of generative design, simulation software allows for companies to identify optimal performance characteristics in parts, but perhaps more importantly for the 3D Printing industry, identify whether a part will be printable on a first pass.  As this technology evolves, the opportunity for additive to continue its takeoff grows, making the technology and its benefits more accessible to designers who don't have a career's worth of experience designing parts for additive manufacturing.

It promises to be an exciting and eventful 2019 in the world of 3D Printing.  We look forward to sharing it with you!