Additive’s Impact on Manufacturing Pt. 2: How 3D Printing Will Change Manufacturing in the Future

In our previous blog post, we examined how 3D printers affect how we design, how quickly products get to market, how we make tools, and how we fix things. But is that the extent to which additive manufacturing will be felt? The answer is a decided no. Additive is already opening doors to bigger impacts down the road. In today's post we will spell out how 3D Printing will change manufacturing in the future.

3D Printing Will Change the Definition of High Performance Parts

Photo courtesy of

During the last post, we highlighted how 3D Printing is affecting the way that we design. This impact has largely centered around how quickly we can develop new products and arrive at better designs. Overwhelmingly, designs are still in this phase, orienting around legacy manufacturing technologies. In particular, parts are designed for casting or injection molding as the expected means of mass production. That is beginning to change with improved speeds and decreased costs of 3D Printing. Up to this point, 3D printers have been fighting a game with one hand tied behind their back. Uniquely capable of achieving geometries that are otherwise impossible, 3D printers have largely been allocated against printing designs that are readily made with other technologies. And as a function of that, 3D printers are rarely the current choice for mass production. That may be changing.

Photo courtesy of

Since machines are getting faster and more cost-effective, designers and procurement managers are considering whether 3D Printing will change manufacturing in terms of scalability. For production runs in the thousands or tens of thousands, this may be the case; especially if the designs were created with 3D Printing in mind. Take for instance the GE fuel nozzle. It serves as a benchmark example of how a company was able to create a better performing product and fabricate it more cost-effectively through the use of additive manufacturing. At this moment, the examples of those high performance additive parts are largely limited to the aerospace and medical sectors. However, we have every reason to believe that the industrial, energy, consumer products, and automotive markets are right on course to embrace additive similarly. Recent announcements from Ford and Gillette reinforce this notion.

3D Printing Will Change Supply Chain Management

Another key way in which 3D Printing will change manufacturing in the months, years, and decades to come is in how we will manage our supply chain. As companies unlock the design potential of 3D Printing with higher performance parts that take full advantage of additive manufacturing ability to create organic shapes, lattice structures, gradient alloys, or unique material formulations, the only viable option for fabricating these parts will be 3D Printing. Once that occurs, the structure of the traditional supply chain will fall apart. No longer will it be practical to have fabrication take place in far-away, low-cost countries when there is virtually no labor input to the parts. The cost combined with the delay of maritime shipping will bring fabrication much closer to the end customer. As a result, fabrication of end-use parts or sub-assemblies may occur at forward locations in the supply chain: the distributor, retail, or even consumer level. We refer to this as the supply web.

Instead of a relatively direct chain that connects a product from a low-cost center of mass production - to a semi local distribution center - to a local retail location - to an end consumer, fabrication may instead take place at any step along that path. A geographic overlay of how parts feed into this production flow looks more like a web than a chain. This will have a profound impact on the way companies manage their own supply chain. Their traditional partners may not be suited for a supply web world and they may need to entertain new partners who are prepared for this paradigm. Additionally, companies may increasingly consider managing their own fleets of 3D printers. Doing so may provide them an opportunity to potentially create cost savings for their end products.

3D Printing Will Change How We Keep Inventory

As noted previously, 3D Printing will change the way we look at supply chain. For companies that fully utilize 3D Printing's ability for localized manufacturing, inventory management practices will fundamentally change as well. Unlike a traditional manufacturing environment where asset production order is established and a certain amount of safety stock is kept of a given SKU, 3D Printing will instead allow for on-demand fabrication of parts as demand signals dictate. Gone will be the days of requiring huge advanced commitments to quantity since the parts can be fabricated on demand. Again, one of the core challenges to this is simply how many machines are available to fulfill the program. That is why distributed fabrication solutions such as 3Diligent may be an intriguing partner to companies, given the relatively elastic supply of a distributed fabrication solution.

3D Printing Will Change the Way We Customize Products

A final way in which 3D Printing will fundamentally change manufacturing is in how we customize products. Customization is already a main focus of current manufacturing methods. However, the product itself is not truly customized for the customer. Rather, the combination of parts is customized. Take for instance a personalized elbow or knee brace. In the current paradigm, each component is set to a size of small, medium, or large; and the most extensive customization may be in combining those constituent parts. Another customization may be in picking a particular color or material.  This is not true customization.

3D Printing will facilitate truly customized products at a massive scale. In this future state, an individual's unique body geometry can be scanned and fabricated on demand to fit those exact dimensions in ways not currently possible. Personalization of that part may extend beyond the shape and into the color or design imprinted upon it. We point here to the most extreme case where every customer has his or her own unique SKU. But the likelihood exists that there are many gradients between the current state of customization today and that full massively bespoke reality as well. As we touched on in our previous discussion, the rapid iteration cycles that 3D Printing facilitates also mean that different product designs can be tried out in different markets and many additional SKU's can be effectively supported. We believe 3D Printing will change customization by moving towards digital media or advertising. Products will be put into market relatively affordably for customers to react to and the ones that succeed can gain greater traction in market.

Summary: 3D Printing Has Even Bigger Impacts on Manufacturing to Come

In our previous blog post we called out the ways that 3D printing has already changed the world of manufacturing. And while those changes are significant, we think the changes still to come are even more impactful to manufacturing as we know it. The changes to come are massive, including improving the performance of parts through enabling entirely new geometries and material combinations, changing the way our supply chain is structured, impacting the way we think about just-in-time inventory, and lastly in the way that we customize parts to individual desires.  It's going to be a fun trip, and at 3Diligent, we're excited to be your sherpas for that journey.

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

3Diligent at MD&M West 2019; Panel Discussion About Metal vs. Plastic 3D Printing

Next Tuesday, I will be heading to Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West to speak in a panel about the key differences and benefits of 3D printing in metal versus plastics.

Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West is billed as:

Where serious professionals find the technologies, education, and connections to stay ahead in the global medical manufacturing community. In addition to more than 1,900 cutting-edge suppliers showcasing the latest solutions in contract manufacturing, manufacturing equipment, automation, R&D, medical device components, materials, plastics, and more, MD&M West hosts the largest three-day medtech conference in North America.

Our panel discussion, entitled “The Key Differences & Benefits in Printing with Metal vs. Plastics” takes place on Tuesday, February 5 from 9:15 AM- 10:00 AM in hall 208B. The session is billed as follows:

As the use of 3D printers in manufacturing gets more mainstream, the question remains: what is the best material for your application? This panel will drill down into the different types of materials currently being used in AM — such as steel, aluminum, titanium, nitinol, carbon fiber, PLA, ABS, PVA — and explain the key differences and benefits in printing with them. Discussion topics include lightweighting, merging multiple parts into fewer components, reducing tooling costs, producing less waste, and greater design freedom.

We hope you’ll come join the conversation!


Koch Disruptive Technologies Invests $160M in Desktop Metal; Signals Impending Arrival of Mass Production Metal Additive

So the big news today is that Desktop Metal has secured more financing. Koch Disruptive Technologies led a round of 160 million USD, which brings total funding funding since 2015 to 438 million USD. The implications of this are various. Over the course of this blog post we will unpack them.

Desktop Metal Funding Will Support Production System Coming to Market

The first key implication is tactical. Desktop Metal, a company that has developed metal 3D Printing technologies, is now preparing to push its products into market in a meaningful way. The first product, it's Studio System, leverages an extrusion technology, similar to the plastic extrusion tech popularized by brands like MakerBot. The key difference is that the input material here is largely composed of metal. Once deposited onto the build tray in the desired shape, the metal is then fired in a furnace to remove any non metallic particles and sinter the remaining parts. This technology was introduced last year and its launch was partially marred by various patent battles between Desktop Metal's founder and the founder of Markforged, another metal 3D Printing OEM with extrusion 3D Printing technologies.

In our opinion, however, this round focuses less on the Studio System and more on the binder jetting system that will supposedly enter the market in 2020. The binder jetting system should operate at decidedly faster speeds in the extrusion ecosystem for large production runs. This process involves dispensing an adhesive into a bed of metal powder to construct shapes and then moving these "green parts" into a furnace for the final sintering step. In summation, we can all assume that the funding speaks to Desktop Metal's desire to fund both the manufacturing of its Production System and also its Studio System.

Interested in binder jetting and extrusion technologies? See the multitude of other 3D Printing options that could help your business.

Koch Investment Signals Bright Future for Metal Additive in Industrial Products

The second key take away from this announcement is its strategic implication for the entire metal 3D Printing market. The core expectation around Koch Disruptive Industries' investment is a rising faith in the legitimacy behind the Production System and binder jetting's ability to produce large-scale production runs in metal. Koch, a company in-the-know when it comes to industrial fabrication, has clearly come out to support this tech in a big way. This signals not only an important step in advancing adoption of metal additive beyond the well-established niche of medical and aerospace markets, but rather a broader penetration of more price-sensitive and volume-dependent industrial markets. In the same breath, it signals a shot across the bow to Hewlett-Packard who has made significant investments in promoting its own binder jetting technology. These two companies have been teasing their offerings repeatedly at trade shows over the last few years with HP offering parts built on their system today via select partners in a limited capacity. Strategically we recognize that metal 3D Printing for mass-market fabrication is seemingly an inevitability with both HP and Desktop Metal, not to mention the other players that have introduced production-grade metal binder jetting systems.

Desktop Metal Valuation Growth Implies Progress But Still a Good Bit of Work to Do

That brings us to the financial and market implications of this announcement. As we alluded to previously, there are a handful of binder jetting OEM's already in the market. Some of these operate from a service or design standpoint. Others sell machines. Clearly the impending entry of Desktop Metal's Production System will add another competitor to the market. It bears mentioning that Desktop Metal was late in shipment of its Studio System, and it may stand to reason that the Koch investment ties to their experience bringing industrial products to market. Additionally, the valuation's increase of 50% over the last fundraiser two years ago may not necessarily be the kind of valuation uptick that you might expect from a story like this. You can point to companies like Uber that watched far more meteoric rises in valuation. This makes sense given that Desktop Metal is still getting its footing with the Studio System and the Production System.

In Summation

There are a number of key takeaways from this announcement. The biggest being that production metal 3D Printing for the industry - not just aerospace and medical - is rapidly becoming a reality. While the true impact of this investment will not be felt until 2020 or beyond, we are nonetheless seeing the gradual maturation of the metal 3D Printing industry.

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!

3Diligent’s New 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report Documents Growth of Metal 3D Printing and New Processes

Document Explores Metal 3D Printing Trends and Catalogs Existing and Emerging Processes Providing Readers with a Comprehensive Guide for Metal 3D Printing Projects

El Segundo, Calif. – January 7, 20193Diligent announced today it has released its 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report, which provides a comprehensive source of information on current trends in metal 3D Printing and existing and emerging metal printing processes for the product designer or business that is considering a metal 3D Printing project.

The report documents the enthusiasm and growth of metal 3D Printing as evidenced by several high-profile projects from Fortune 500 companies. However, the report notes that metal 3D Printing has not yet fully experienced a transformative speed breakthrough in the same way as polymer printers.  The report highlights a number of technologies that may represent candidates for this breakthrough in metal printing efficiency.

The report also presents data from 3Diligent projects to provide additional context for the advancement of metal 3D Printing.  According to research conducted by 3Diligent of 3D Printing project requests in 2018, 45 percent requested metal printing processes, while 45 percent specified polymer and balance left the decision to 3Diligent and its network of fabricators to suggest an optimal process. This represents dramatic growth in metal printing demand since 2015, when just 14 percent of 3D Printing project requests were for metal processes.

The 24-page report also provides a summary of the various existing and emerging metal 3D Printing processes, including tradeoffs and applications for each, including:

  • Powder Bed Fusion – Laser Melting and Electron Beam Melting
  • Binder Jetting – Sand Print-to-Cast, Full Sinter and Infiltrated
  • Directed Energy Deposition
  • Sheet Lamination
  • Material Jetting
  • Extrusion
  • Cold Spray
  • Stir Welding
  • Print-to-Plating
  • Hybrid Systems – Additive with Milling

“Metal 3D Printing is continuing to experience rapid growth, both in volume and variety.   Understanding the various technologies available can be overwhelming,” said Cullen Hilkene, 3Diligent CEO. “We’ve published this report in hopes that it can help readers make better informed decisions with their metal 3D Printing projects, whether it be making capital investments or identifying manufacturing partners.”

For more information on 3Diligent, its capabilities, and to download the 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report, visit

 About 3Diligent

3Diligent is an innovative rapid 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 deterred by the cost and obsolescence risk of 3D printer ownership a single source for faster, more convenient, and more affordable additive manufacturing services.  It has since evolved to offer additional digital manufacturing services to support its customers from prototype through production stages.  3Diligent uses data science to analyze customer requests for quote (RFQs) and identify optimal solutions across its network of qualified providers.  3Diligent’s next-generation approach to rapid manufacturing allows customers to simplify their procurement and service providers to get more out of their capital investments. 3Diligent counts companies from Fortune 500 enterprises to startups among its customers.  For more information, visit


The Secrets to Designing for Metal 3D Printing Revealed

3Diligent Among Experts Featured in Design for Metal 3D Printing Article

A short while ago, our CEO Cullen Hilkene was interviewed by Ann Thryft of Design News about a topic seemingly on every designer’s mind these days: Metal 3D Printing.

In particular, the intention of the article was to speak with experts across the digital manufacturing industry with expertise in metal additive about how designers need to think differently about the process.  With a clearer understanding of design rules, designers stand not only to have more successful builds, but also can take fuller advantage of the broader design possibilities of metal additive to deliver entirely new and better designs.

The article provides 1) General Design Guidelines, 2) Specific Rules of Thumb, and 3) a List of Differences between metal and polymer AM design.  3Diligent is featured alongside industry leaders such as GE Additive and 3D Systems in the article.

We are pleased to report that the 22-page article was just published, and you can read it here.


Design for Metal 3D Printing Guidelines

Below, we’ve recreated the 10 Rules of Thumb, which drew significantly from 3Diligent’s design for additive manufacturing experience:

Design Rules of Thumb for Metal AM Design

These Top 10 design rules are aimed at powder bed fusion processes for AM— primarily direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or selective laser sintering (SLS), which are the most commonly used metal
AM technologies.

1. Avoid supports: post-processing hassles.

“When considering laser powder bed 3D printing with metals, the most important thing design engineers need to be aware of is supports. The most dollars lost in 3D printing with metals occurs because of iterative design: too many iterations are needed just to get the supports to work or to get
rid of them completely. In the laser powder bed, the part cools unevenly. So residual stresses are
built into the metal as it hardens, which makes it ‘potato chip’ while it is being built and when you
take the part out.”

“To cope with this, there are some things engineers need to do that drive design. The frst is
designing supports to hold the part down to the metal plate so it doesn’t potato chip. The other
reason for supports is to conduct heat away from the top layers of the part.”

“But now, you have to cut out those supports with a tool when the part is done. This really becomes
a problem when your part has internal passages; you have to get a tool in there to cut them out,
since it’s not like plastic, where they just break away or can be dissolved in water. And you need
enough room to remove them. This is real design-for-manufacturing. You must either design the part
to not need internal supports or design it so you can get a tool in there if needed.” —PADT’s Miller

2. Avoid supports: the 45-degree rule and overhangs.

“Consider the process mentally as you’re designing. With powder bed, thermal stresses are created
by the build, so you may need to use supports. As a general rule, you want to design to avoid
supports. To do that, typically you want to orient the part in the build chamber to avoid overhangs of
more than 45 degrees. Generally speaking, angles more vertical than 45 degrees are self-supporting,
but angles under 45 degrees will need supports. Because these supports are made of the same
metal material as the part, removing them can be time consuming and costly.” —3Diligent’s Hilkene

3. Avoid thin-walled features.

“As a general rule, you don’t want walls less than 500 microns thick and we recommend a minimum
of 1mm. That’s not the thinnest achievable with 3D printing—we’ve done 150 micron thick walls—but
they’re not tall. A 40 to 1 ratio for walls is also a good rule: keep to a 40mm height for a wall
thickness of 1mm. Operate at a ratio bigger than that and you’re putting that feature at risk.” —
3Diligent’s Hilkene

“Design engineers need to know what wall thicknesses work with a manufacturing process. For
example, with additive manufacturing, if it’s a big block of metal, you’ll get a lot of shrinkage. And the
transition from thin to thick can cause shrinkage problems. There are certain minimums for diferent
additive metals processes, for certain manufacturers of 3D printers for each of those processes, and
even for diferent models within a manufacturer. For each manufacturer of laser powder bed 3D
printers, the specifc laser and its settings often determine wall thickness. There are similar issues for
other metal 3D printing technologies.” —PADT’s Miller

4. Stair-stepping has post-processing consequences.

“Engineers must be aware of the fact that because AM with metals is a layered manufacturing
process, the main consequence is stair-stepping. How does this impact design? Engineers must be
aware of the typically rough surface that results, and they must specify the desired surface fnish.
Can you and your customer live with that roughness? If not, you must specify the surface fnish you
can live with. That means knowing the machine’s parameters and how to tweak part parameters if
you’re the operator. Design engineers aren’t taught in school about manufacturing issues, so they
often don’t know this.”—PADT’s Miller

5. Beware additive’s orthotropic planes.

“The other main consequence [of stair-stepping] is that the microstructure is unusual compared to
other metal manufacturing processes. In the X-Y plane, the crystal may be quite large, but it’s also
really thin. In the Z plane, of course, the metal crystallography is diferent and the material properties
are diferent from those in the X-Y plane. In other metal manufacturing processes, the properties are
isotropic in all planes. But with additive metal, they are orthotropic.”
“Stair-stepping is the most visible aspect of the diferences between diferent printer manufacturers’
product lines. It constrains some of the geometry, since the minimum feature size in the Z direction is
layer height. You can’t make features smaller than that height, and the feature has to be positioned at
the beginning of that layer.” —PADT’s Miller

6. Orientation matters.

“Orientation matters: the design engineer should specify part orientation relative to build direction.
Stair-stepping, supports, and not making features thinner than layer thickness—these constraints are
all dependent on part orientation in the machine. For example, if you build a cylinder-shaped object
standing upright in the powder bed, no supports are needed and you won’t get much stair-stepping.
But if you build it on its side, you will need supports and stair-stepping will be more pronounced.
When you design machined metal parts, thinking about setup steps is critical, since you want to
minimize them, and it’s the same for additive.” —PADT’s Miller
“Which direction the part is made in—oriented in either the X-Y plane or in the Z axis—afects the
area of the cross-section and therefore how much material shrink occurs in a given layer. Design
engineers should try to have gradual changes in the cross-section to avoid drastic changes in
material shrink.” —Protolabs’ Utley

7. Design at the system level, not the part level.

“A trap we see lots of people fall into is thinking about part-for-part replacement of the current
product: today I’m stamping a part and tomorrow I’m going to print it. But from a productivity
perspective, it’s important to fnd the opportunity at the product level and not look for only a piecepart
replacement. In the GE Catalyst engine, GE Aviation reduced 855 parts to 12 printed assemblies
using 3D printing and the redesign it made possible. The innovation was not a piece-part
replacement, but in thinking about this product diferently from the beginning—by looking at the
system, at parts consolidation, at soft costs, at optimizing the business case.” —GE Additive’s

8. Combine subassemblies.

“You can combine subassemblies that don’t need to be separate into a single assembly. You can
also make new features like captured features, where elements of a design are built inside or
interlocked with other features. When doing this, you’ll just need to be mindful of how you’ll remove
powder and whether it can be printed without supports.” —3Diligent’s Hilkene

9. Design for post-processing removal of excess material.

“Since 3D printing is good for small quantities, some customers want to give us a design they’re
already machining and see if we can print it more afordably. But you only occasionally see a cost
advantage in doing that, because the parts were designed with a diferent process in mind—
especially if you’ve already invested in tooling to support that process. To unlock the potential of
additive, you should really design with the process [of 3D printing] in mind. One thing it can do is
remove excess material where it’s not contributing meaningfully to the part’s performance. This is
commonly done in applications like aerospace and high-end cars. There is a class of software
referred to as topological optimization or generative design that is focused on this area.” —
3Diligent’s Hilkene

10. Design for post-processing removal of loose powder.

“Loose powder in internal chambers will need to be removed, so you may want to design with
drainage holes for it to escape. You also need to consider clearances between features for removing
lightly sintered powder. For example, there may be lightly sintered powder near a wall feature that’s
even harder to get out of crevices than loose powder.”
—3Diligent’s Hilkene



Molding and Casting 101: Intro to Urethane and Silicone Casting

3Diligent CEO Cullen Hilkene and Director of Sales Anna Villano sat down for a quick discussion about Molding and Casting in Polyurethane and Silicone.  Among the topics discussed in our Molding and Casting 101: Intro to Urethane and Silicone Casting vlog are What is Casting, What Kind of Material Properties Are Achievable, Why Use Casting, What Quantities Are Appropriate, and What Are Drawbacks of Casting.  Watch the videos below or read the transcripts.  And when you’re done, learn more about 3Diligent’s Urethane Casting and Silicone Casting services.


Intro to Molding and Casting


Cullen: Hey everybody it’s Cullen with 3Diligent along with Anna Villano, our Director of Sales.  Today we are coming to you to talk about a topic, our different production processes…we have a wide range of them at 3Diligent and wanted to have a quick informal chat about some of the programs that we worked on utilizing urethane casting, some of its advantages, some off its drawbacks, one of the key processes we use to support our customers from prototype to production. So with that as a baseline, Anna, you wanna give everybody an idea of what urethane casting is?


What is Molding and Casting?

Anna: So basically urethane casting is taking your product, your image, creating a silicone mold, and then producing multiple castings off of that one mold.


Cullen: Got it. So commonly what we’ll be doing is printing a master pattern part, creating a silicone mold around it, taking that part out, and that creates basically negative space that you can fill in with polyurethane casting materials.


Anna: Now another note is that we are not only talking about hard rigid plastic.  You can use cast urethanes and do rubber. So you can cast in different shore durometers where you can go with a soft rubber or a very hard stiff rubber.


Cullen: Yeah, that’s spot on. Frankly a very close cousin of urethane casting is silicone casting.  Where commonly we will print molds and then in turn cast silicone within those molds in a very similar process.  So as Anna alludes to there is a wide range of material options and material characteristics that can be delivered to you through the process and it’s one we commonly leverage when it’s the right one to give you the best value and meet the needs of your program.



What Are Urethane Casting Material Properties?


Anna: It somewhat simulates injection molding properties but it’s a two part material. It gets you what you need.

Cullen: When we talk about cast urethanes having properties similar to injection molding, there are fire retardant materials, materials with high heat resistance, medical materials, a full gamut of urethane options available to you to address just about any issue save for a few things on the far ends of the spectrum, in terms of thermoplastics.

Anna: Absolutely. It will get you to that next step before going into injection molding.

Why Use Molding and Casting?



Cullen: We talked about some of the pros and advantages of this technology, one of them being that there is such a good range of polyurethane options, materials that can simulate injection molded materials.  But why simulate instead of going to straight to injection molding? Why do people use urethane casting?


Anna: Well there are a number of reasons.  Sometimes designers want to test out their designs in plastic to see how the product works at first.  So they can put their assemblies together and see how the product works. Sometimes their injection mold tooling won’t be ready in time but they need to be out in the market. So they’ll come to us, they’ll ask us for urethane cast parts, we’ll get them the parts, they’ll assemble their tools and they’ll use them for the time being until the injection molds are ready and the true plastics are off the tools.


Cullen: So that’s a great use case for where urethane castings can come into play.  If you are looking to get a few products into market as you’re waiting for tooling, if you want to gauge interest in market, that’s another option, and if you have low overall volumes on an annual basis, it can be an appropriate technology to utilize, so that’s exactly what we do.



What Quantities Are Best for Molding and Casting?


Cullen: Now when we talk about quantities and the fact is these are relatively smaller quantities what kind of a range are we talking about?


Anna: You can typically get around 100 parts per mold, and that depends on the geometry and the complexity of the part


Cullen: Yeah exactly. So as we talk about inputs to driving cost here, typically you’re printing out a pattern and creating a silicone mold of that pattern and then going through the manual process of pouring the urethane into the mold and waiting for that to cure.  All of that takes a bit of time and obviously it requires a bit of manual effort and with that expense. So as a result, tends to be the sweet spot for urethane casting starts around 5 units and goes up to a few hundred units. Typically when you get into the thousands it makes sense to transition to injection molding, although based on the particular needs you have for a program, that can vary.   


What Are Drawbacks to Molding and Casting?


Cullen: Now the last thing we might want to mention, are there any drawbacks to the technology when we’re talking about pulling in urethane?


Anna: The materials will last for a while but they are not generally going to be for long term use.  [They’re typically best] if you’re trying to get something out there. If you’re going to need them for several years, they should be okay though.


Cullen: Urethanes are commonly used for longer term applications, as the characteristics they can have are quite extensive.  But because you are working with a two-part process and experiencing the ongoing interlinking of the polymer chain, what ends up happening over time is that you can see the overall properties deteriorate, which is true for many polymers but thermoplastics may not see that as much. So that’s one thing to be aware of, we’re living in the world of polyurethanes.  So you can get a good range of materials, but for higher quantities and certain material properties, it may not be a fit.


Molding and Casting 101: Intro to Molding and Casting Wrapup



Cullen: So any other closing thoughts before we wrap it up on urethane casting or casting more broadly?


Anna: No I think we covered it all pretty well.


Cullen: I think we did.  So pay us a visit at, submit an RFQ through the platform.  If Urethane Casting is right for you or you want to get pricing for it, just specify that in the process field and we’ll look forward to getting you a quote and some fantastic parts soon.  So thanks a bunch and we’ll talk to you soon!


Anna: Bye!

In Chicago for IMTS? Join Our CEO Atop the City for a Cocktail to Close Your Day!

About IMTS

Next week is the annual International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.  Arguably the biggest event on the biannual trade show circuit for those on the lookout to buy big pieces of manufacturing equipment, every two years engineers, buyers, and operators descend on McCormick Place near the shores of Lake Michigan to take in the latest in manufacturing.

About Cocktails/Coffee with Cullen

At 3Diligent, we think booth conversations are good, but a comfortable chat with a drink and a view is better!  To that end, our CEO Cullen Hilkene will be capping each day by meeting at a couple of Chicago’s greatest high-altitude venues with 3Diligent customers, fabrication partners, and other interested parties for coffee or a cocktail.  So if you and/or your team is interested in learning more about 3Diligent or catching up about past and future programs with Cullen (and doing so with a drink in hand a view of the Chicago skyline in front of you), schedule 30 minutes on his calendar as a perfect way to cap your day.


Where and When?

He’ll be hosting meetings from 5-7:30pm, so grab a time slot before they are gone.   (UPDATE: All Monday times have been booked – please request Tuesday-Thursday)


Locations and time options are as follows:


Monday and Tuesday:

Metropolitan Club – 233 South Wacker Drive, 67th Floor, Chicago, IL 60606

5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30: 7:00

Image result for metropolitan club chicago

Wednesday and Thursday:

Mid-America Club – 200 East Randolph Drive, 80th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601

5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30: 7:00

Image result for mid america club chicago


How Do I secure a Time Slot?

Just email your full name, the full names of any colleagues that would be joining you, and three 30-minute slots that would work to  We’ll be back in touch to confirm a time!


Looking forward to seeing you in Chicago!


-The 3Diligent Team


P.S. Evening meetings don’t work for you, but would love to meet?  Cullen may be opening a limited number of slots for coffee before the show starts, so let us know if that’s the case!

P.P.S. Please note that dress code for the clubs is business casual.