THE BIG ADVANTAGES
Low Batch sizes are not a problem
Low batch sizes (from 1 to the low thousands of a product) are often very difficult and/or costly to produce with traditional manufacturing methods. Traditional methods often require patterns or moulds to be produced and this process is often time consuming and expensive. 3d printing however, can produce one part as quickly and easily as it can produce another, without the need for a mould or pattern. The relatively slow production speed of the current 3d printers does however, mean that once you reach the low thousands of a product it is usually cost effective to produce moulds and use more traditional manufacturing methods. As the speed of 3d printers increases, the breakeven point, in terms of minimum number of units to produce before traditional methods become more cost effective, will also increase.
Highly Complex shapes are not a problem
Because of the layered manufacturing technique used in 3d printing it is possible to manufacture extremely complex components that simply cannot be manufactured with traditional manufacturing methods. Traditional moulds and patterns have significant limitations when producing products with overhangs and protrusions, as the mould must be able to be removed from the product without damaging the product. Without moulds, the 3d printing process is able to produce virtually any shape that can be dreamt.
Opportunities to reduce assembly
It is possible to manufacture products requiring less, or no, assembly using 3d printing, once again saving time and money by eliminating assembly and reducing parts count. It is very important that Engineers and Designers take full advantage of this ability at the design stage of their projects. The rapid take-up of this opportunity will give Engineers and Designers a significant advantage over their competitors, in both cost and time to market.
Rapid Prototypes reduce time to market and minimise risk of expensive design errors
Using 3d printing, multiple iterations of product design variations can be produced and tested simultaneously during the conceptual stage of design, without investing in the tools to make the product. This can dramatically reduce the cost of product development and time to market as well as potentially improve the product that gets to market by allowing design errors, omissions or oversights to be rectified inexpensively early in the design process.
3d printing reduces material usage, lowering production costs.
3d printing also offers significant cost savings by using lower amounts of raw material than traditional manufacturing methods. Subtractive methods remove material that is often recycled however the value of the material being recycled is significantly less that the cost of the material in its original form. Most 3d printers that print in powder (including metals) recycle unused powder (the “ink” of 3D printing) and reuse it in the process for subsequent jobs, without reducing the value of the material. Also, when you are forced to cut away from a solid block, removing more material to achieve details increases time and therefore cost. This is not the case with the 3d printing methods.