How small manufacturers can use additive manufacturing to reduce their costs.

additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a process of building objects by adding successive layers of material. This technology has gained popularity in recent years due to its ability to produce complex geometries and prototypes at a lower cost. Small manufacturers can benefit from 3D printing by reducing their costs and improving their production efficiency. In this article, Robin Buxton, Business Relations Director at Evestico Ltd, details how small manufacturers can use additive manufacturing to reduce their costs, as well as, setting out what equipment and skillsets are needed to enable it.

The key benefits

  1. Reduce Material Costs: It can reduce material costs by using only the amount of material needed for production. Unlike traditional manufacturing, where excess material is often produced and discarded, additive manufacturing only uses the necessary amount of material to build the object. This can result in significant cost savings for small manufacturers, particularly for prototypes and low-volume production runs.
  2. Eliminate Tooling Costs: Traditional manufacturing requires the creation of molds, dies, and other tools to produce the desired object. These tools can be expensive and time-consuming to create, particularly for small manufacturers who do not have the resources of larger companies. Additive manufacturing eliminates the need for tooling, as the object is built layer by layer from a digital model. This can save small manufacturers significant time and money.
  3. Improve Production Efficiency: It can improve production efficiency by reducing the time it takes to produce an object. Traditional manufacturing often requires multiple steps, such as casting and machining, to produce an object. Additive manufacturing can produce the object in a single step, reducing the time it takes to produce the object. This can help small manufacturers to produce objects more quickly and efficiently, allowing them to better compete with larger companies.
  4. Reduce Waste: Traditional manufacturing often produces a significant amount of waste, particularly during the prototyping phase. Additive manufacturing can reduce waste by producing only the necessary amount of material. Additionally, the ability to create complex geometries with additive manufacturing can help to reduce waste by allowing for more efficient use of materials.
  5. Enable Customisation: It allows for customisation of objects, which can be particularly beneficial for small manufacturers who specialise in niche markets or unique products. Traditional manufacturing often requires expensive customisation or the creation of new tools to produce customised objects. Additive manufacturing can produce customised objects directly from a digital model, reducing the time and cost required to produce the object.
  6. Increase Design Flexibility: It allows for greater design flexibility, which can help small manufacturers to create unique objects that differentiate themselves from their competitors. Traditional manufacturing often requires certain design limitations to be followed due to the limitations of the manufacturing process. With additive manufacturing, designers have greater freedom to create objects with complex geometries and unique features.
  7. Lower Startup Costs: It has lower startup costs than traditional manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing often requires a significant investment in tools and equipment before production can begin. With additive manufacturing, the cost of equipment is lower, and production can begin with only a digital model and a 3D printer.

In short, small manufacturers can benefit from additive manufacturing by reducing their costs and improving their production efficiency. It can reduce material costs, eliminate tooling costs, improve production efficiency, reduce waste, enable customisation, increase design flexibility, and lower startup costs. By embracing additive manufacturing, small manufacturers can compete more effectively with larger companies and produce objects more quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

Equipment and skillsets needed to enable additive manufacturing.

To enable additive manufacturing, there are several pieces of equipment and skillsets that are needed. These include:

  1. 3D printer: The most important piece of equipment for additive manufacturing is a 3D printer. There are many different types of 3D printers available, ranging from small desktop models to large industrial models. The type of 3D printer needed will depend on the size and complexity of the objects being produced.
  2. Design software: To create a digital model of the object that will be printed, design software is needed. This can include computer-aided design (CAD) software or other 3D modeling software. The software should be able to export files in a format that is compatible with the 3D printer being used.
  3. Material: Additive manufacturing requires a material to be used in the printing process. The type of material used will depend on the 3D printer being used and the properties required for the final object. Some common materials used in additive manufacturing include plastics, metals, ceramics, and composites.
  4. Post-processing equipment: After the object is printed, it may require post-processing, such as sanding or polishing, to achieve the desired finish. Post-processing equipment can include sanders, polishers, or other tools.
  5. Maintenance tools: As with any piece of equipment, 3D printers require regular maintenance to keep them in good working order. Maintenance tools may include cleaning supplies, replacement parts, or calibration tools.

In addition to the necessary equipment, there are also several skillsets that are needed to enable additive manufacturing. These include:

  1. Design skills: The ability to create a digital model of the object that will be printed is a critical skill for additive manufacturing. Design skills may include knowledge of CAD software or other 3D modeling software.
  2. Material knowledge: Understanding the properties of the materials used in additive manufacturing is important for achieving the desired results. This may include knowledge of the physical properties of the material, such as strength and flexibility, as well as how the material will behave during the printing process.
  3. Troubleshooting skills: Like any manufacturing process, additive manufacturing can encounter problems during the printing process. The ability to troubleshoot and solve problems quickly is important for maintaining production efficiency.
  4. Maintenance skills: As mentioned earlier, regular maintenance is required to keep 3D printers in good working order. The ability to perform routine maintenance tasks, such as cleaning and calibration, is important for ensuring that the printer continues to function properly.
  5. Understanding of manufacturing processes: While additive manufacturing is a relatively new process, it is still important to have a solid understanding of manufacturing processes in general. This can include knowledge of quality control, production planning, and supply chain management.

In summary, enabling additive manufacturing requires a combination of equipment and skillsets. Equipment includes a 3D printer, design software, material, post-processing equipment, and maintenance tools. Skillsets include design skills, material knowledge, troubleshooting skills, maintenance skills, and an understanding of manufacturing processes. By having the right equipment and skillsets in place, additive manufacturing can be a powerful tool for small manufacturers looking to reduce costs and improve production efficiency.

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