By Martijn Vanloffelt, Director, Metals Customer Innovation Center, 3D Systems
The design and manufacturing benefits of metal additive manufacturing have earned a lot of attention, with particular interest coming from those developing critical parts for applications in highly regulated industries such as healthcare, aerospace, and industrial gas turbine (IGT). This is because the design and fabrication freedoms of additive technology unlock new levels of performance that can have major impacts on functionality and economics where appropriately applied.
Yet for most companies, interest does not imply implementation. Metal additive manufacturing is still perceived as a new technology, and despite the incredible potential it offers, few fully understand it and are ready to invest the time and capital required to harness greater innovation. Ignoring the knowledge gap won’t make it go away, however, and in order for companies to succeed and excel, they must acknowledge the gap and overcome it.
The good news is that learning how to effectively bring on scalable additive manufacturing does not have to be a difficult journey, or a lonely one. Of course it is possible to on-board a new process solo, but doing so typically takes several months, which further delays your return on investment. In my experience, the best way to learn a new process quickly and effectively is to join forces with experts who have already gone through all the necessary stages many times, and who have a deep knowledge of what needs to be done at each stage.
Achieving a validated production process with metal additive manufacturing
Creating a part that takes advantage of the benefits of additive manufacturing is a project of its own, but what happens once a part is selected and optimized? Before production can take place, a manufacturer has to validate and qualify the production process. Many companies are familiar with what needs to happen using traditional manufacturing equipment, but are clueless when it comes to additive. Yet if it has been done before, it can be done again, and we’ve been doing this for over ten years at 3D Systems.
In fact, we produce hundreds of thousands of validated metal parts each year using our Direct Metal Printing (DMP) technology and have proven our processes time and again over the last decade and counting. We have developed effective qualification protocols and validation strategies for all stages, from process characterization and risk management, to best practices, and process controls.
We continue to fine-tune this process with each new application, and offer our experience and expertise to our customers through our Customer Innovation Centers (CICs). The team of engineers at our global facilities both manufacture parts and offer customer training and engineering services. This assistance takes whatever form you need it to, and can go from application development and prototype validation to designing a production workflow that we handle for you, or pass off through knowledge and technology transfer.
Embracing a new technology has its challenges, but the benefits you stand to gain by elevating your innovation and capability can transform the future of your business.