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What is Additive Manufacturing?

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    Organizations rarely take operational risks as it often means dipping their foot in unknown territory. As such, most traditional manufacturing companies have an established set of best practices. 

    Traditional manufacturing and supply chain processes are rigid. Time and again, we have seen the industry succumb to unforeseen challenges. For example, the global pandemic reiterated the need for flexibility for organizations to survive. Port traffic slows down or even halts supply chains as ships are unable to reach their destination.

    Now more than ever, manufacturing businesses have to adapt and implement new strategies to reach their customers (on time and on a budget). Additive manufacturing is one such development creating waves in the manufacturing industry.

    Additive Manufacturing Defined

    The word ‘additive’ refers to adding certain elements to improve something. Additive manufacturing is the use of 3D printing to create prototypes, end-use parts, and tools.

    It is cheaper and faster than rigid and expensive subtractive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing has the potential to boost agility while minimizing supply chain problems.

    The automation component reduces the need for specialized labor. 3D printers have evolved and produce quality output. In additive manufacturing, waste is minimal. You only build what you need.

    What are the Advantages of Additive Manufacturing?

    Accelerated Prototyping

    In comparison to traditional methods, additive manufacturing enables you to create different prototypes. This accelerates the product development phase and minimizes errors.

    Customization

    Additive manufacturing offers design flexibility with a space to create and modify freely. So you do not have to worry about cost and time. You can easily change the original specifications digitally. So, businesses can customize products using short production runs catering to specific requirements. 

    Energy Savings and Waste Reduction

    Traditional manufacturing operations often need tools that consume a lot of energy. With less tooling and few resources, additive manufacturing reduces energy consumption and raw material waste.

    Inventory Stock Reduction

    Surplus inventory is troublesome. You need warehousing to accommodate over-production. Unless you can get rid of them, unsold surplus goods need a place to stock them. 

    Additive manufacturing enables you to print components on demand. This is helpful to supply chains, driving significant inventory stock reduction.

    Production Flexibility

    One of the most beneficial aspects of additive manufacturing is the ability to switch products faster than usual. You can print small batches and add available components to your production process without doing everything from scratch.

    Instead of creating separate parts and combining them later, additive manufacturing helps manufacturers ease assembly.

    What are the Disadvantages of Additive Manufacturing?

    Cost of Entry

    The cost of entry to additive manufacturing may not be affordable to all organizations. This is especially true for small businesses with limited budgets, as equipment costs can be expensive.

    These companies have already invested capital into their traditional operations. So, the switch may not be swift for them.

    High Production Costs

    Additive manufacturing requires fine particles, increasing raw material costs. Furthermore, output surface quality can be inferior. 

    You might have to fine-tune the finished product to meet the established quality requirements. However, this approach will increase your production costs even further.

    Changing or Adding Materials

    As flexible as additive manufacturing can be, it has limitations. One such issue is the ability to only process certain material types–-usually a pre-alloy powder. 

    The mechanical property of the output depends on the powder. There is little flexibility as materials and properties should be set before production. Adding materials or optimizing properties in the latter stages will be hard.

    Is Additive Manufacturing Right For You?

    Any addition to existing infrastructure should happen after careful consideration, especially in the manufacturing industry. Additive manufacturing continues to evolve, and several sectors have joined the bandwagon. 

    Here are some of the sectors that benefit the most from additive manufacturing:

    • Aerospace: one of the early adopters as engineers can create complex designs and high-strength components with minimum weight.
    • Automotive: additive manufacturing expands innovative capacity with newer designs and can develop complex parts with high tolerance that can withstand harsh conditions.
    • Consumer products: can save design time, develop product iterations faster, and adjust requirements.
    • Construction: additive manufacturing reduces accidents due to poor design and helps create complex structures to strengthen infrastructure.
    • Sports and games: due to the high level of customization, additive manufacturing boosts this industry as they can manufacture personalized gears and equipment in exact measurements.

    Ask the following questions before integrating additive manufacturing into your business model. Discuss with management the benefits and downfalls.

    • Will flattening your supply chain benefit you and take you closer to the target market?
    • Can digital printing boost innovation and product development?
    • Can customization cater to your client’s changing needs?
    • Will adopting 3D-based production allow you to discover new business opportunities?
    • Will additive manufacturing help you minimize operations, decrease lead time, and increase efficiency?

    Additive manufacturing has something for everyone. Regardless of your business model, it might help to explore the benefits and opportunities provided by this innovative manufacturing process.

    At MMI, we have helped leading brands leverage our extensive network and sub-brands to overcome manufacturing and supply chain challenges. Our decades of experience will help you bring products to market on time both domestically and abroad.

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