Additive manufacturing has become an increasingly popular methodology in recent years as businesses have strived for increased production efficiencies.

According to Mordor Intelligence, the additive manufacturing industry is expected to grow to $63.46 Billion by 2026 as innovation drives further adoption.

While historically, manufacturers have relied on various machining techniques to produce parts and components, some manufacturers have gone beyond this traditional production method. One of the primary technologies they adopted was additive manufacturing.

This form of manufacturing utilizes various techniques to create products by adding fine layers of material together, developing a 3D printed end product.

The process involves creating computer-aided design (CAD) to create a digital version of the desired product. Software forms cross-section layers of the product, providing the digital instructions for the machines to create 3D products out of the preferred material (thermoplastics, metals, ceramics, biochemicals, etc). For this reason, additive manufacturing is often referred to as 3D printing.

When the technology was first developed, less advanced forms of this technique were used to make one-off pieces to guide product development – a process known as rapid prototyping.

Both 3D printing and rapid prototyping technically fall under the umbrella of additive manufacturing and are simply different techniques that incorporate 3D printing technology in an industrial setting. Let’s look further into this form of product manufacturing.

Types of the additive manufacturing processes

Manufacturers have invested significantly in various additive manufacturing techniques over the years to make their products. These different forms of additive manufacturing include:

Material extrusion: Here, manufacturers run spools of a thermoplastic polymer through a heated nozzle. As the nozzle moves over the printing stage/surface, it extrudes molten polymer in layers along the path dictated by the CAD design and software. This method is commonly referred to as fused deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication (FFF) in additive manufacturing.

The layers dry as the nozzle precisely piles on more material, finally forming the required object or product. In some instances, the layers don’t rely on temperature control to adhere and dry; instead, the process might call for chemical bonding agents.

Powder bed fusion: This process encompasses several additive manufacturing techniques that make use of an intensely focused energy source directed into a bed of powdered material. Following the software instructions, the intense energy melts or sinters the material, forming a solid product.

Powder bed fusion techniques include electron beam melting (EBM), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective heat sintering (SHS), and selective laser sintering (SLS).

Binder jetting: This additive manufacturing process involves a printer head, powder material, and a liquid bonding agent. The printer moves over the powder layer, depositing the liquid bonding agent over the product position.

The platform/stage rises, another layer of powder is spread over it and the printer deposits more bonding agent. In the end, the final item lies solidly in the unused powder.

Direct energy deposition: DED uses a laser, electron beam, or plasma arc to melt and material as it is deposited onto the build stage. This is akin to welding material together to form a solid 3D object but on a more granular level.

Vat photopolymerization: This additive manufacturing process comprises stereolithography, digital light processing, and continuous digital light processing techniques. It entails exposing photopolymers to ultraviolet radiation to solidify them. The most common method of vat photopolymerization is stereolithography (SLA) which uses UV lasers to cure a liquid resin with.

Manufacturers utilize mirrors to selectively expose different parts of the photopolymer resin to cure successive layers, forming the desired 3D product.

Sheet lamination: This encompasses ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) and laminated object manufacturing (LOM). The former is a low-energy and low-temperature technique that utilizes ultrasonic welding to bond thin metal layers together to form an object.

The latter utilizes alternating paper and adhesive layers to create a tangible item, usually emphasizing aesthetics.

Advantages of additive manufacturing

Major manufacturing brands in various industries have taken up additive manufacturing in different spheres of production. This is because this item production type provides several benefits, differing significantly from traditional subtractive manufacturing. These advantages include:

Intricate product designs: Additive manufacturing techniques allow manufacturers to make intricate products easily. In the traditional setting, parts with complex designs would usually require manual assembly or other ways of binding parts together.

Additive manufacturing is an efficient way to produce complex 3D items in a single cycle run using any number of different materials.

Faster manufacturing time: Machining and other forms of manufacturing require various tools to make a relatively simple 3D product, making production time generally longer. On the other hand, additive manufacturing can create items in one run with a single printer, cutting down production time.

Furthermore, additive manufacturing requires a 3D CAD file to start the process, differing from traditional production, which requires extensive, time-intensive setup and fabrication of dies.

Reduced waste: The process of traditional machining removes a significant amount of material from the original, single piece to form the final product. However, additive manufacturing uses just enough material to create the object, resulting in very minimal waste.

Which fields use additive manufacturing techniques?

Operators across a variety of different manufacturing industries utilize additive manufacturing in various ways. For instance:

  • Medical device manufacturers use 3D printing to develop high variance products such as dental implants. Furthermore, computer-aided designs can be made for a specific patient, ensuring a more comfortable fit.

  • In the automotive industry, additive manufacturing techniques have gone beyond rapid prototyping and are now used to build strong, lightweight car parts. As a result, high-end cars can get lighter, stronger carbon fiber parts to improve performance.

  • The aerospace and defense industry also uses additive manufacturing for lightweight, strong parts. After all, planes and shuttles must withstand the excessive forces experienced during takeoff and flight, and the use of 3D printed, layered composite parts are a great solution for this specific use.

  • More common discrete manufacturers also use additive manufacturing techniques for faster product development and prototyping, reducing the time it takes to bring an item from minimal viable product to full production.

As discussed throughout this post, additive manufacturing is clearly a technology that provides significant benefits across different use cases depending on a manufacturer’s specific needs. Tulip works with a number of manufacturers that use our frontline operations platform to help track and manage the production of 3D printed items across print farms used by Formlabs and Original Equipment Manufacturers like Stratasys.

By leveraging a platform like Tulip, manufacturers using 3D printing technology can guide operators with digital workflows, connect and visualize data generated by 3D printers, track production statuses in real-time, and identify the sources of quality issues to drive continuous improvement.

If you’re interested in learning how Tulip can help your businesses improve your additive manufacturing processes, reach out to a member of our team today!

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