Prototyping and Machining Challenges
In the machine shop, 3D printing technology opens up new levels of possibilities for design and prototyping. It allows users to choose from a variety of materials, including plastics, metals and alloys. While this sounds like a great opportunity to advance manufacturing, certain factors must be considered before traditional machining practices can be ruled out in favor of 3D printing.
In Total Manufacturing, every item must consider cost, time and quality, with quality being the highest and ultimate goal. Additive manufacturing is an ideal solution for some types of components, but not for all components. Prototyping lends itself to the capabilities of 3D printing, as designs can be evaluated, modified and tested in less time without the need for special tools or machine setups. The ability to change a design is easy, and in some cases, can be too easy to make the prototyping process too time-consuming and delaying.
Depending on the material and size, the final product produced by 3D printing may not have the structural integrity and perfection achieved by traditional machining processes. When secondary operations are required, the time and cost required may not favor the use of 3D printers. While printers are gaining the ability to make larger-sized parts, the cost of these machines also adds to the cost of the final product.
Design for manufacturability can also be a challenge when using 3D printing. In mass production runs, 3D printing is not a viable option compared to traditional manufacturing. 3D printing of prototypes must take into account the final production process during the design step.
If a component can be manufactured by 3D printing, but the same result cannot be achieved when the part goes into production, the project is a failure. That’s why designers and engineers must consider every aspect of a project.
Time is also a major challenge for 3D printing. At this point, the time and cost required to manufacture a part may not be sustainable for a complete manufacturing project. 3D printing is no substitute for precision machining centers and machinery that produce high-quality products in a timely manner.
As 3D printed products enter the mainstream market, regulatory issues also arise. Since each product can be different, manufacturers are not subject to any regulations. U.S. regulators responsible for products entering the market have difficulty figuring out how to test products and explaining what requirements manufacturers need to meet.
This is especially important for products used in safety-critical applications, where 3D products must prove that they are as safe as products manufactured through conventional manufacturing.
The testing and certification process for 3D printed products is still ongoing. Regulators are working to determine the behavior of products and materials over time and the consistency of quality. Manufacturing must find a way to monitor processes, materials and regulators.
3D printing is a valuable tool and integration with machine shops will become more common in the future. Taking full advantage of this technology will benefit designers and manufacturing engineers and be an invaluable resource for all manufacturers. Over time, learning and exploring the 3D printing process will help us overcome today’s challenges and continue to improve our manufacturing capabilities.