The increase in adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies across all sectors is continually pushing innovation, not least in manufacturing. 3D printing is utilised within manufacturing environments to create more personalised products, increase production efficiencies, minimise machine downtime and even increase the performance of manufactured parts. Shorter development times and increased design flexibility when using additive manufacturing allow companies to remain competitive in a constantly developing field.

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A Selection of 3D printing applications in Manufacturing

Tooling & Fixtures

There has been a huge increase in the use of additive manufacturing as a complement to other traditional methods within manufacturing environments. Industrial 3D printers can produce parts with the required strength, accuracy, repeatability and surface finish that are tough enough to be integrated into manufacturing processes. These printed parts are used as tools, jigs, fixtures and gauges to assist everyday manufacturing operations. The low cost and shorter lead times provided by additive manufacturing combined with the high strength and precision of industrial grade parts means machinists can free up valuable machine bandwidth.

Product Development

There is a significant decrease in the timescales involved in new product development when utilising additive manufacturing tools and techniques – there is more opportunity for multiple iterations to be produced and validated throughout the process which creates better overall solutions. A reduced requirement for up-front capital investment in expensive tooling coupled with increased design flexibility makes 3D printing an incredibly useful tool for product development.

Rapid Prototyping

3D printing has long been used to produce visual prototypes for a wide range of applications. Functional prototypes can also now be produced as the quality and strength characteristics of printed parts has increased massively in recent years.

“Just-in-Time” Production

The increased quality and reliability of 3D printers has enabled manufacturers to produce certain parts as ‘make to order’ – avoiding reliance on supply chain management and enabling companies to respond more quickly to market demands.

Short-run Manufacturing

Traditionally, with methods such as injection moulding, there is a requirement for production of large quantities of units before the process is cost effective. This is due to the large up-front investment required to produce tooling and the lengthy timescales involved. 3D printing has made short run manufacture far more feasible and allows for much greater flexibility as changes to the design, even halfway through a production run, have little effect on the process. Design changes that could have taken months to implement with traditional manufacturing methods can be made in hours.