The time for manufacturers to start exploring how 3D printing will affect their future has arrived, and those who incorporate it into their business processes now will be ahead of the curve.

“The business impact that this technology will have is going to be quite powerful; it has the potential to completely transform supply chains,” states Maximillian Eils, EOS North America’s Area Sales Manager. EOS is a current world leader in the additive manufacturing market with physical locations in 11 countries so far and 3,000 systems in production worldwide.  Of these systems, 49% are manufacturing with metal and the other 51% are polymer.

“This is non-traditional manufacturing,” explains John Liddington, Product Specialist Engineer – Additive Manufacturing and Metrology Equipment.

“With traditional manufacturing, everything is being removed (subtracted) from a piece of stock, but in additive, we are basically making a part out of dust. We are adding material to the part eliminating chips from the post cutting process.”

Photo Credit: EOS

The opportunities for manufacturers utilizing this technology are substantial.  Parts that could not be previously made on the traditional metal cutting machines are now able to be produced.  According to Eils, “Additive manufacturing allows engineers to come up with objects, geometries, or applications that could not be done before through traditional metal removal practices.  For instance, you can integrate cooling channels into tooling during printing.”

The additive approach also allows manufacturers to redesign their parts for material optimization. “This technology gives you the control and ability to alter the dynamic, fundamental make-up of the part without losing any of its functionality.  The end result will be the same part, with the same strength and same properties, but with significant material or weight reduction.” Liddington explains.

Furthermore, by revolutionizing the way manufacturers even think about making their parts, additive manufacturing allows for the printing of complex parts as one single piece, whereas traditional manufacturing requires it to be assembled from multiple parts by welding bracing them together.

A great example of this for the aerospace industry is the fuel nozzle for GE’s Leap jet engine. Each engine is comprised of 19 nozzles, with each nozzle previously comprised of 20 individually manufactured parts assembled together. However, through additive manufacturing, this fuel nozzle is now being printed as a single part essentially eliminating 361 parts. Additionally, the printed parts are five times stronger than those made through milling, welding, and other traditional subtractive manufacturing processes.

Manufacturers should consider parts that need to be specialized on a case-by-case basis. Where they were perhaps previously treated with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the part, there is now the capability for individual customization.  According to Liddington, “If you think about the medical world, instead of making something just work for a patient, they can take X-rays of that individual, measure precisely what they need, and print it to be exact for that one case.  It will fit perfectly for that individual, so you will have better quality and less pain for the patient.  It is absolutely phenomenal.”

Changing the mindset and approach to product development will be the biggest challenge to the industry, but as manufacturers become more familiar with the technology, the potential for the future is vast.  The question that is no longer in the distant future for manufacturing is: Are you ready for what additive manufacturing can do for your production?

To learn more, EOS will be presenting at the Grand Opening of our Aurora, Colorado office on May 23rd. The topic is ‘The Future of Additive Manufacturing (AM)’.

Written by: Heather Johnson – Organizational Development Specialist at Hartwig, Inc.

Expanded article published in CompanyWeek.