Additive’s idiosyncrasies — producing functional parts

| Author / Editor: Peter Zelinski / Briggette Jaya

One of two illustrations of the effect of part orientation. The part below was produced by three different additive manufacturing suppliers. The components they delivered were all different, because each supplier chose to orient the part in a different way. At right, delicate features are produced with differing levels of success depending on their orientation with respect to the machine’s moving blade.
One of two illustrations of the effect of part orientation. The part below was produced by three different additive manufacturing suppliers. The components they delivered were all different, because each supplier chose to orient the part in a different way. At right, delicate features are produced with differing levels of success depending on their orientation with respect to the machine’s moving blade. (Source: Gardner)

USA – Additive manufacturing is not as easy as just hitting “print.” It demands attention to considerations that are characteristic of this process alone. Researchers describe some of the areas of attention that go into successfully producing functional additive parts. By Peter Zelinski

There is this photo I’ve seen from an organisation promoting additive manufacturing technology. Which organisation doesn’t matter, because various companies marketing the technology have created images like the one I am thinking of. What this particular image shows is an at-ease young person, possibly a young engineer, casually pulling an intricate finished part out of a 3D printer.

The photo is not necessarily false. However, it allows a certain false impression to stand. Namely, the impression that additive manufacturing is easy, that it is different from other manufacturing processes in being casually simple to use to obtain the part as intended.

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In fact, just the term “3D printing” is unfortunate in this respect. That term implies that direct digital part-making is somehow as seamless and as straightforward as using a document printer. To be blunt, it is not.

Yet saying this does not detract from additive manufacturing’s promise. Because of the design freedom it offers – plus its efficiency at low volumes, plus the opportunity it offers to consolidate assemblies, save material and reduce weight – additive manufacturing seems all but certain to take its place as an established, accepted option for part production. But like all other production options, additive manufacturing has part and process considerations all its own. It has engineering considerations all its own. It even offers plenty of room for failure, and the shops adopting additive manufacturing for metal parts in particular face a learning curve that is likely to be extensive.

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