What Is Additive Manufacturing?

What Is Additive Manufacturing?

Jun 9th 2023

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM), is an advanced manufacturing technology that has revolutionized the production of components with complex shapes in a multitude of industries.

Although this technology has been around since the 1980s, it’s only in the last decade that it has begun garnering more attention due to the increased need for flexibility in manufacturing. Read on to learn what the additive manufacturing process is and how your business can benefit from it.

How Additive Manufacturing Works

Additive manufacturing uses 3D printing to create intricate 3D objects. A 3D model is created first using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, which is then uploaded to the printer that physically prints out the object by depositing a raw material layer by layer. This is what additive manufacturing is in a nutshell.

The raw material, also known as feedstock, varies depending on the application. For example, aluminum and titanium powder are popular feedstock materials that are used in the aerospace industry for their light weight, high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance, and other such desirable properties.

Additive manufacturing techniques allow greater control over the shape and properties of the final product. That’s what separates it from traditional manufacturing, which relies on subtracting materials using machining to create the final product. Now that you know what the additive manufacturing process is, let’s discuss the different types of additive manufacturing techniques.

Types of Additive Manufacturing Techniques

3D printing is the broad term used whenever we talk about additive manufacturing processes. But there are in fact 7 types of AM processes that use different materials and methods of layering and have different applications. These are:

  1. Binder JettingBinder jetting uses a liquid binding material in addition to metal powder. Both are deposited in alternating layers to create a solid object.
  1. Powder Bed FusionPowder bed fusion utilizes several printing techniques, such as selective laser sintering (SLS), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), electron beam melting (EBM), and selective heat sintering (SHS) to create the solid object.
  1. Directed Energy Deposition - In direct energy deposition (DED), a laser or electron beam is used to melt and fuse the metal powder one layer at a time.
  1. Sheet Lamination - This technique involves binding the raw materials onto sheets of metal using processes like ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) and laminated object manufacturing (LOM).
  1. Material Extrusion — In this process, which is also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM), melted material is extruded through a nozzle to create the object in layers.
  1. Material Jetting — In this method, small droplets of the materials are jetted onto a build platform using a drop on demand (DOD) or continuous approach.
  1. VAT Photopolymerisation — This technique involves curing a liquid photopolymer in a vat layer by layer using a laser beam to create the 3D object. It utilizes processes like stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP).

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

With the additive manufacturing process comes many benefits. When compared with traditional manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing has many unique advantages that make it a more desirable production method for many industries:

  • It allows the creation of complex shapes in a single process with ease, which would otherwise be difficult to achieve with traditional machining techniques.
  • It is less time-consuming and more cost-effective to create unique, one-off products than traditional methods, which require specialized tooling or molds. Custom parts can be created without extensive preparation. 
  • There are no wasted materials contributing to higher overhead costs in additive manufacturing. What is left over can be recycled and used a few more times without loss in integrity. This is unlike conventional methods, where the waste is significantly higher.
  • Raw materials can be easily customized for specific properties like higher corrosion resistance, tensile strength, etc.
  • It’s fast and requires fewer machines and skilled labor. 3D models can be created in a matter of hours or days at most as opposed to traditional methods which consume more man hours.
  • Depending on what the additive manufacturing process is being used for, the parts can be produced anywhere without the need for production units in specialized locations. This reduces transportation costs as well.

Applications of Additive Manufacturing

A jet being serviced on the tarmac

Now that you’ve learned what additive manufacturing is, it’s no surprise that the aerospace industry was one of the first to adopt additive manufacturing for producing components. But since then, many industries have begun using this technology. Even footwear giants like Adidas and Nike are taking advantage of additive manufacturing to improve their shoes on a minute level. 

Other industries are also slowly adopting AM because of how useful it is for rapid prototyping, creating complex geometries, and customized part production. Some of them are:

  • Automotive
  • Aviation
  • Healthcare
  • Construction
  • Fashion & Jewelry
  • Education
  • Cryogenics
  • Food & Beverage
  • Art & Sculpture
  • Nuclear Power

A Game Changer for Your Business?

You’ve learned what the additive manufacturing process is and what its various advantages are. It has proven to be a game changer for many businesses in different industries, and there’s nothing stopping you from being one of them. 

Whether you’re an established business or a startup, it’s time to consider how you can use this technology to improve your production process and your products, and then begin exploring all the metal powder options at your disposal. 

If you’re ready to take your business to new heights with advanced manufacturing, feel free to reach out to us with any questions about materials.

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