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Modern manufacturing is seeing the advantages of incorporating additive manufacturing processes with their traditional manufacturing techniques to reap the benefits of both. While additive processes (3D printing) can produce components quickly and with a level of complexity that is difficult to achieve with other methods, traditional processes offer precision and the opportunity to work with a range of materials.
The Advent of 3D Printing
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing, due to its process of adding thin layers at a time to create the finished product, which is the opposite way to many traditional manufacturing processes which are often subtractive.
The technology has rapidly taken off, as it has proven its use in creating complex products that are lighter and stronger and can be produced quickly. Many industries have already embraced additive processes, which is propelling growth in the sector. The 2019 Wohlers report estimates that by next year the industry for AM products and services worldwide will be worth $15.8 billion and that this number will swell to £35.6 billion by 2024.
Additive manufacturing represents another advancement in technology as the world switches from analog processes to digital ones. While not every industry is positioned to fully embrace it and let go of old ways, some are finding that performing a balancing act between old and new is most beneficial at this point.
Below we outline the benefits of combing traditional and additive manufacturing processes.
Prototyping vs Mass Production
It is beneficial to use traditional methods for prototyping products as it requires short production runs. However, bringing in 3D printing for mass production can help bring down costs and speed up production time, which can lead to a reduction in lead times.
For example, injection molding of prototypes of parts may be suitable in pre-production stages as color and texture can be easily replicated at low volumes. However, in moving to mass production, 3D printing may be favored to produce items faster and at a cheaper cost, meaning that end products can be priced more competitively as well as arriving on shelves faster.
CNC Machining and 3D Printing
In numerous cases, 3D printing can be brought in to complement CNC machining processes so that manufacturers can get the best of both worlds. For example, while 3D printers produce components rapidly and cheaply, they also succumb to heat and as a result, products can become distorted and spoiled when the machine becomes too hot.
CNC doesn’t have this problem; it can consistently produce identical products with confidence. Manufacturers are integrating both kinds of machines into their processes, using 3D printing where it is superior, and turning to CNC where it has the edge, enjoying the best of both worlds. Often 3D printers are relied on for creating the bulk of the product, where CNC is brought in to add the finishing touches.
Many modern automotive companies are integrating 3D printing with their traditional manufacturing methods. Volkswagen has been utilizing 3D printing where appropriate to complement its traditional manufacturing processes. They have recreated their 1962 Microbus through 3D printing many of the parts and then electroplating them to give the look and feel of metal parts.
Bentley has also taken the same route, recently the company pushed the boundaries of 3D printing by using it to create detailed and intricate components, such as the grille, side air vents, door handles, and exhausts. Bentley used these methods alongside their traditional methods for creating the rest of the vehicle, the benefit of combining the two here was that 3D printing resulted in producing far more intricate parts than had previously been possible.
A Future Look at Additive Manufacturing
The incorporation of 3D printing alongside traditional methods is changing the workplace. The benefits of using both methods are showing companies that they can have the best of both worlds, resulting in the highest quality products that can be produced quickly and cheaply. This is driving employees to increase their skill set to meet the demands of the evolving workplace.