While it’s well-known that 3D printing can save cost and time, it’s important to note that there are means to make the whole workflow process of 3D printing more cost efficient and effective.
Poor Workflows and Processes
Today, some technicians might simply work from an Excel spreadsheet that lays out job orders and workflows. Such a method is somewhat archaic and rather inefficient.
New products such as GrabCAD Shop are new tools available to 3D printers that simplify the workflow for engineers, designers and shop operators. It’s a means to best manage work orders and bring solutions into reality for 3D printing shops without much confusion and delay.
3D printing however has been known as a means of reducing costs simply by the fact that material is additive rather than subtractive, and therefore has much less waste.
In addition, the parts can be highly engineered and customized for a specific application. Fabrication may take place continuously and therefore the total cycle time of production is usually greatly reduced.
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The ExOne Company is an example of a firm who’s been able to employ 3D printers using high speed binder jetting technology. They most recently launched an online estimating tool for companies considering moving their ordinary fabrication of metal parts to high-speed binder jet 3D printing.
Because cost incorporates not only the materials but the time that it takes, they built an estimating tool that was somewhat advantageous and allowed manufacturers to estimate a per part cost using binder jet 3D printing to fabricate precise metal parts.
Using their software, they’re able to quickly compare the technology to an alternate means of manufacturing that might be traditional plain subtractive manufacturing, or even additive manufacturing.
Other means of costs and cost reductions are emerging from research being conducted at the university level. For example, researchers at USC Viterbi School of Engineering, within their department of industrial and systems engineering, are working on a low-cost reusable support method that enables the reduction of 3D printers to print certain parts within a design and production iteration.
Whenever a 3D printer produces customized objects or forms- especially if such forms and products are very unusually shaped, it needs to print supports that serve as stands that balance the object as the printer applies layer on top of layer. Such supports help maintain its shape and integrity. These supports must be manually removed after printing. By manually removing them, it requires extra effort in hand finishing that can result in some inaccuracies and sometimes some roughness where the supports stood. The materials that those supports are made from cannot be reused so they’re just simply discarded and accounted for as printed waste material. Now at USC, they’re finding methodologies to reduce the need for such wasteful supports. Their efforts are greatly improving the cost effectiveness and sustainability of 3D printing.
Traditional 3D printing has used fused deposition modeling, where it prints layer by layer directly onto a static metal surface. What the researchers have done is they’ve created a prototype that uses programmable dynamically controlled surface made of moveable metal pins, which replaces the printed supports. The pins rise as the printer builds the product. Because the pins are used as needed and are used in place of the supports, the wastefulness of the supports is eliminated, and the overall printing process becomes much more efficient.
Focusing More on Cost to Become Most Efficient
3D printing already is saving costs in the fabrication of many large scale costly and time-consuming parts such as wind turbine blades. In addition, new software is being developed that helps engineers and designers accurately estimate and cost compare 3D printing methodologies with traditional manufacturing methods.
It’s also allowing workflows to be most efficient so that time and materials are not wasted due to haphazard and unorganized workflows. In addition to all of this, engineers and researchers at many different institutions are finding different ways of improving the fabrication process to reduce the waste of an already lean process and further boost the viability of 3D printing as an attractive means of printing and fabricating physical objects in many different unique environments and applications.
In the future, we can expect 3D printing and additive manufacturing to be one of the most cost-effective means of fabricating high performing products with highly engineered materials, at a minimal cost and with the shortest cycle times and waste allowance.