When a new technology is developed, there’s a lot to learn. How will it impact lives, industries, even the world?
One such technology is Additive Manufacturing, but you’ve heard of it as:
This game-changing technology has sparked the interest of people far beyond the manufacturing industry who may be hearing about it for the first time. Within manufacturing, however, it’s a different story. The concept has been around for quite some time. Industry leaders have been pressured to understand the purpose and function of 3D printing, and the role it will play in the future of manufacturing.
How It All Started
The development of 3D printing dates back to 1984, when Chuck Hull developed the process of stereolithography. This process relied on curing layers of photopolymers using UV lasers. While the name didn’t quite stick, the file type he developed, known as a stereolithography file (STL), is still the type most accepted by modern 3D printers.
At first, advancements in 3D printing were slow. Rather than making an object by adding one layer at a time, manufacturers were more comfortable removing layers – similar to a sculptor chiseling a statue out of a block of marble. By the early 2000s, however, attitudes changed. The additive process matured to the point where adding layers became the more common process.
By the 2010s, 3D printing popularity took off. Manufacturers were attracted to the idea of creating full metal pieces, like large nuts and engine brackets, using 3D printers rather than by standard machining.
What Exactly Is It?
Additive manufacturing is the process of making a three-dimensional object by adding one layer at a time of a material, like thin plastic filament or a powdered metal. The 3D printer follows the design programmed into the printer via a software program.
CHECK THIS OUT: Let’s say you need to create a cube out of nothing but paper. If you lay down one sheet of paper, you would have nothing but a thin sheet of paper. But if you continue to layer one sheet onto another, those layers would eventually create an object – a cube – out of paper. After layering 2,000 sheets into a stack, you would form a perfect cube. With 3D printing, however, you can create much more intricate designs, but the layering concept is the same.
How Does It Work?
Similar to conventional manufacturing techniques, 3D printing is a multi-step process that moves from virtual art to physical part.
1. Virtual Design
First, a virtual design is made in a computer-aided design (CAD) file. In some cases, a 3D scanner can be used to scan an existing object and create a file. Next, the software “slices” the digital model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers, and this file is uploaded to the 3D printer.
2. Machine Setup
Prior to production, 3D printing instrumentation is set up and adjusted for the design. This involves parameters such as material constraints (like powder specifications), layer thickness, printing velocity, energy input, etc.
3. Printing Layer by Layer
The 3D printer begins to print in thin layers that will eventually create the final component. A variety of different additives can be used to print each layer. This gives those with ingenuity in the powders business a definite edge when 3D printing with powders because the material for the layers can be changed to achieve desired results.
When printing is complete, the object is carefully removed from the printer and undergoes post-processing, such as heat treatments, clean up, and surface finishing.
The finished part is now ready for the application.
What Does This Mean for the Future?
Advances in 3D printing will have a wide-ranging effect on the manufacturing industry.
More products can be manufactured closer to the consumer, reducing or eliminating shipping costs. Imagine car dealerships that are capable of printing smaller parts onsite, rather than ordering them. By changing where manufacturing happens, 3D printing can change how the industry operates.
This overview is like the first layer in the 3D printing process: there’s much more to come to see the whole picture. This new innovation will offer many opportunities to the manufacturing industry and beyond. At Kennametal, our Innovation Ventures Group is excited to be part of the journey!
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What you would create if you had a 3D printer in your garage? Are you using 3D printing now, and if so, how? Share your comments below!