Additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing

Subscribe to ABB Review

Turning data into three-dimensional physical objects to produce mass-customized products and characteristics.

Chau Hon Ho Corporate Research Baden-Dättwil, ­Switzerland, chau-hon.ho@ch.abb.com

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a process in which a digital model is sliced by the printer’s software into 2-dimensional layers and then turned into a set of instructions in machine language for the printer to execute, essentially turning data into a three-dimensional physical object by adding material one layer at a time. Compared with traditional subtractive (drilling or machining) or formative (injection molding) manufacturing technologies, 3D printing is a fundamentally different way of producing parts.

3D printing allows easy fabrication of complex shapes, many of which cannot be produced by any other manufacturing method. The technology also makes it possible to engineer customized product characteristics, such as optimized heat conductance or resistance, high strength or stiffness and even biocompatibility. Furthermore, materials can be filled with metal, ceramics, wood or graphene particles, or reinforced with carbon fibers. This results in parts with unique properties suitable for specific applications.

Low costs, rapid growth
The cost of a 3D printed part depends on the amount and type of material used (plastics, ceramics, metals), the printing process (polymerization, physical bonding, melting), the printing time, and the time required for post-processing →01. Other than these factors, the only cost associated with modifying an existing design is the time required to alter its digital 3D model. Thus, every item can be customized to meet specific customer needs without impacting the item’s manufacturing costs.

01 Although 3D printing is a relatively new technology, many advanced processes covering a wide range of materials are already available.
01 Although 3D printing is a relatively new technology, many advanced processes covering a wide range of materials are already available.
center

On the other hand, since unit price decreases only slightly at higher quantities, 3D printing cannot compete with traditional manufacturing processes when it comes to very large production runs →02. Economies of scale therefore do not really apply. Nevertheless, considering recent developments in the automation of 3D printing and the fact that some materials are becoming commoditized, the break-even point is steadily shifting to higher production runs.

02 3D printing is particularly cost competitive when prototypes or small batches are required.
02 3D printing is particularly cost competitive when prototypes or small batches are required.
center

Other factors that can be expected to impact 3D printing and reduce its costs are the development of fully integrated workflows and operations, and the application of artificial intelligence to generative designs, process optimization, quality prediction, and auto-correction during printing – factors that are likely to open the door to new business models.

Looking ahead
Spurred by faster printers, decreasing material costs, and demand for increasingly individualized products, adoption of 3D printing has already reached critical mass and is now becoming an accepted production technology. For example, the U.S. hearing aid industry converted to 99 percent additive manufacturing in less than 500 days in 2015.

Wohler’s Associates [1] expects that the global 3D printing industry is set to exceed $15 billion in revenue this year (2020), $24 billion by 2022, and $36 billion by 2024. 

Reference
[1] Wohlers Associates, “Wohlers Report 2019,” Available: https://wohlers­associates.com/2019report.htm [Accessed Nov. 28, 2019].

Links

Contact us

Downloads

Share this article

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter WhatsApp