Production Additive Manufacturing Is Arriving

Real stories of 3D printing for full production
at AM's leading edge

3D printed levers manufactured by Additive Industries

3D printing is no longer limited to prototypes or even tooling. As this build volume from Additive Industries demonstrates, AM for scale production is here.

3D printing is no longer limited to prototypes or even tooling. As this build volume from Additive Industries demonstrates, AM for scale production is here.

The verb tense now has to change. In the past, the staff writers of AdditiveManufacturing.Media have described how additive manufacturing (AM) will find a place as an accepted production process. Now, it is accurate to say that AM is finding and assuming this place.

We have seen this in our reporting in the past year, through the visits we have made to one manufacturer after another now using 3D printing to make parts at their full production quantity.

It’s early. Not many manufacturers are realizing the full promise of AM in this way. For the ones who are, the frequent result is production that proceeds more gracefully and realizes different possibilities than what is possible in conventional production.

Here are some of their stories. Scroll down to read excerpts, click on the tabs above to navigate by industry, and click READ MORE on any item to read our full article. And be sure to subscribe, so you can keep on reading stories like these of how AM is advancing into production.

— Peter Zelinski, Editor in Chief


Mission Critical: An Additive Manufacturing Breakthrough in Commercial Aviation

By Brent Donaldson

The shockwaves of increased outbound travel from emerging markets such as China, not to mention India and the Middle East, are radiating across industries. But this projected surge impacts one industry above all: commercial aviation.

Boeing and Airbus, respectively the first and second largest aerospace manufacturing companies in the world, each project that the in-service fleet of passenger and freight aircraft will double over the next 20 years to roughly 40,000. Meeting this demand will require unprecedented manufacturing rates enabled by new technologies, materials and processes. As one leading aerospace technology development director recently said, status quo production methods would require simply doubling the number of factories in existence today. If that scenario comes to pass, the skilled labor shortage alone will ensure that production takes place largely outside of the United States or Europe.

Yet, one blueprint for industrialized next-generation aerospace manufacturing may already exist. Boeing’s new 777X twin-engine jet will be powered by the GE9X, a massive high-bypass turbofan engine that boasts 304 additively manufactured parts integrated into seven multi-part structures. While news about additive manufacturing’s contributions to the GE9X has been widely reported, GE Aviation has never identified the seven additively manufactured components in the engine. Until now.

Images: GE Aviation

GE9X engine
GE9X engine


Why GM’s Electric Future Is Also an Additive Future

By Brent Donaldson

On May 3 of last year, General Motors (GM) made an announcement that pierced the news cycle. The auto giant had entered into a “multi-year alliance” with the San Francisco Bay-area software company Autodesk, and engineers from each company had jointly created a proof-of-concept, 3D printed seat bracket that was 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the original part. On top of weight savings and strength, GM’s engineers — aided by Autodesk Fusion 360’s cloud-based generative design technology — consolidated what had been an eight-component assembly into a single piece.

For more than a century, weight reduction for automotive parts — when sought at all — has been an incremental process. Lightweighting a single part by 40% is unheard of. The same can be said for consolidating the bracket’s eight assembly components into one piece. Adding mileage to GM’s announcement was a photo of the seat bracket itself— a gracefully designed lean metal object with interconnected sweeping lattice structures. It’s a functional sculpture, aesthetically crossed between a robotic hip joint and Art Nouveau.

The 3D printed seat bracket is still a proof-of-concept part, likely to be tested first in high-end motorsports vehicles before it winds up in GM’s consumer fleet. But between the lines of GM’s press release there is another story, and it foretells changes coming to the industry very soon that are very large. While each of the Big Three automakers races toward an all-electric future where generative design and additive manufacturing dominate, General Motors is betting that victory is achieved not only through faster printers, but through a reimagined digital workflow. The bet that General Motors seems to be making is that, by the time its engineers perfect a new process flow between generative design, setup for additive manufacturing and simulation testing, the value proposition and throughput capacity for metal AM will enable mass production.

Images: Autodesk

If GM is right, this is how the internal combustion engine ends. Not with a bang, but with 150 AI-fueled design iterations of a 3D printed seat bracket.

3D printed GM seat bracket
3D printed GM seat bracket design iterations created with Autodesk software

Images: Autodesk

Images: Autodesk


Niche Manufacturer Discovers How Additive and Amazon Go Together

By Peter Zelinski

Additive manufacturing (AM) is well understood as a design enabler. It allows for design options and design modifications that would be impractical to realize with any other manufacturing method. But AM is potentially just as promising as a marketing enabler, offering consumer product makers a go-to-market strategy that couldn’t be cost-effective any other way.

At least, that is the promise Trevor deVos sees. His Oregon-based startup is Defox LLC. This company’s first product is the Periscope Case, an aid to remote filming with a smartphone. The case is (fittingly) a test case. Not only is it a niche product manufactured via 3D printing, it’s also the pioneer product in a new model for profitably marketing other items with niche appeal.

Images: DeFox

And deVos says it all began with fear of spiders.

periscope phone cases made with Multi Jet Fusion polymer 3D printing
The 3D-printed Periscope case with mirror installed

Images: DeFox

Images: DeFox


Incodema3D Reaches the Tipping Point for Production Additive Manufacturing

By Stephanie Hendrixson

Inside an EOS M280 in Ithaca, New York, a build cycle is about to end. Soon, a build plate containing 55 identical Inconel 625 parts will emerge. These parts — made for a defense application — will join others, traveling on to stress relief, cut off and finishing. Within sight of the 3D printer, four lathes are already at work, busy turning each cylindrical piece to tap the threads on both ends. Five thousand of these parts will be 3D printed and shipped from this facility in the next month, and for each of many months to come.

For Sean Whittaker, president and CEO of Incodema3D and its three sister companies, this job is a tipping point. For more than seven years now, the Incodema Group has been moving toward production AM, first incorporating metal 3D printing as part of its core sheet metal business in 2012 and later breaking Incodema3D off into its own AM-based enterprise in 2014.

After years of process development and piecemeal production, this new job is the company's first continuous flow production job to be manufactured with metal AM. This is the new reality at Incodema3D. This is what production additive manufacturing looks like.

EOS metal 3D printers installed at Incodema3D in Ithaca, New York


3DEO’s Strategy to Perfect and Scale Metal AM

By Stephanie Hendrixson

The central driver behind 3DEO is this: “a maniacal focus on making parts,” says Matt Sand, company president. The Gardena, California, startup is beginning to ramp up production, turning out thousands of metal 3D printed parts per month. But 3DEO isn’t just an AM user. The company is also a technology developer, having created its own printer, software and process all for the purpose of volume production.

Image: 3DEO

“Metal serial production is the holy grail,” says Matt Petros, chief executive officer. “We intend to deliver hundreds of thousands of parts, creating additive technology at scale.” 

Specifically, 3DEO’s interest is in making small, repeatable parts, and its powder-based 3D printing process is targeted to that goal. With it, the company is finding itself competing with conventional processes like CNC machining and metal injection molding (MIM). Its competitive edge is not lightweighting, internal complexity or other stereotypical AM benefits, but instead cost and quality.

3D printed metal parts made with 3DEO's Intelligent Layering process
3D printed metal parts made with 3DEO's Intelligent Layering process

Image: 3DEO

Image: 3DEO


Injection Mold or 3D Print? How Resolution Medical Pivots Production

By Stephanie Hendrixson

“The cost per 3D-printed part is almost always going to be more expensive than molding for us,” says Shawn Patterson. “But it comes without the cost of tooling — including its long lead times, maintenance and costly mold changes. When the material for the project is a match, that’s a win for 3D printing.”

Patterson is founder and president of Resolution Medical, a Minnesota manufacturer that is seeing those wins for 3D printing play out right now. The company recently invested in three Carbon printers at its Minneapolis facility. Its second printer had only just arrived when I visited in December 2018, but the company was already using these machines for production work that otherwise would have gone straight to its injection molding presses. Those presses won’t be leaving the shop floor any time soon, but the company can now provide 3D printing as another production option for its customers.

What will production additive manufacturing (AM) mean for Resolution Medical? Faster time to market for new products. Easier design changes to existing ones. Economic viability for smaller batch sizes. And, perhaps surprisingly, the process control necessary for manufacturing medical devices.

Resolution Medical cleanroom
Engineer at Resolution Medical removing parts from