Who benefits from the move to additive manufacturing (AM)? That is, within a manufacturing enterprise, what discipline or department ought to own and understand this move, because this group has the most to gain from it?
It is an important question. For the company thinking about transitioning part of its production to AM and wondering about the potential promise this transition might bring, this question is arguably the most important one to answer correctly. Proceeding with the wrong answer can doom the adoption of additive even in an organization poised to benefit from it. The wrong advocate won’t be able to find and make the proper case for the technology.
The chief executive must be the one to own and understand the move to additive. The chief executive must be the one to evaluate whether to make this move. The benefits are too various for any other role to lead the evaluation. Stakeholders throughout the process stand to gain from additive in different ways. Meanwhile, the challenges of making the shift to additive are spread all through the organization.
In short, despite its name, additive manufacturing is not really a manufacturing strategy. Additive manufacturing is an enterprise strategy, and only the role that has a broad perspective over the enterprise is in a strong position to integrate all the benefits that might come, as well as all the ways different parts of the enterprise might have to change.
Glynn Fletcher has seen this. The North American president for additive manufacturing technology supplier EOS has seen cases in which additive has failed to win adoption for lack of such a champion. Before joining EOS, Fletcher’s career was in the machine tool industry. Selling machine tools is more straightforward, he notes, because the buyer and user of machine tools in any organization are well known. What role the machine tools play is well established. But an additive manufacturing machine is not a machine tool. In the way it creates an intricate form from scratch that might consolidate what would otherwise be many separate components, an additive manufacturing machine is essentially a supply chain in a box. It thus requires out-of-the box thinking in terms of how the organization might adapt to realize its promise.
Fletcher says he has so far seen only one prospective user of AM fully and deliberately evaluate the technology in a comprehensive fashion. A member of the executive leadership of a well-known large company is advancing toward the adoption of additive manufacturing this way:
First, this executive brought members of the design engineering team to meet with EOS so these designers could understand their opportunities with the technology. Then, he brought in manufacturing, for an entirely different conversation. The supply chain and logistics team will also have their own conversation around additive. And so on.
Ultimately, there will be five different comprehensive meetings focused on five different ways to understand additive manufacturing from the perspectives of five different disciplines within the enterprise. That means a lot of meetings, a lot of talk for the machine supplier, but even so, Fletcher says, “It should always go this way.”
It doesn’t. And he says the reason it doesn’t is because manufacturers are used to part-making equipment that settles into familiar roles, behaving like machine tools. Manufacturers begin the journey toward additive with faulty expectations as to where the journey might lead, and narrow expectations about where the benefits might be realized. This view misses the applications for additive in which significant savings can be realized in various areas of the enterprise at once, and where the tally of those savings is great enough to be transformative. All that is needed is for someone to recognize the sum.
What follows, then, are the different components that might tally to that sum. Here are the five different avenues of transformation (Design, Production, Operations, Accounting and Image) that this one technology, additive manufacturing, might bring to different parts of the organization.
Cut Cost Without Regard to
This is AM’s cliché: Complexity is free. “We say that a lot—‘complexity is free’—but it really is the thing,” Fletcher says. The most powerful aspect of additive manufacturing for the designer is the freedom to create a complex form—an organic form, a latticed form for weight or material savings, a form with elaborate internal passages, or a single complex form taking the place of what would otherwise be an assembly.
Except, with additive, it is not just that complexity is free. More fundamentally, freedom is free. Design engineers using AM have the freedom to refine, tweak and streamline a new design in nearly every way they can imagine in pursuit of a lower-cost and better-performing product. Other manufacturing processes do not offer this same freedom.
Fletcher says, “Almost any design engineer other than those educated very recently would have had the concept of ‘design for manufacturability’ drilled in.” The capabilities of manufacturing processes have provided the limiting factors for design, and it has fallen to designers to be mindful of manufacturing’s limitations. The most common complaint of manufacturers about designers is failure to respect those constraints. Now, additive manufacturing breaks this set of limitations. It is the first manufacturing process imposing so few limitations related to part geometry.
“Rather than design for manufacturability, additive permits design for functionality,” he says. This is the dramatic change, a change many in manufacturing still struggle to comprehend.
Additive manufacturing permits design for functionality, as in the case of this generatively designed and 3D-printed GM seat bracket. Designing the part via mathematical iteration based on the part’s assembly points and load requirements produced a form offering both 40 percent less mass and 20 percent greater strength compared to the original, conventionally manufactured bracket.
The example pictured here—a generatively designed GM seat bracket—illustrates how this shift might play out. The bracket's elaborate form was refined to reduce weight and consolidate eight separate components into a single 3D-printed piece. How many iterations did designers need to get to this nearly optimal form? They generated 150 options, settling on one with the right combination of light weight and manufacturability.
By contrast, in the past, this exercise would never have been done. A few iterations alone would have brought the design to the point at which the limitations of molding, machining, assembly or some other step would have allowed no further change. Further improvement to the form would simply have added cost by making some manufacturing step too difficult. Thus, the constraints of manufacturing would have determined the design, locking in the limits of performance and the extent of its cost.
But if the design engineer lives within an enterprise employing additive, and therefore knows the component might be made additively, then she is free to spend additional effort tweaking and perfecting the form for minimal material use, minimal weight and minimal manufacturing labor. One more day or two of this designer’s time can bring savings that keep coming for as long as the part is produced. Additive empowers the design engineer to realize as much cost saving as possible before manufacturing begins.
Automated Industrial 3D Printing :
The new era has begun
Automotive and aerospace firms partner with EOS to further industrialize additive manufacturing
In partnership with aerospace supplier Premium AEROTEC and automotive manufacturer Daimler, EOS is integrating the additive manufacturing process into an automated production line. The cell includes EOS four-laser machines in combination with an automated system that moves parts and materials among the AM units as well as other machines for postprocessing and quality assurance. As a result, structurally robust, complex and lightweight components can be manufactured profitably at high production levels.
Metal Additive Manufacturing Systems and Solutions
EOS offers a comprehensive portfolio of systems, materials, software and services for all process steps of metal additive manufacturing
EOS can help with virtually every aspect of building an efficient and productive metal additive manufacturing infrastructure. Products and services include:
- Systems & Solutions – The primary AM equipment
- Materials – Extensive selection of quality-tested materials for direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
- Materials Management – Solutions for conveying and sieving metal powders
- EOS Part Property Management – Standardized processes for part features that get you into production more quickly
- Quality Assurance – Established standards for best quality results in process, system and materials
Plastics 3D Printing Systems and Solutions
What makes EOS polymer technology outstanding?
EOS offers modular 3D printing solutions for industrial applications. With proven equipment, processes and materials, EOS can help assure economical production of prototypes and production parts with these services:
- Systems for Plastic Additive Manufacturing – A range of equipment for prototyping and production
- Materials – polyamides (PA), polystyrenes (PS), thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) and polyaryletherketones (PAEK)
- Materials Management – Solutions for more flexible and efficient material management
- LaserProFusion – A revolutionary polymer 3D printing process alternative to injection molding
- EOS Part Property Management – Standardized processes for part features that get you into production more quickly
Manufacture Close to the Customer
Instead of in One Place
Conventional manufacturing has a big footprint. We don’t question this because until now there has not been any other way. But why is the footprint of manufacturing so big?
It is big because there are many steps. For example, the foundry needs its space. Machining needs its space. Assembly needs its space. And making the tooling for each of these steps is another step in itself that also needs its space. The supply chain accounting for all of this can only cover multiple companies and multiple sites. The supply chain performing these steps can only sprawl.
And the complexity of all this argues for production at large scale, which frequently leads to production in faraway places. The supply chain accounting for the steps listed is sufficiently complicated that when an interlinked set of suppliers proves capable of doing it all well, the reasonable choice is to leverage this proven system by letting it do more rather than trying to pioneer the same complexity with some different set of teams and facilities elsewhere. If a subcontractor overseas can do much of the work inexpensively and deliver good work to the tier-two supplier taking the next step, then let this system continue!
But additive takes away much of the sprawl, and therefore takes away the consequences of the sprawl. A given component made additively does not need a foundry, needs much less machining and might avoid considerable assembly. In other words, all these different steps occur inside of one machine, and inside of that one machine’s compact footprint.
AM has a small footprint, allowing a single machine to take the place of many steps in the supply chain. Engineering and manufacturing firm Roush, a company with origins in the racing industry, 3D printed this aluminum cylinder head. In performance testing, the AM head demonstrated capability and durability equivalent to the conventional head made from casting.
The savings go farther still. AM needs no tooling, so tooling does not have to be made and stored, and the lack of any investment in dedicated tooling makes short production runs and/or mass-customization of the product a much more cost-effective choice.
This small-footprint manufacturing, this manufacturing without sprawl, this supply chain compacted nearly into a single machine—all of this has implications for shipping and logistics. There is potentially far less shipping required as a component cost of manufacturing. But it also has implications for the even more basic matter of where manufacturing occurs. Manufacturing does not have to happen in the locations we associate with industry today. The simplicity of a process based on additive makes it so easy to replicate in other locations that Fletcher says, “If you can get power and employees to any location, it is now reasonable to say you can manufacture there.”
Thus, small manufacturing locations can locate near the markets they serve, cutting shipping cost even further. The only part-specific resources needed to equip these many dispersed manufacturing sites in a single organization are the digital files for the parts these various small sites will produce.
Where Lean Was Aiming to Go
Given the complexity of the standard supply chain connecting various conventional manufacturing steps, “The operations manager today has a pretty complicated life,” Fletcher says. His job entails marshaling complexity, and nearly all his efforts toward making his job more manageable have to do with trying to reduce that complexity.
Fletcher says, “He probably got where he did today by embracing and pursuing concepts such as cellular manufacturing, Kanban, lean.” All are attempts to de-complicate, he notes. All are moves in the direction of what additive manufacturing realizes.
With additive, “preprocessing and postprocessing still exist,” so manufacturing remains a sequence of steps. However, “additive makes the actual processing dramatically easier,” he says. Billet does not have to be sent through a series of machining steps, with the machined part then subject to a series of assembly steps. All the work these steps represent is performed in one operation in one place.
Automation systems manufacturer Kuhn-Stoff redesigned a pneumatic gripper to make it simpler and lighter-weight without affecting its strength. The previous system included aluminum components, fasteners and tubing—21 pieces total. Consolidating these elements into 3D-printed components allowed for a new design consisting of only two pieces.
The savings are numerous when this is achieved, and they are savings in areas the operations manager is painfully aware of. With additive, there is less handling, less work-in-process and less inventory. Moreover, there are fewer human actions to optimize because there are fewer human steps involved.
If the aim of lean is the elimination of non-value-added steps, then additive potentially accomplishes the aim of lean more effectively than a reordering of the plant layout without changing manufacturing steps. And if the aim of cellular manufacturing is consolidating component making and assembly steps for a product into a single space, then additive manufacturing might achieve the aim of cellular manufacturing more effectively than any cell.
Justify a Product at Small Production Volumes
In much the same way that the physical reality of conventional manufacturing is sprawl, the fiscal reality of conventional manufacturing is amortization. Almost any launch of a new product demands a significant upfront cost before manufacturing can begin. For example, molds or dies are needed. This upfront cost is manageable if the production volume is very high, which is why “production” frequently implies high volume. Quantities that are large enough to amortize upfront costs are part of the air that manufacturing breathes.
“Capital intensity” is another way of talking about this. Conventional manufacturing is capital-intensive because the existing capital (machines) generally must be supplemented with new capital (tooling) that is custom to the job. But with additive manufacturing, there is only the existing capital. The existing additive machines are sufficient to begin work on altogether new production without any special new hardware required.
The effect is that production at much smaller volumes becomes cost-effective. This advantage is particularly valuable when launching a new product. The low capital intensity of AM means a product made this way can be launched profitably at fewer units and with fewer initial sales. Imagine the launch of product such as an autonomous vehicle, for example. With conventional manufacturing, perhaps one million cars per year might need to be sold to cover costs. With additive and its lack of up-front costs, Fletcher says, the comparable number might be 20,000 per year.
Tooling is not the only reason for these savings, he says. Other sources of capital savings include reduced floor space because of consolidation of operations (that is, what used to be casting, machining and assembly now performed by a single additive build) plus reduced work-in-process because of that consolidation and reduced inventory because of the freedom to produce small quantities instead of large. The reduced inventory extends to aftermarket parts as well, since additive makes it easy to produce these parts as they are needed.
The example of launching an autonomous vehicle is fitting, he notes. Additive is easiest to justify when there is a new, clean-sheet product for which no previous manufacturing investment exists. When applied to an existing product in which additive manufacturing runs within a facility already full of machining centers or injection molding machines, the costs of those existing machines running in parallel complicate the justification. Because of this point, the readiest adopters of additive today tend to be in these clean-sheet spaces, which include advanced mobility in automotive, space commercialization in aerospace and bespoke implants in medical. Whenever a product is so new for the producer that there is no existing facility or production line to make it, this is an opportunity to commit to AM from the outset.
Pictured: AM's lack of tooling can justify production at small volumes, as in the case of these metal heat sinks for automotive LED headlines. Contract manufacturer Progressive Technology and AM data processing technology specialist Betatype developed a process able to produce 384 of these parts within a single build. Optimization of the laser path helped to reduce total build time to under 30 hours, resulting in a cost per part of less than $4.
Manufacture in a Way That Is
Consistent with Values
This final area of benefit might seem like a small consideration to some. But for the company with a large public profile, it is a meaningful benefit indeed. Manufacturing in a way that is demonstrably conservative of the natural environment and consumable resources, and consistent with stated company principles valuing these things, is another area of positive impact from AM that stands comparably alongside the other areas of savings.
Additive manufacturing is inherently a low-carbon-footprint approach to production, Fletcher says. This is not just because of all the different conventional manufacturing operations potentially consolidated into one. It is also the result of all the transport that no longer has to happen once these steps are merged. That is, if there are no longer separate facilities performing casting, machining and assembly, then there is no longer a need to ship material between them. Among other things, additive manufacturing is a replacement for trucks.
AM is an inherently low-carbon-footprint approach to manufacturing, lending itself to environmental benefits. Airbus's study comparing a cast steel aircraft nacelle hinge bracket with a topology-optimized design 3D printed in titanium measured the differences in resource use and environmental impact. Among the savings: Making the additive part required 75 percent less material, and the part's lighter weight translates to a 40-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions associated with this part over its useful life.
That AM is a low-energy process might initially seem questionable. After all, metal is changing from solid to liquid. However, the unit energy required for the additive layering process involving melting is less than the unit energy required to shear away solid metal through a mechanical cutting action. Added to this are all the energy savings from the manufacturing steps that no longer have to be performed.
Additive is also characterized by less material use, a savings realized because of the design freedoms. Less material is designed into the part from the outset, and the near-net-shape realization of the part’s designed form means less material is lost to scrap.
Finally, many of these same benefits are paid forward, because they can be extended to the AM user’s customers. A production process that is founded on AM enables the company’s designers to achieve manufactured products that are lighter-weight, more energy-efficient and more resource-efficient than ever before. That is, not only is AM more environmentally friendly, but the products it makes are measurably so as well. Thus, additive manufacturing becomes a means of helping the companies doing business with the AM user, and even the customers of those companies, to live in line with their own aspirational values.
Written by Peter Zelinski
Produced by Stephanie Hendrixson