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Since its commercialization in the late twentieth century, additive manufacturing has transformed the manufacturing industry. Metal AM and numerous applications of the process are progressing to the forefront of manufacturing. The release of new machines with open material platforms and faster printing speeds has resulted in a spike in sales of Metal AM systems.
By 2024, the segment is expected to generate nearly $4 billion in revenue. As metal additive manufacturing proceeds, it's essential to understand the benefits of the process and how its application areas are changing the face of Small and Medium Enterprises.
Background of Metal Additive Manufacturing
The additive manufacturing process had its origins in the mid-1980s when methods for faster product development were introduced. This process, known initially as rapid prototyping, produced dimensional models to create faster prototypes to test the model's suitability and operation.
Stereolithography (SLA), a new plastic processing technique, became commercialized in 1987, becoming the first patent in additive manufacturing. Manufacturers could use SLA to laser-solidify UV light-sensitive liquid polymers, producing 3-D models faster than ever before. This breakthrough in additive processes provided engineers, designers, and manufacturers with new opportunities to create products more efficiently than before.
Other polymer-based additive manufacturing processes became commercially available in the early 1990s. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which uses a laser to fuse powder materials into solids, became accessible in 1992. Metal additive manufacturing was patented and made available to the public. This technology allowed for the rapid production of metal products, tools, and prototypes. The advent of metal additive manufacturing processes enabled the production of metal parts by sintering the metal powder. Materials with low melting points could now be coupled with high resistance metals like stainless steel.
Metal Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Techniques
The additive manufacturing process creates objects by layering material, such as metal, plastic, or ceramics. Traditional methods of creating things such as machining, cutting, turning, shaping, milling, and other "subtractive" manufacturing processes can be supplemented and, in some cases, replaced by additive manufacturing.
A design is created using CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software or by scanning the object printed to make an object using additive manufacturing. The software can convert the scan into a precise framework for the 3D printer to follow layer by layer.
Metal additive manufacturing, also known as metal 3D printing, is a form of additive manufacturing that uses only metals. Precision objects can be designed and built by layering metal powders with either an energy source or a binding agent. Things that could not have been created even a few years ago can now be manufactured with new strength and standards using various materials thanks to advancements in additive manufacturing machines.
Metal powders are becoming increasingly available for use in additive manufacturing techniques. Stainless steel grades, nickel, cobalt-chrome, titanium alloys, and aluminium are the most common metal materials.
The Importance of Metal Additive Manufacturing for Small and Medium Enterprise
When it comes to new technologies, SMEs are sometimes left behind. Many SMEs do not invest in technology advancements such as metal additive manufacturing due to budget constraints or aversion to risk. Furthermore, they are frequently scared off by complexity. One advantage of metal additive manufacturing is creating functional prototypes in less time, allowing you to iterate on design alternatives more quickly during development.
Additive manufacturing can be used to improve and enhance existing things. Adopting additive techniques rather than traditional ones speeds up this process, allowing your products to hit the stores faster.
Other advantages include the capacity to reduce waste – which is critical for people who work with expensive materials, such as jewellers – and the ability to customize without having to retool.
The trend, which is derived from the welding industry, is viewed as a potential outcome. Steel and stainless-steel alloys, as well as pure metals like titanium, tungsten, and aluminium, are all viable raw material alternatives.
Advantages of Metal Additive Manufacturing for Small and Medium Enterprise
Modern metal additive manufacturing has a number of advantages, including:
- Complex shapes can be formed with interior spaces that are difficult to machine, giving up new design possibilities.
- Metal parts can be manufactured without the need for traditional tooling.
- It is complementary to traditional methods and can easily incorporate manufacturing practices.
- It is faster than traditional methods for making one-of-a-kind items such as replacement parts and customized goods.
- It decreases the time required to build prototypes.
- It minimizes material consumption and thus cost.
- It eliminates the need for assembly.
SMEs can benefit from additive manufacturing by allowing them to:
- Increase the efficiency of their industrial tooling operations.
- Increase the number of high-value, low-run parts manufactured.
- Create highly tailored items for their industry and customers.
Do you want to outsource additive manufacturing instead of investing in the technology?
At Innovae 3D, we enable entrepreneurs to optimize operational performance and improve cost efficiencies across the value chain through our result-focused Metal AM solutions.