From functional prototypes to custom tools and even complex bracketry, here are some of the best applications for metal 3D printing.
Metal 3D printing is disrupting traditional methods of metal fabrication. As technology becomes more and more prevalent on manufacturing floors, businesses need to gain application-centric intuition about the process. Just as machinists understand which components are best made on a waterjet vs. a 3-axis mill, it is essential to know which parts are a good fit for additive manufacturing and 3D printing application.
Recognizing the fundamentals benefits of metal 3D printing is the first step to gain intuition. The following are the benefits of each successful metal 3D printing application.
- Geometric Freedom
Traditional methods of manufacturing rely on mold and machining to generate the desired shape, which is costly and requires hours to produce the parts. 3D printing is a great way of manufacturing complex objects. 3D printing can produce parts with ease, and there’s not much the technology can’t do with the support of proper material.
- No Tooling
3D printed parts do not require any tool and fixtures. It allows the manufacturers to cut the cost of production even for low volume production. Besides, shops are enabled to take on more jobs when tooling cost is no longer a limiting factor.
Labor cost plays a significant role in the overall cost of the product. Traditional manufacturing of parts is thus costly as they require a lot of human labor that ensures a successful outcome. For example, designs for machined components must be processed in CAM before being cut. Conversely, metal 3D printers automatically produce parts from design files.
With these three benefits in mind, here are five common metal 3D printing applications that are a good fit due to their compatibility with the process.
5 Best applications for metal 3D printing
- Functional metal prototypes
Metal 3D printing offers a way of producing metal prototypes with minimal efforts. Additionally, metal 3D printing requires no tooling and little machine setup, which saves the cost of the manufacturer. It also allows customers to have accurate metal parts in hands in a matter of days rather than weeks, helping evaluate designs more quickly while avoiding expensive tooling rework. Engineers can explore more designs in a shorter period, compressing their product development cycle.
- End of Arm Tooling
Metal 3D printers can produce conformal end-of-arm tooling much easier and cheaper than traditional methods. 3D printing software automatically generates toolpaths, allowing engineers to skip the CAM process. Additionally, the part complexity of conformal grippers introduces no additional cost, so they can be optimally designed to grip parts securely and precisely.
- Custom Tools
Metal 3D printing technology offers great benefits to various industries over traditional manufacturing techniques. It allows for creating unique and customized tools to answer specific requests and needs of the customer in a short period. Metal additive manufacturing also allows engineers to bypass steep overhead and create custom tools at a low cost per part.
- Complex bracketry
Metal 3D printing offers an alternative way to create intricate brackets that are difficult or impossible to machine. Thin, complex lattices pose no challenge to the 3D printing process, allowing for the inexpensive production of brackets with specialized geometries.
- Low-volume end-use parts
Metal additive manufacturing can remedy high part costs for low-volume production. 3D printers make parts without tooling, getting rid of the need to spread overhead across thousands of parts.