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Additive Manufacturing

(Interlaken, Switzerland - Alvin Wei-Cheng Wong)

 Harness The Power of 3D Printing


- Overview

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a computer-controlled process that creates three-dimensional objects by depositing materials, usually in layers. It's also known as 3D printing.

AM is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, in which an object is created by cutting away at a solid block of material until the final product is complete. AM allows researchers to create physical, three-dimensional objects directly from a computer design file.

AM is used to fabricate a physical object from a three-dimensional (3D) digital model. It can be used to make functional components, including tools and end-use production parts. For example, AM has allowed the medical industry to enhance patients' quality of life by enabling patient-specific solutions and better biocompatibility.

AM relies on and creates large amounts of data. There are concerns around protecting AM data, but how data security can bring greater opportunities for this technology.


- 3D Printing

The future of prototyping and manufacturing is speeding up and 3D printing is in the front seat. 3D printing has the potential to democratize the production of goods, from food to medical supplies, to great coral reefs. In the future, 3D printing machines could make their way into homes, businesses, disaster sites, and even outer space. 

3D printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. 3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out /hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.

Although the terms "3D printing" and "rapid prototyping" are casually used to discuss additive manufacturing, each process is actually a subset of additive manufacturing. "Additive Manufacturing (AM) is an appropriate name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete or one day…..human tissue. 


- Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Additive manufacturing (AM) is the general term for all manufacturing techniques that create physical objects by successively adding material, usually in a layer-by-layer manner. These technologies differ from traditional methods, which either remove material (machining) or somehow shape it (casting and forging). AM is a transformative approach to industrial production that enables the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems. 

It is yet, another technological advancement made possible by the transition from analog to digital processes. In recent decades, communications, imaging, architecture and engineering have all undergone their own digital revolutions. Now, AM can bring digital flexibility and efficiency to manufacturing operations. 

AM uses data computer-aided-design (CAD) software or 3D object scanners to direct hardware to deposit material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes. As its name implies, additive manufacturing adds material to create an object. By contrast, when you create an object by traditional means, it is often necessary to remove material through milling, machining, carving, shaping or other means. 


- Additive Manufacturing (AM) vs. 3D Printing

Although the terms additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing are frequently used interchangeably, the latter is actually just one type of the former. In other words, “additive manufacturing” is a broader term that’s more commonly associated with industrial applications, including the serial production of components.  

“3D printing”, on the other hand, has more of a consumer focus. The very nature of the parts made by these two technologies is different: While 3D printing is often used for figurines, decorations, and even small functional parts, additive manufacturing produces molds, components, and end-use products.


- Additive Manufacturing (AM) Technologies

Common to AM technologies is the use of a computer, 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material.  Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays downs or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material or other, in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.

While AM seems new to many, it has actually been around for several decades. In the right applications, additive manufacturing delivers a perfect trifecta of improved performance, complex geometries and simplified fabrication. As a result, opportunities abound for those who actively embrace additive manufacturing. 

AM application is limitless. Early use of AM in the form of Rapid Prototyping focused on preproduction visualization models. More recently, AM is being used to fabricate end-use products in aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles, and even fashion products.


University of Chicago_050222C
[University of Chicago]

- Additive Manufacturing (AM)Applications

AM application is limitless. Early use of AM in the form of Rapid Prototyping focused on preproduction visualization models. More recently, AM is being used to fabricate end-use products in aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles, and even fashion products. 

While the adding of layer-upon-layer approach is simple, there are many applications of AM technology with degrees of sophistication to meet diverse needs including:

  • a visualization tool in design
  • a means to create highly customized products for consumers and professionals alike
  • as industrial tooling
  • to produce small lots of production parts
  • one day….production of human organs


- Data Science and Analytics in Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Data science is used in additive manufacturing (AM) to help engineers make better decisions and improve machine processes. AM can produce parts with complex geometric shapes and reduce material use and weight.

Data science can be used in AM for: 

  • Correlating process parameters with the predicted final microstructure
  • Developing new metrics, methods, guides, and best practices for informed decision making and parameter selection during the production process
  • Using data to help engineers make better decisions
  • Improving machine processes

Other applications of data science in manufacturing include: 

  • Inventory management
  • Predicting demand and sales
  • Predictive and preventive maintenance
  • Design and development

The large data quantities generated during AM lends itself to the use of analytics.


- Data Analytics and Machine Learning in Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Data analytics and machine learning are used in additive manufacturing to address the concerns of the process. 

Big data analytics can help with:

  • Risk control
  • Improving a company's resilience to supply chain disruptions

Machine learning can:

  • Optimize hardware
  • Increase printing speeds
  • Improve resolution
  • Help businesses determine which parts will have the biggest impact on their bottom lines

Data analytics can also be used in manufacturing to:

  • Streamline warehouse operations
  • Plan for increased staffing needs during busy times
  • Increase the efficiency of warehouse operations and product fulfillment

However, the advancement of scanning and sensor techniques can make it easier to collect data in the manufacturing system. However, this can also make it difficult to interpret system dynamics and make decisions given the large dataset.


- Cloud computing in Additive Manufacturing (AM) 

Cloud computing in additive manufacturing (AM) allows users to send design models to 3D printing service providers over the internet. The parts are then printed and sent back to the users. 

Cloud computing in manufacturing: 

  • Allows users to share databases, software, and files over the internet
  • Enables remote utilization of data without the need for on-premises hardware or software
  • Helps to keep lead times low by distributing work evenly
  • Has benefits such as lower costs, scalability, automatic updates, and safety

Some benefits of cloud-based AM include: 

  • Improved utilization efficiency of AM resources
  • Fostering innovation and efficiency
  • Utilizing data remotely without the need for on-premises hardware or software
  • Lower costs
  • Scalability
  • Automatic updates
  • Safety
  • Mobility


[More to come ...]

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