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What is Design for Additive Manufacturing?

In his book, The World History of Design, author Victor Margolin argues that design “develops out of a sense of social needs.” He believes that the potential of design lies in solving big problems and the creation of culture. As our hyperconnected world evolves and deals with today’s unique geopolitical and economical challenges, design for additive manufacturing is here to change how we prepare products for manufacturability. 

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) is the art, science and skill to design for manufacturability using 3D printers. Different from traditional manufacturing, this additive design process empowers engineers to create more intricate shapes and production parts while reducing weight and material consumption. It’s a complete reversal of the conventional ways of thinking about design. In fact, 59 percent of 3D printing stakeholders at companies worldwide said additive manufacturing has already changed the way they think and operate, according to Jabil’s recent survey. Utilizing the DfAM approach offers more design freedom, part consolidation, as well as time and cost savings. Download the full Jabil survey report.

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Put simply, 3D printing is transforming the way engineers and designers do their jobs.

Traditional manufacturing dictates a need for scale to achieve economy, which creates inefficiencies and friction between the product idea and its delivery to the user. This is where additive manufacturing can revolutionize how products find their way to consumers. In addition, it provides an opportunity to manufacture low-volume, low-scale products economically. 

DfAM Increases Efficiencies and Design Flexibility

The benefits of 3D printing are numerous for designers and engineers. From a product perspective, 3D printing removes many of the mainstream manufacturing limitations. Through DfAM, designers are no longer limited by the geometry or process; this allows the product or part design to be more complex, while also providing the opportunity to combine several parts into one. 

Innovations like this have impacted the majority of designers and engineers. Fifty-seven percent of the Jabil survey participants said that their teams are delighted with the increased design freedom of 3D printing, while half say new processes and approaches have increased creativity. Additionally, one in three participants said that additive manufacturing has led to increased pride of workmanship.

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A core component of designing for additive manufacturing has a lot to do with the product or part’s application and function. There is a strong relationship between geometry and performance and planning for it is key to the process. As a result, previously unattainable, highly customized design features like lattice structures are now available through additive manufacturing.

In numerous interviews with innovators using DfAM, 3D Printing Media highlighted improved efficiencies:

“My work and research are focused on complex geometries. [Additive manufacturing] is my favorite method for prototyping and it helps me to predict the actual shape when a digital model is not accurate enough to describe the geometry of a component, a product or a detail. For small objects, it can also be a valid alternative to other fabrication methods,” said Arturo Tedeschi, a leader in generative design and DfAM innovation.

The immediate availability of computer-aided design (CAD) models is also a tremendous benefit to designers. Because of additive manufacturing, digital files can be easily shared, facilitating the modification and customization of components and products. Having quick access to CAD models can make a huge impact on the speed a product is produced. With the use of additive technology and CAD models made available through additive manufacturing, companies can create products faster and address issues on the production floor more effectively. 

Part Consolidation Saves Time and Reduces Costs for Businesses

Consolidating parts may be an obvious advantage with 3D printing; additive manufacturing processes enable the production of geometric shapes that otherwise require assembly of multiple parts. Component consolidation can dramatically decrease costs, increase production speed and heighten functional performance on the production floor. For example, General Electric Aviation was able to replace 900 parts with 16 in building a helicopter engine using additive manufacturing.

We’ve seen tremendous benefits in our own experience as well. Jabil Auburn Hills’ adoption of 3D printing has saved an enormous amount of time. Tools and fixtures that used to take months to create and customize are now completed in weeks or days, resulting in an 80 percent time reduction. 

Jigs and fixtures are critical aids to the efficient and safe manufacturing of quality products. By eliminating or reducing multi-component jigs and fixtures, companies can save time and costs while making contiguous components. According to Ultimaker, just one of Ford’s products is manufactured using over 50 custom designed tools, jigs and fixtures. By 3D printing these parts, they drastically increase the uptime of the machines while shortening the length of time that the manufacturing line is disrupted. 

With results like these, your design and engineering teams have the opportunity to completely rethink your products and bring additional creativity, efficiencies and cost-savings.

3D Printing: Confidence vs. Knowledge

Jabil’s research shows that 71 percent of survey participants choose to work in traditional methods due to a lack of knowledge about how to utilize 3D printing. The skills gap in additive manufacturing is a present challenge that could’ve originated with widespread misconceptions, such as the assumed difficulty of operating 3D printers. Taking proactive steps to address these misconceptions and equip people properly will be key in solving the issue. 

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To resolve this issue, manufacturers will have to prioritize and invest in their employees’ industrial literacy. They will need to institutionalize systemic education and skills-building; for example, companies can introduce training programs that educate staff members about the technology. Although this sounds like a work-intensive, time-costly endeavor for a single enterprise to tackle, companies can both ease their workload and ensure their employees are receiving the most comprehensive education in the applications and operation of 3D printing by partnering with established entities who have demonstrated a working understanding of the technology. These scholastic efforts will establish a gateway into the successful implementation of additive manufacturing. 

The core of the issue isn’t the reliability of the technology but rather the lack of knowledge about 3D printing. As more manufacturers become aware of its benefits, the popularity of 3D printing is climbing on a steady upward trajectory. As its usage continues to increase, the knowledge, applications and capabilities will rise. 

What to Expect When 3D Printing Goes Mainstream 

According to Jabil’s survey, 50 percent of engineers and designers say two of the biggest benefits of 3D printing are the ability to produce personalized and customized goods and deliver them more quickly. With mass adoption of 3D printing, businesses will be closer to customers and can address issues instantly on the assembly line.

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One industry is already benefiting from customization and personalization through 3D printing: medical implants. Since every implant needs to be specifically customized for each patient’s needs, personalization and quick delivery are key to success. With unprecedented growth year-over-year, just the 3D printing dental market alone is expected to reach $9.5 billion by 2027. But the potential to customize implants goes far beyond dental: as materials and processes become certified, other on- or in-body implants will benefit from additive manufacturing.  

In addition to customization, digital files allow for better collaboration and design delivery within teams. For example, a team in Guadalajara can design tools and fixtures, print them and begin using them. In the matter of a few hours, a team in Shanghai can receive all the same CAD files and repeat the process. Or better yet, these design teams could collaborate digitally to create something that addresses everyone’s issues. Beyond collaboration, design for additive manufacturing allows for better standardization across numerous locations. 

Furthermore, by enabling additive and distributed manufacturing, companies are moving workloads into regions and markets that make the most business sense. From quality of design to speed-to-market to responding to customer demands, distributed manufacturing is a game-changer for company innovation and growth with 3D printing.

Design develops out of social needs, and 3D printing is the perfect example of that. As the fourth industrial evolution looms, change is happening 10 times faster and at 300 times the scale. It’s an exciting time to be in manufacturing. The stay in line with the pace of innovation, design for additive manufacturing is here to revolutionize how we make products end-to-end. Are your designers and engineers on board for the ride?

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