Test Your Knowledge on 3D Printing

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Educating the minds in the industrial world about additive manufacturing (AM) is important for a couple of reasons. Some factory floors have a solid base knowledge, as AM has been applied for years through prototyping as well as research and development. However, manufacturers may not know that AM can create strong end-use parts. Other manufacturers are now beginning to pay attention to AM because of the spotlight media has put on it, but are not cognizant of how AM can be used in their business process.

Thanks to innovation, industrial 3D printing is now more accessible than ever before. Applications have expanded far beyond small-scale production and prototyping and into:

  • Functional Prototyping
  • Full-scale production
  • Testing and inspection fixtures
  • Tooling development and fabrication
  • Assembly processes
  • Replacement parts
  • On demand repair hardware
  • And more…

Underestimating or overestimating where AM fits within your organization is common. That’s why MLC CAD Systems has created this quiz to help you learn how to apply AM, yet recognize its limitations. In addition, this quiz will help you assess your readiness to bring in AM technology.

1. CAD Design

When we hear about AM shaping the next industrial revolution, the big and exciting idea is going straight from design to material object and eliminating the intermediary steps. It’s, in effect, a powerful design driven tool.
How would you best characterize your current design capabilities?

  • (A) We have professional CAD software and skilled CAD users
  • (B) We use free or inexpensive CAD software and I can put together a drawing
  • (C) We don’t do any CAD design

If you chose A, that’s a good sign that you are ready for AM technology. If you chose B or C, you may want to consider expanding your design efforts or hiring someone from an abundantly skilled CAD user talent pool before investing in AM technology. The reality is, AM is not Star Trek replicator technology that makes whatever you want on demand. Even if you are mediocre to decent at CAD design, it would be better to invest in professional CAD software and training prior to bringing in the technology.

2. Full-Scale Production Volume

Consider a world where traditional manufacturing production methods disappear, and AM replaces manufacturing professionals with machines. Now that we’ve painted this picture, let’s get it out of our heads because it’s unlikely to transpire this way. When it comes to utilizing AM in operations that produce large volumes of goods, there are many variables that need to be taken into consideration.
Assuming you are looking to implement additive for full-scale production, how would you quantify the volume of the part or product, during its lifecycle?

  • (A) Low volume production for the entire product lifecycle
  • (B) Initially low volume production while we test the market, and then large quantities
  • (C) High volume production for the entire product lifecycle

If you chose A, additive is probably a good fit for producing your goods. There are some factors to take into consideration such as the size, geometry and materials (more later). If you chose B, it’s worth noting that there are very successful AM “print farm” operations producing large quantities of goods. However, it’s more common to ramp up using additive while you test the market and transition subtractive methods when you are ready to scale. If you chose C, it can make sense to utilize AM during the early and late stages of the product lifecycle to produce the tooling, fixtures and jigs that are needed to maintain large scale production. Using AM to make your non-revenue generating custom tooling or means of production, is always wise.

3. Custom Tooling

To produce goods accurately and efficiently, custom tooling such as fixtures and jigs must be used. That way products meet or exceed customer expectations. We often find these are expensive and low volume parts, but they ensure quality and are not optional. That’s why they present good opportunities for AM to come in and replace the status quo.
How would you best characterize the way you obtain your custom tooling?

  • (A) We rely on external machine shops
  • (B) We utilize internal machine shops
  • (C) A mix of both A and B

If you chose A, it could be costing you time and money. Typically three to four design iterations can be 3D printed in the amount of time it takes to machine a single iteration. Furthermore, an external machine shop has a lot of overhead to cover and this is passed on to you via a high price tag. If you chose B, you could be taking away from the production of revenue generating parts by stealing machine bandwidth. Keep in mind, custom tooling is non-revenue generating. These are perfect opportunities to 3D print. If you chose C, you can reap all of the aforementioned benefits.

4. Materials

The belief that 3D printing is still too new to feel comfortable enough to invest and incorporate the technology into your business is a common misconception. 3D printing emerged in the mid 1980’s and as of today the fundamental technology is not changing much. However, the materials are changing rapidly, which is why the timing has never been better to invest in the technology.
How important are specific materials in your industry?

  • (A) We are required to use specific materials and there is no leniency to change them
  • (B) There are certain properties that we get out of the materials we use, but there is nothing that says we must use them if we can get the same desired outcome with different materials
  • (C) A mix of both A and B

If you chose A, it’s a difficult realization if you are looking for one specific material and it’s not offered. For obvious reasons, there is no way to change what the market currently offers. It’s worth noting the applications that you have in mind might be narrow. That is, there are other applications where other materials that are being offered are well suited. If you chose B, then further investigating is worthwhile if you are unsure of which materials are good substitutes. If you chose C, it can be complicated to bring in new technology, so make sure you are engaged with experts that can help you through the process, like MLC CAD can with the Markforged technology. Yes that’s a shameless plug, but MLC CAD has the internal resources and expertise to ensure that you will have all the necessary information before buying, along with ongoing support that comes after purchasing Markforged equipment.

5. Build Volume

If you are looking to use AM for large objects, you may be faced with a reality check or the need to compromise on your design. Build volume is the age-old issue that anyone looking to 3D print faces. On a more positive note, it doesn’t matter how complex a design is; the more complex the better to 3D print. In reference to the Markforged industrial series, the maximum build volume is 13in x 10.6in x 7.9in.
What sort of build volume do you want to use AM for?

  • (A) Larger than the maximum build volume (13in x 10.6in x 7.9in) possible with Markforged industrial series
  • (B) Equal to or smaller than the maximum build volume (13in x 10.6in x 7.9in) possible with Markforged industrial series
  • (C) Larger than the maximum build volume allowed with Markforged industrial series, but I’m willing to break parts into smaller pieces that attach

If you chose A, unless you can break the part up into multiple parts and design in some sort of attachment or joining, additive may not be the answer. If you chose B, then this is probably a good fit for the technology. If you chose C, the flexibility of making one large part into three smaller parts that have attachments to assemble into one large part, opens the door to be able to use AM for something that seems too large.

Whether you are looking to introduce AM for the first time within your organization or are expanding your existing 3D printing efforts, it’s important to consider where users have been most successful and know the limitations. We hope this quiz provided insight on what the technology can and cannot replace within your organization.

Please let us know how we can help you on your journey to acquiring industrial additive manufacturing equipment.

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