Additive Manufacturing: scaling up over 5 decades

Additive Manufacturing: scaling up over 5 decades

Additive manufacturing (AM) utilises 3D printing technology to create objects by gradually increasing their form through the deposit of layers of material. The basic technology has been in use since the 1980s. However, the process has advanced dramatically since then, with various types now being utilised to create industry and part-specific three-dimensional parts.

The route to today’s additive manufacturing technologies

The prototype of the additive manufacturing we know today is credited to an inventor called Dr Hideo Kodama. It was during the early 1980s when he combined 3D scanning with the layering pattern from 3D topographical maps – and from here the concept of AM was born. The 1980s and 1990s saw this advance, with different branches of AM being created. These included stereolithography apparatus (SLA), fused deposition modelling (FDM), solid ground curing (SGC) and laminated object manufacturing (LOM).

The various technologies were brought to market by different companies. Over the next couple of decades, many of these were bought out, merged or taken over, creating the necessary investment to bring the tech to the mainstream. Fast forward to today, and the most cutting-edge manufacturing possibilities of AM have truly upscaled the whole concept of precision engineering and CNC machining. One advanced method that’s only just coming of age is that of directed energy deposition (DED) – a metal manufacturing method that works for both pre-existing and new part production.

Directed energy deposition unwrapped…

DED – or, more accurately, laser-based DED (DED-LB), uses an energy source to melt wire or blown powder into liquid metal. This is added in layers and fuses into a solid material. As each layer is added, so the form of the required part is built. This form of metal AM uses either an electron beam, plasma arc or laser and, while today’s tech is relatively slow, the reality of high-speed metal AM is but a short hop away.

The concept isn’t new. Advances have been well underway for more than a decade. Some of the greatest challenges that have been or still need to be overcome include:

  • Determining the correct size of build platforms, including process parameters, tool pathing and the CAM software.
  • The need for continuous operation and power source exposure to minimise process deformation.
  • Matching the nozzle with the powder size distribution, feed and volume (in the case of blown powder use)
  • The need for stress relief heat treatments before removing the completed part from the substrate.
  • Tweaking the metal deposition rate for optimal production.
  • Choreographing the finish stage, ensuring the material deposition, machining steps and stress relief heat treatment steps are effectively carried out.

As you can see, the process is yet to be refined. However, such AM technology has the potential to advance manufacturing – and do so far more efficiently than current manufacturing processes.

Once high-speed AM, such as DED-LB is perfected, shorter lead times will become a reality. Some of the main advantages will be:

  • Rapid prototyping and quicker design cycles
  • Much faster part production
  • Supporting the trend towards the just-in-time production model, allowing businesses to maintain smaller inventories and thus reduce risk
  • Less likelihood of supply chain delays
  • Reducing the steps needed during the engineering of parts. AM removes many of the constraints of part production caused by having to begin with a sheet of metal.

The future of AM is bright. The technology is already well advanced and being embraced by forward-thinking precision engineering companies, such as Sixde. Bringing cutting-edge tech benefits to the industry is a key driver of the advanced manufacturing we offer, such as our state-of-the-art Markforged Metal X printing already on offer.

Our design team is one of the best in the business, bringing global-level expertise to WA and across the country. Get in touch today to discover how working with us can benefit your business model.