As a manufacturing strategy for a larger product development, something that makes strategic sense is definitely Additive Manufacturing (AM). It is a trend that is poised to revolutionise production and engineering. AM is gaining broader acceptance as a final production strategy and can turn a digital design into a physical product in a time that was earlier unimaginable. It also enables the production of very complex shapes, as well as specifically customised designs of a specific customer.
AM is quite a transformation technology. However, as it is a complex process, there can be lot of un-anticipated built failures leading to high costs. Currently, developers have to resort to a trial and error approach and build multiple times to ensure the desired strength and dimension. We have developed tools for simulating Metal Additive Manufacturing Processes after recognising its potential. In metal, the trial and error cost is high and a simulation tool can have the greatest financial impact in the short-term.
Early adopters of Additive Manufacturing
The early adopters in metal Additive Manufacturing have been industries like, aerospace and medical, where the benefits are big enough to make challenges worth overcoming. These are businesses with highly complex parts that are subject to extreme conditions. There is also a high risk associated with production failures, as metal powders and other 3D printing materials are expensive. Since adding new production equipment is an expensive proposition, there is a high cost of entry for AM. Eventually, as we work together to develop solutions to these shared challenges, AM is going to become viable virtually for any manufacturer, in any industry.
Role of simulation
With the help of simulation, before symbolically pressing the print button, you can predict whether a digital design will be produced successfully or not. From the earliest design to the finished product, simulation can analyse the entire Additive Manufacturing process. Simulation tools enable customers to consider the entire AM process chain, such as, topological optimisation, build setup, build failure prevention and more. True design for AM requires knowledge of all of these aspects of AM, in order to ensure a successful, high-performance, accurate part as an outcome, without the need for expensive trial-and-error optimisation. Companies can rely on traditional simulation tools to ensure meeting the performance criteria for the end-product and even simulate the production process via new process simulation solutions.
Engineers and 3D printer operators can work together to identify the optimum machine and material parameters with simulation. With this, they can reduce printing failures and the number of prototypes required. Parts produced via AM will have very different characteristics than cast or forged parts and simulation helps engineers address those key differences. Importantly, knowing the thermal gradients and solidification rates with the help of simulation, we can now even predict the additive science of printed parts. This gives manufactures the confidence to use AM printed parts for production usage.
The value proposition that simulation has always offered has been the same: lower risk, reduce time and costs, and maximise product innovation. Companies that don’t adopt it will definitely be left behind as AM is going to become a competitive imperative.