The layer by layer manufacturing technique has brought number of benefits for manufacturers that include the ability to develop complex product designs and improve product testing approach with reduced turnaround time. SLS, FDM, Stereolithography, PolyJet, powdered plastics, additive metals, alloys – the additive manufacturing domain is filled with number of technology and material choices today.
Selecting the right material and technology to suit specific need of the product is important, as it will directly affect the expected return on investments. Selecting the right material and printing technology is even more difficult for engineers and manufacturers who are still learning the processes.
This article highlights some of the important points in this direction to assist in choosing the right material and technology, so that the decision to invest in the breakthrough technology remains worthwhile.
- First and foremost requirement is to determine the application or the purpose of the end product being developed through 3D printing. The requirement might be to produce a product that is good in terms of quality and surface finish with required durability and strength for actual application; or, the product design may be simply used for testing or visualization purposes wherein surface finish might not be necessary.
- The next important point is to identify the function of the product. The developed design might be required to possess the strength and perform all the functions such as bending, hinging, snapping or load bearing like the actual product, or the design might be simply to look like the original product without any functional ability.
- Strength and durability are other factors required to be considered before selecting the material and printing technology. The product may be required to possess the strength and long lasting ability to withstand loads and stresses or it might be required for one time use only.
- The look and feel of the product is also important considerations to be taken into account to select the right technology. While Stereolithography is an excellent choice to develop products with smooth surface finish, they aren’t durable enough to be used for actual loading applications. On the contrary, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) can produce parts with good strength but requires a surface finish process after printing.
- Budget is one of the decisive factor when choosing the material and printing technology. If there is a fixed budget to develop a particular part through additive manufacturing, cost is more important than value. On the other hand, if quality is the concern, the budget should have flexibility to incorporate best technology and material to develop the product.
- Finally, it is also important to identify the priorities behind choosing additive manufacturing technique. If the top priority behind investing in this technology is to build customized, high quality products, the ROI calculation may differ compared to developing products simply to test or experiment with the new technology.
Determining the right technology and material is critical to gain expected returns and results through additive manufacturing. It is crucial to realize the fact that additive manufacturing is not the usual “one size fits all” technology and requires an understanding on the pros and cons of each material and technology being considered for product development.
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