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Selecting Parts for AM

July 28, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:26

Note: Ray Huff, associate engineer at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

Adopting additive manufacturing (AM) for serial production is one of the biggest and most interesting recent trends in industry. Many companies want to know the secret of how to choose parts that are a good fit. Selecting the right parts is very specific to the process, material, product, and market, yet some overarching guidelines help in the process. For an in-depth discussion of these guidelines, and a handful of recent industry success stories, see our article titled DfAM insight: How to choose candidate products for AM production applications in Metal AM magazine.

Knowing the hallmarks of the AM process is key to succeeding in production. Low part quantities can be an easy win for small-batch production. As material and operating costs are driven downward, AM is expanding to larger production quantities. In a recent visit to Avid Product Development of Loveland, Colorado, I saw parts being produced on two HP Jet Fusion 4210 machines to fill an order of 100,000 pieces. Such quantities were unheard of in AM a few years ago. Parts produced in this volume are generally a few cubic inches or less. Their complex shape and features make them difficult to injection mold or process using another method.

Mechanical and functional requirements must be satisfied with the relatively narrow selection of materials available for AM. If new designs can reduce tooling, part numbers, assembly, and material costs, AM can become an excellent alternative to conventional manufacturing. Saving material, alone, can help make the business case for a high-cost titanium alloy, for example.

AM provides the opportunity to deliver parts quickly, although some regulatory requirements can slow things significantly. In heavily regulated markets such as aerospace, experience at certifying parts for AM is key. GE has been active at this longer than most, and it has put more than 500 different parts into production with AM, according to a recent conversation I had with Mohammad Ehteshami, former CEO of GE Additive. Other companies are working hard to keep pace. Honeywell has set a goal to have 250 parts in production by AM before the end of this year. To meet this goal, choosing the best parts for AM is crucial.