By Olaf Diegel
Over the past three decades, the bulk of research in additive manufacturing has largely focused on AM processes and materials. In the last three years, organizations have begun to appreciate the importance of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). Funding agencies are increasingly supporting DfAM, and companies are asking for courses on the subject. Over the past 12 months, I have given more than 20 DfAM courses for companies wanting to deepen their knowledge and understanding.
When a part is designed for conventional manufacturing, it is usually more expensive to produce by AM in typical production quantities. This is largely because AM processes are relatively slow compared to conventional methods of manufacturing. However, when a part is redesigned for AM, costs can be competitive or even lower, depending on quantities. Research for Wohlers Report 2018 revealed that 46% of the cost of a metal part is tied to pre- and post-processing. A large part of this cost often involves the production and removal of the support structures, also referred to as anchors. A well-designed part can greatly reduce the need for this support material, which dramatically reduces cost.
Good methods of DfAM can add value to products by making them substantially lighter in weight and enhancing performance using topology optimization, generative design, and lattice structures. Conventionally manufactured products made up of many simple parts can be redesigned to consolidate the assembly into a single part. This reduces part numbers, inventory, and assembly costs. Using methods of mass-customization, products can conform to the individual needs of customers without substantially increasing cost. Knowing how and when to use these techniques require designers and engineers to learn how to design for AM.
One of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of AM is the lack of knowledge and skills among the design and engineering workforce. Only through DfAM education, training, and best practices will we see significant progress toward the use of AM for production applications. Some organizations are beginning to understand its importance, but a vast amount of work is ahead.
Editor’s note: Wohlers Associates is conducting a three-day course on DfAM in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with Olaf Diegel as lead instructor. Click here to learn more.