The Value of Design for Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing can be an extremely useful technology, but it isn’t a “push-button” process, despite some misconceptions. Without careful planning and design, AM can be more expensive and time-consuming than it needs to be, especially when it comes to series production. This is where design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) comes in. DfAM is a technique used to optimize designs to be 3D printed, reducing material and weight while creating often-intricate shapes. Let’s look at some of the ways DfAM can add value to the additive manufacturing process.


A large part of DfAM is reducing the weight of parts. This can be done by using lattice or honeycomb structures in place of solid walls – something that is particular to additive manufacturing. Because of the complexity of the structures, they would be very difficult or even impossible to create using more conventional forms of manufacturing. AM, however, can create them easily and inexpensively; it’s just a matter of designing them. Lightweighting parts also results in cost reduction; by reducing the weight of a part by 50%, the cost is often also reduced by 50%.

By replacing solid walls with lattice structures, the weight of this rocket propulsion engine was reduced. (Courtesy of SLM Solutions)

Consolidation of parts

One frequently talked-about attribute of AM is its ability to consolidate multiple parts into one. This saves time and money, and often contributes to lightweighting. By thinking with a DfAM frame of mind, new organic shapes can be created that turn an assembly of dozens of parts into a single part. Again, this is something that would be extremely difficult to do using other manufacturing technologies. Conversely, if a part is too large for the build chamber of a 3D printer, it can be broken down into smaller parts that can then be joined together after printing.

Support reduction

Supports are part of nearly every type of AM, and they add time and labor onto the process. Support removal can be difficult, particularly in metal AM, as they often need to be machined off. DfAM can greatly reduce the need for supports in several ways. For example, changing any downward-facing angles so that they do not require supports is one tactic, as is changing horizontal hole shapes to be self-supporting. Another idea is to build the supports into the design, making them a feature of the part instead of something that will need to be removed.

Reducing overall post-processing

Support removal is only one aspect of post-processing. Other steps include heat treatment and surface finishing, which both can be reduced using DfAM. Heat treatment is used to eliminate stresses that have built up in the part during the printing process. If those stresses can be avoided from the beginning, however, heat treatment will be less necessary. One way to do this is to design to avoid large, unnecessary masses of material, which tend to have uneven thickness and are the main source of stresses.

Creative DfAM methods can also reduce the need for surface finishing. Designing patterns or textures into the item being printed can camouflage surface imperfections that otherwise would need to be sanded or machined. Also, orienting the part so that supports are attached to the surfaces that require the highest quality can be helpful. Since those surfaces will need to be machined anyway, attaching the supports to them will reduce the necessity of machining elsewhere on the part.

These are just a few ways in which DfAM can make additive manufacturing more effective. For comprehensive training in DfAM, contact us about having one of our advanced DfAM courses taught at your organization.



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