Additive Manufacturing (AM) refers to a set of technologies that build 3D objects by adding materials layer-upon-layer of different kinds whether metal, concrete or plastic. Using 3D modeling software and machine equipment and layering material, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and adds successive layers to fabricate a 3D object. AM hence includes a combination of Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.
AM adoption rate is increasing in India – Nearly 30 machines were sold last year. In 2015 and 2016 it was just four or five machines. But the need is growing. Small as well as large enterprises are looking at taking advantage of additive manufacturing technology and even public sector companies are using AM. Globally companies are using AM for production. But in India, it is largely for prototyping. Incidentally AM has been around for close to three decades and there has been significant technology upgradation during last few years.
The AM technology has evolved from prototyping development. It has shifted to manufacturing. Machines themselves, the processing technologies and materials have evolved. Some of the areas are aerospace, dental / medical. “A lot of software is also being developed in parallel. A robust ecosystem has come up. It is not a standalone mechanism but can be included in their production-chain. That has been the leap forward. The one big advantage of AM is that irrespective of industries, it can cater to many industry verticals. What could have been completed with 100 to 200 people can be achieved with additive manufacturing with four or five people,” says Anand Prakasam, Country Manager-India, EOS GmbH India Branch Office.
Doing it Right
Designers and analysts have to have good understanding of manufacturing in AM space. More than any other manufacturing process, here, you are adding material – as you are adding material, there is sintering going on, there is cooling going on – all of this has an impact on the part you are printing. “So, in AM, the actual work has to begin at the design stage itself. One example could be, in metal printing, you may be looking at a few percentage points of distortion and when you know there is likely to be some level of distortion while printing that needs to be factored into your design phase itself. You have to account for thermal behaviour and you come up with revised part where the distortion effects are minimal. Because you can print complex shapes and parts, such as a part with a void inside, that gives an immense advantage over the traditional methods. You can have a single tightly sintered part as against a loosely joined assembly of multiple parts. This not only improves the look and feel of the product but also the sturdiness and the life of the parts you make. This is possible with AM,” explains Renuka Srinivasan, Director, SIMULIA WW Services at Dassault Systèmes.
Ease of Use
Sridhar Balaram, Founder and MD, Intech DMLS adds, “on the hardware side, machines are becoming faster, smarter, more lasers are coming into the system and size of platforms are becoming bigger. 100 x 100 mm and 250 mm x 250 mm have been the standard sizes traditionally. But today you have machines that are 1 meter cube as well. The popular ones are 400 x 400 mm or 500 x 500 mm. The 1 m x 1 m x 1 m will be the large format machines which will be used in specialised applications or printing needs.” Simultaneous printing of multiple parts is another application area for large format machines. The fundamental premise of AM is that is an effective solution that is also easy. “For example, in aerospace sector, if they have to manufacture a part today based on a design, they have to follow a multi-step process such as tooling, fixtures, etc. It costs a lot and requires time. But with AM, if you have a design in hand, you can directly print the part you want. This reduces time, costs as well as number of operations. The customer can simply focus on the design itself than the manufacturing. AM is just a tool that prints as per your design,” says Prakasam.
Newer technologies that are trending include DMLS, Direct Metal Deposition, Binder Jet, Embedded technology. There is a three-fold innovation that can be observed in AM that includes Hardware 3D printers, software that is enabling 3D printing as well as materials for 3D printing. Srinivasan adds, “we have created a marketplace where an Indian company can sign up, pay charge, and connect with service providers who can help them with on-demand manufacturing of components. Now customers have access to over 600 machines and suppliers. They can get a quote online. They will 3D geometry and can scan these suppliers based on the kind of process and machines they have. They can send a request for a quote and based on the geometry, they can get the part they want to be manufactured.” Adoption for production is happening in medical sector especially customized medical implants. Likewise aerospace is another industry adopting this technology for production. “We are looking at In Process Monitoring where the machine provides real time in-process monitoring and is Industry 4.0 compliant and we have system called InfiniAM for this,” adds Nayan Patel, Operations & Technical Manager, Renishaw.
Apart from laser sintering improvements, miniature desktop machines are coming in. Another hardware advancement is being seen in high temperature builds. “You build platform of 150 degree Celsius and we are now looking at building a platform for 490 degrees Celsius which addresses a lot of problems when you are using high strength materials like titanium. You will need this only for metal and metal parts are going to be put under stress to test the integrity of the part,” says Patel. New materials coming up include bio-compatible titanium for AM. Aerospace approved aluminum as well as high nickel alloys. Guruprasad Rao, Director & Mentor, Imaginarium India explains, “software is getting geared for 3D printing. New file formats are coming in. 3MF and AMS are coming up as portable file format and in future are going to be loaded with color, encryption and expiry date properties. Material was a neglected area traditionally but during the last five years, there has been a lot of funding in research and material is going to lead innovation. CNC and 3D printing are being combined as they can deliver many things not only faster but also cheaper. Digital manufacturing is the future and with CNC + Robots + 3D printing it will be a formidable force.” Intech has developed a software called Optomet that allows people to optimize the parameters of the machine for part printing. You can print faster, build with a control over density of the part being built, develop new alloys, power management and the like. “People using this platform can also get guidance on what type of material is to be used. They can then either buy it from the original manufacturer or from anywhere in the open market,” adds Balaram. In the recent past there is an increased interest in 3D printing. But as technology becomes patent-expired, technology cost comes down and material supply improves as generic materials become available, it will increase the adoption of metals.
This story appeared in the May issue of Manufacturing Today here: Additive Manufacturing