Until recently, much of component manufacturing has been subtractive based – taking a large amount of material and removing excess to form the desired shape and design. In the age of CAD, AI, and 3D printing, however, this process is changing dramatically.
Additive manufacturing tips the established model on its head by allowing manufacturers to ‘build a product out of nothing’, instead of whittling it out of a block of material. There are two main methods of achieving this.
The first is much like regular printing whereby a printing head gradually applies layers of a material to build up a 3d structure. The second is more complex: thin layers of a powder-based material are heated with a laser to harden only the areas needed for that layer of the 3D object. The process is repeated many times over until the fully formed component can be lifted out and the excess powder used in the next round of printing.
The process allows for incredibly complex designs to be implemented without increasing the costs of production, as would be the case with injection moulding and similar processes. Furthermore, innovation can occur at a much faster rate, as iteration is limited only by the speed of the designer and the printer; no further parties are required to build moulds, supply materials, or assemble the concept being designed.
Due to the precise, additive nature of the method, it also proves far less wasteful than traditional manufacturing processes. Florida-based additive manufacturing firm, Sintavia, estimates that 3D printing is almost 80% less wasteful than traditional methods of production – which is a big win both for the wallets of those producing the goods and the environment.
The applications of this technology are exciting to say the least. Imagine an AI-powered additive manufacturing firm; the deep-learning algorithms of a computer coldly calculating the most efficient design for an aerospace component, perhaps to cut weight and production costs, then sending it to be prototyped and printed in the same building on the very same day. Never before has the design, prototyping, and production of products been so readily available to the masses.
Here at Polestar, we like to keep an eye on the latest developments in all our key sectors, and this is no exception. The technology promises an idea that should surely be at the core of all technological development: the freeing up of human resource to focus on design and innovation, while machines and computers handle the nitty gritty of production and analysis.
3-D printing, or additive manufacturing — will push the production of goods closer to the consumer, democratizing manufacturing on a global scale and allowing products to be cost-effectively customized to consumers’ needs