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02 Nov 2021
3d metal printing in action

Rethinking the possibilities of manufacturing with 3D metal printing

As manufacturers continue to look for ways to produce greater outputs with lower overhead costs, additive manufacturing is creating excitement. Also known as 3D printing, this type of manufacturing is developing fast, moving from being a curiosity to a genuine option for production. This makes 3D printing, especially with metal, one of the most substantial and transformative technologies available.

3D metal printing delivers benefits for manufacturers across four key areas:

1. Geometric freedom

One of the key limitations of traditional manufacturing is the shapes that can be created. Using traditional manufacturing methods means complex geometric shapes need to be created in multiple parts then welded together. By contrast, 3D printing offers manufacturers the ability to create objects in literally any shape that can be imagined. This includes lattice or honeycomb shapes and even hollow shapes, which can unlock limitless possibilities for improved efficiencies and cost savings. The ability to make hollow shapes through 3D printing can create a lighter and less expensive product that can endure the same amount of pressure as a traditionally forged metal part. This level of creative freedom is impossible to match in traditional manufacturing methods.

2. No tooling

Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printed parts require no fixturing or tooling, letting fabricators create parts without having to invest in expensive equipment. This further reduces costs and lets producers take on additional projects without adding expenses.

3. Increased automation

Automation is a key productivity driver for manufacturers. 3D printing with metal creates opportunities to introduce more automation, which can improve efficiencies and reduce the risk of human error. This lets manufacturing organisations produce higher quality products for less. In manufacturing, metal 3D printers operate by creating parts from design files, eliminating the error that can be associated with these tasks. It also frees up staff members to redirect their time towards other, more creative or valuable tasks.

4. Improved sustainability

3D printing isn’t just a financially responsible investment for manufacturers; it is an environmentally conscious one. 3D printers generate far less waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Materials cost less without sacrificing durability of the printed metal object.

When it comes to in-factory use of 3D metal printing, the opportunities are endless. Top performing categories where 3D printed metal items are disrupting the nature of business include:

  • Aerospace – 3D printing has been critical over the past decade in creating lightweight alternative parts for aircraft that rely on perfect balance. The flexible nature of the design process lets engineers create parts that solve problems that are unique to the aerospace and aviation industries.
     
  • Spare tools or parts – the ability to create parts or tools onsite through 3D printing can be an extremely lucrative option for manufacturers. For example, it means they don’t have to store parts onsite or wait for parts to be delivered; instead, they can 3D-print the parts they need, when they need them. They can also recreate obsolete parts and even improve on the original design. And, because 3D printing is fast with a short turnaround time, manufacturers can create these parts in hours or days instead of weeks.
     
  • Prototypes – because 3D printing requires limited set-up and run costs, it has become the perfect method for creating functional, metal prototypes that let engineers solve difficult problems. This compresses the product development cycle as engineers can explore more designs over a shorter period.
     
  • Automotive­ ­– with the industry already embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and other smart technologies, 3D printing is the next logical step. 3D printing provides lightweight, inventive, and safe design concepts that can be developed at pace to satisfy customer demand in the automotive industry.

As the capabilities for this technology continue to evolve, many anticipate the impacts of 3D printing will be felt across the entire manufacturing industry. Konica Minolta is facilitating the move towards additive manufacturing with a broad range of commercial 3D printers. Download our ultimate guide to find the right metal 3D printer for your business. Or speak to one of our experienced specialists to see how we can help you make the move into additive manufacturing with 3D metal printing. 

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