3D printers enable prototyping and small-lot production! What can be achieved with AM technology

In recent years, the manufacturing industry has been paying attention to a new processing technology called "AM technology" using 3D printers.
AM technology is used in various manufacturing sites, but it is said that aircraft engines in particular cannot be made without a 3D printer, and its presence is increasing day by day.
Therefore, in this article, we will explain in detail the difference between the new AM technology and the conventional processing technology, and what can be achieved by using it.

1. What is AM technology?

"AM technology" is an abbreviation for Additive Manufacturing , which is a technology for molding products by 3D printing. A 3D printer first stacks raw materials based on three-dimensional data. After that, the product is completed by baking the formed layers with a laser. Therefore, this manufacturing method is also called “additive manufacturing method”. The materials used in 3D printing are mainly plastic resins and metals. Plastic resins can be molded even with small machines, so they are often handled by personal 3D printers. Metal processing, on the other hand, requires a large-scale facility because it takes time and effort, such as high heat treatment, and requires large electrical capacity and ventilation. There are also 3D prints using ceramics, elastomers, and composite materials that combine multiple materials.

2. Difference from conventional processing technology

AM technology has distinct differences from conventional processing technology. Until now, FM technology (Formal Manufacturing/Injection molding) and SM technology (Subtractive Manufacturing/Cutting) have been used to process plastics and metals.

What are FM technology and SM technology?

FM technology is a processing technology in which heat-melted raw materials are poured into a “mold” and the cooled and hardened product is removed from the mold and molded. Since the mold once made can be used repeatedly, this technology is suitable for mass production.

Another SM technology is a processing technology that molds a product by scraping off a lump of raw material with a machine like an artist's sculpture. Compared to FM technology, it enables molding with a higher degree of freedom, but it has the disadvantage that it tends to be expensive due to the loss of raw materials. Also, since it is not suitable for mass production, it is basically used in combination with other technologies, such as when finishing products molded with FM technology.

AM technology suitable for high-mix low-volume production

AM technology, on the other hand, is a method that uses a 3D printer to stack raw materials from scratch and mold them. Compared to conventional processing technology, the degree of freedom in molding is high, and nothing other than a 3D printer and raw materials is required. In addition, when changing the product to be manufactured, there is no need to change the machine or the mold, just changing the input data. In other words, AM technology is suitable for high-mix low-volume production, and is actually widely used in the medical and aviation fields.

3. 5 things you can do with AM technology

Here, we have picked up five things that can be achieved with AM technology. AM technology, which is suitable for high-mix low-volume production, can be used to create prototypes, molds, models, figures, etc., and to improve the performance of conventional products.

・Prototype (mockup)

The first is a mockup prototype. A mockup refers to a model that is made to look exactly like the real thing at the development stage of a product. Mockups up to now have often been made from metal products such as plastic or clay, and it took many days for staff called mockup craftsmen to make them. However, AM technology has made it possible to easily create mockups with textures that are close to the real thing. Also in production, the 3D printer automatically molds, so labor costs can be cut. In the past, it was said that 3D printing was not suitable for large-scale mock-ups, but today, technological innovation has made it possible to mold even larger products.

・Mold production

The second is to create a “mold” for the product. When mass-producing plastics using the aforementioned FM technology, it is necessary to prepare molds that conform to the shape of the product. However, making this mold requires a cost of 1 million yen, and we cannot pay the cost unless we make and sell a large number of parts, and it takes a long time to make. However, by using AM technology, it is possible to manufacture various molds at low cost and at high speed. Even if the production cost with a 3D printer is high, it can be done at tens of thousands of yen, so even small lot production of parts with low sales volume can fully recover the cost.

・Enhanced product performance

The third is to improve the performance of conventional products. In order to make a part with a complicated structure using conventional processing technology, it is necessary to manufacture and connect many parts that consist of simple surfaces, which increases the number of man-hours and the weight of the part. I was. With 3D printing, it is possible to form a honeycomb-like honeycomb structure without processing the inside of the product, which makes it possible to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. In addition, it has become possible to easily improve the performance of parts, such as increasing the surface area of ​​parts by applying complex molding such as the small intestine's soft protrusions to increase the heat exchange efficiency.

・Production of architectural models

The fourth is the production of architectural models. Architectural models are usually made by affixing a three-dimensional drawing to a styrene foam board called styrene paper, cutting it out, and assembling it in order from the inside of the model. The completed architectural model is useful for giving the owner an image of the building, but the production is more time-consuming than expected, and the production period is two to three days. I was. Today, with the use of 3D printers, architectural models can be produced automatically, saving time and manpower. In addition, it is also possible to create models using the data used in actual construction, which not only reduces time and costs, but also increases the accuracy of the models.

・Production of figures, etc.

The fifth is the production of figures and ornaments. In recent years, the modeling accuracy of 3D printers has greatly improved, and it is now being used in the field of figures, which are precisely made by human hands. In addition, 3D figure data is distributed on the Internet, and anyone with a 3D printer can easily create figures. An increasing number of companies are taking advantage of this to outsource production, and 3D printers are being used to produce original figurines as souvenirs to be distributed at weddings and other events.

4. Application examples of AM technology

Finally, let's take a look at some examples of actual applications of AM technology. Here, we would like to introduce you to GE, which manufactures aircraft engine parts using AM technology, and our company, which performs contract manufacturing using 3D printing technology.

・General Electric (GE)

GE Corporation of the United States was the first to adopt AM technology, and is famous as a world leader in this field. From an early stage, we applied AM technology to a series of development processes from aircraft engine design to prototype production and mass production. Currently, 35% of engine parts, such as fuel nozzles and turbine blades, are manufactured using AM technology. Specifically, we reduced the number of engine parts from 855 in the conventional product to just 12, and succeeded in improving everything, including production speed, weight reduction, durability, and fuel efficiency. In mass-produced products, material loss has been reduced by up to 90%, and the prices of manufactured parts have been reduced by about 30%.

・Our company 3D Printing Corporation

We provide design and engineering services using AM technology, contract manufacturing, and sell related equipment. The 3D printers we have introduced are compatible with various plastics and metals, and can complete the process from product design to prototype production in just 13 days. In addition, since the factory is located in Japan, we are able to provide a stable supply of parts without being influenced by international situations. In addition to 3D printing, our company supports various areas related to AM technology, such as how best to use it for customers, simulation of the actual manufacturing process, and selection of raw materials to be used. For customers who want to utilize AM technology, our company has the advantage of being able to receive a one-stop service.

5. Summary

This time, I explained the difference between the new AM technology and the conventional processing technology, and what can be achieved by using it. AM technology is a technology that creates products from scratch by stacking raw materials using a 3D printer. Unlike conventional processing technology, complex molding of plastics and metals can be realized with only 3D printers, raw materials, and data. This technology is suitable for high-mix low-volume production, such as mock-ups and molds, and high-performance conventional products. At 3DPC, we fully support companies that want to manufacture products using AM technology with our high technical capabilities. Please feel free to contact us when considering.

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