Many think of 3D printing as primarily a prototyping technology. This perception is changing rapidly as manufacturers worldwide are using additive manufacturing for short-run manufacturing of plastic production parts. The most traction is for small to medium quantities, where traditional tooling isn’t up to speed.
The term used to describe this is the ‘bridge-manufacturing technique’ — manufacturing moderate quantities of parts, as parts for end-use working products. Bridge manufacturing lets OEMs bring product designs to market faster.
It also allows companies to be more agile in responding to feature requests and modifications based on customer demands. This agility represents significant cost savings before finalizing tooling for bulk production, using the best part iteration.
This approach is also called pilot or rapid manufacturing (synonymous with 3D printing). This technique lets OEMs get new versions of products into production without tool changes for every design modification. The biggest saving here is time to market.
Advances in additive-manufacturing machines and materials to print plastic-composite parts are spurring new uses of bridge manufacturing. It’s particularly useful for consumer-product and synthetic-component makers because the forming of plastic parts by traditional injection moulding is notoriously expensive and slow.
This is where two opportunities emerge — the use of 3D printed end-use products that can be introduced to the market, helping designers adjust their designs based on market feedback. A second opportunity is a reduction in tooling times.
Bridge manufacturing for plastic and metal parts production also eliminates the abrupt transition from design to production. In traditional product development work-flows, ideas germinate into sketches and models, which spur prototypes. Then market input and testing prompt design changes.
Once a product gets the green light, everything comes to a screeching halt, and drawings and models are locked down for production tooling, only to reemerge weeks or months later as a mountain of component parts making up the deliverable product.
Comparison of Typical Outsourced Part Iteration Manufacturing Time-lines
There are two primary challenges manufacturers face with part design iterations. Administrative, and the tool manufacturing timelines. Each design iteration has an inherent time delay due to these two necessary processes.
Traditional Manufacturing Timeline
A common time factor in a traditional part design iteration is the administrative process required to raise an order. Typically approvals have to be signed off up the chain before an order can be raised. This incurs a cumulative delay in the process.
Then there is the actual time taken to physically modify existing tooling (if possible) or to build out new tooling. As this is largely a manual process that requires both machinist time and machine time, the job needs to be scheduled onto the production board, increasing delays.
Additive Manufacturing Timeline
In an Additive Manufacturing timeline, the process is similar, except for the significantly reduced manufacturing time 3D printing allows. There are other benefits unique to 3D printing — functional part integration (reducing multiple, assembled parts into a single functional part) and complex geometries are just two of the many. You can read more on these 3D printing advantages in this article on industrial 3D printing.
Akhani 3D ‘AM as You Go™’ Timeline
Akhani 3D have developed a package to deal with both the administritive delays and manufacturing delays. We call it ‘AM as You Go™’.
It removes the delays inherent in both administration and manufacturing, providing a time-saving potential of up to 6.5x (46 days down to 7 days) per iteration. When one considers that typical product design lifecycles have multiple design iterations, the cumulative time savings are significant. To the point that this alone, can be a competitive advantage for the product.
Metal 3D Printing in Short Run Manufacturing
EOS metal 3D printing machines have been building sophisticated metal parts for medical designs and, have already evolved 3D printing well beyond prototyping and bridge manufacturing into full-scale production.
Consider Executive Engineering, a leading engineering operation in Blackheath, Cape Town. Encouraged by Akhani 3D clients, LRS Implants, specialists in both upper and lower-limb salvage scenarios, they installed an EOS M290 from Rapid 3D to fulfill this requirement.
“The most fulfilling part of my job is seeing a design move from computer, to machine, to patient, knowing that we have made a difference in that patient’s life.”Neil Campbell – LRS Implants
What many don’t realise is that machining still needs to take place once the 3D object is built. Logistically it was becoming a nightmare for LRS as they were having to work with international partners to provide the capabilities they required. With Executive Engineerings investment, they now have a local partner that can provide them with a full service.
For Executive Engineering, this investment in an EOS metal 3D printer doesn’t simply end with medical applications.
“By leveraging the EOS M 290 we will also be targeting industries like aerospace, the motor industry, and other markets looking towards metal 3D printing to transform their manufacturing processes.”Willie Conradie – Executive Engineering
Akhani 3D added an EOS M290 to its range of 3D printers in 2019. This allows 3D print service bureau clients to test 3D printed metal parts and component use cases before making the investment in purchasing a metal 3D printer.
You can use our online quoting system to cost and 3d print your metal parts.
Additive Manufacturing of Laboratory Equipment
Quick delivery of end products, customization and freedom of design are critical to medical implant applications. Similarly, medical devices and parts for laboratory equipment are complex niche products that are only produced in small batches.
Conventional production often requires expensive tooling, whose cost then needs to be added to the products. By contrast, additive manufacturing works without any tooling, enabling parts to be manufactured in smaller batches, right down to a batch size of one.
Centrifuge manufacturers Hettich significantly improved the cost-efficiency of their series production with additive manufacturing and are taking full advantage of 3D printing.
Hettich invented and patented a new type of centrifuge that allows blood components to be sedimented and separated in a single device.
The ROTOMAT consists of a drum motor with six containers and collection trays. The containers have an elaborate geometry and are placed under high rotational speeds, with accelerations of up to 1,200 times the acceleration due to gravity.
Centrifuges use the centrifugal force to separate mixtures into their components. Typical applications include preparing blood samples or performing a blood panel.
When manufactured conventionally, each washing rotor consists of 32 separate parts that need to be assembled. This requires complex tools and a time-consuming, costly assembly process, especially since the stainless steel injectors need to be painstakingly deburred.
Switching to EOS Stainless steel metal 3D printing technology paid off for Hettich – with impressive efficiency gains:
- The washing rotor was redesigned and now consists of 3 assembly parts instead of 32 – with improved functionality.
- The containers are manufactured tool-free at lower production costs.
- Small series productions and regional adjustments can easily be implemented.
- Assembly no longer requires tools, and the time-consuming deburring step is completely eliminated.
Discuss your small production run opportunities with Akhani 3D today.
Use our online 3D printing quotation engine to cost your part(s) and place it directly into our build queue or send us a message and start the conversation.