What is Additive Manufacturing?

Updated: Jan 6

Ultimaker S5 manufacturing a gear

Additive Manufacturing (AM)

AM is a process that uses digital 3D design data to build up a component in layers by depositing material. You start with nothing and build the component one layer at a time by 'printing' each new layer on top of the previous one. The thickness of each layer can vary based on the technology used.

There are seven major AM process classifications defined by ASTM with many new variants being added every year. These processes are listed below. We will discuss each one further in future articles.

  • Extrusion

  • Photopolymerization

  • Powder Bed Fusion

  • Material Jetting

  • Binder Jetting

  • Directed Energy Deposition

  • Lamination

In contrast with AM, conventional manufacturing techniques such as machining are subtractive. You start with a block, bar, or rod of material and remove unwanted material until you are left with the desired part. This may result in significant material waste. Additionally, formative processes like injection molding or casting also require excess material in order to fill sprue and runner cavities. This material is later removed and recycled or disposed of. Examples of conventional manufacturing include:

  • Turning

  • Milling

  • Grinding

  • Injection Molding

  • Casting

There are many benefits of using AM in your business, but it cannot always replace conventional manufacturing. In critical applications, AM parts are usually near-net-shape. That means the dimensions are not quite within the required tolerances, but close.

For example, say you are an engineer designing an assembly consisting of two cylindrical mating parts. These parts are designed to press together and stay in place when the interference fit is 0.0001". If the interference fit is too small, the parts may come apart. If it is too big, the high interfacial pressure may cause cracking or premature failure. Obtaining this kind of tolerance using AM is very difficult. A solution could be to produce the features using AM to achieve near-net-shape then machine them to achieve the the tight tolerances.

The above scenario is just one possible point to consider before deciding if AM is correct for your application. There are many others. In future articles we will dive deeper into each AM technology and how it can be applied to help your company stay competitive.

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At Nexus3, we partner with businesses to bring their innovations to life. If you have an engineering challenge that needs solving or if you need parts fabricated using AM technology, contact us. We will help you solve your toughest problems.

Nexus3 is your innovation partner. Let us help you realize what is possible.

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