Key Strategies for Companies to Embrace Metal Additive Manufacturing

Key Strategies for Companies to Embrace Metal Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, has revolutionised the manufacturing industry with its ability to produce complex and customised components in a short period of time. This market is divided into three segments: 3D printer and raw materials providers, product design and manufacture companies, and end customers. In this article, we will deep dive into the Metal AM market. (Read about the pros and cons of metal AM here.)

In recent years, the market for metal AM has seen a shift towards product design and manufacture companies, which use 3D printing to produce highly customised products. These companies have the capability to purchase their own equipment for internal use or provide 3D printing services to end customers. Companies such as Formlabs, a 3D printer and raw materials provider, and Relativity Space, a product design and manufacture company, are examples of companies that are operating in this space.

Businesses who want to incorporate Metal AM into their workflow need to first develop a clear business model by identifying the target market, pricing strategy, and revenue streams.

Businesses must also decide whether they want to remain as an end customer, purchase their own equipment for internal use only, become a 3D printing service provider, or even manufacture their own equipment for their specific use case. Each option has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, and businesses must weigh these carefully before making a decision.

To guide businesses in this decision-making process, we suggest the following key strategies:

1. Focus on niche markets and specialised applications

Identify the specific use case for which you want to use 3D printing and assess your company’s capabilities in terms of equipment and expertise. One key point for businesses is to focus on niche markets and specialised applications. For example, aerospace and defense companies can use 3D printing to produce lightweight and highly complex parts for aircraft and satellites, while medical device manufacturers can use 3D printing to produce customised prosthetics and implants.

By focusing on niche markets, businesses can differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage.

Example: In aerospace engineering, companies such as GE Aviation have been using 3D printing to produce complex metal parts for jet engines, such as fuel nozzles. The fuel nozzles in GE’s LEAP engine, for example, are produced using a 3D printing technique known as direct energy deposition, which allows for very precise control over the shape and structure of the part. This has led to a significant reduction in the weight of the nozzle, as well as an increase in its durability and performance.

2. Before CAPEX outlay, explore working with service bureaus

Consider the costs of purchasing or leasing equipment, hiring employees, and providing services. Compare these costs to the benefits of producing customised products or services. One good way to explore metal AM without the initial CAPEX outlays would be to work with service bureaus. Companies like i.materialise & protolabs provide value added metal AM services and provides valuable resource to help your engineering team evaluate cost & benefits.

3. Invest in quality assurance

Ensure that your equipment is reliable and efficient by investing in quality assurance services and software. This will help you provide consistent and high-quality products or services to customers. As the market matures, peripheral businesses such as Additive Assurance, which provides Quality Assurance services for 3D printing, and 3D printer software providers, will also play a critical role in ensuring the quality and reliability of 3D printed parts.

To explore quality assurance in metal additive manufacturing, businesses must understand that it is a multi-disciplinary field that involves the collaboration of equipment manufacturers, material suppliers, service providers, and standards organisations to ensure that the final product meets the specified design requirements and is free of defects.

Read more about a typical AM qualifying process here.

4. Invest in improving product quality and manufacturing efficiency

As the technology continues to evolve, it is essential for businesses to stay up to date with the latest developments and advancements in 3D printing. This includes investing in new materials, software, and equipment to improve the quality, speed, and efficiency of their products.

Companies can do this by focusing on the development of new technologies, materials, and processes; hiring and training specialised personnel; and collaborating with research institutions and other organisations to access the latest knowledge and expertise in the field.

Key outcomes of R&D efforts would include the ability to create complex, customised parts and products with improved performance characteristics, reduced material waste and costs, and faster time-to-market for new products. Companies that are currently investing in metal additive manufacturing R&D include GE, Siemens, Rolls-Royce, and aerospace and automotive manufacturers such as Boeing and Audi.

GE has been investing in metal additive manufacturing for several years, developing technologies such as its Arcam EBM system, which is used to produce aerospace and medical parts. They also have a strong focus on developing new materials, such as new types of stainless steel and titanium, to be used in additive manufacturing.

Siemens has also been investing in metal additive manufacturing, developing its own metal 3D printing technology and using it to produce parts for its gas turbine business.

Rolls-Royce is using metal additive manufacturing to produce parts for its aircraft engines, with a focus on reducing weight and improving performance. The company has also been developing new materials for use in additive manufacturing, such as a new type of aluminum alloy.

Boeing has been using metal additive manufacturing to produce parts for its aircraft, including components for the 737 and 777 models. The company has also been investing in the development of new technologies and materials for additive manufacturing, such as high-temperature materials for use in aerospace applications.

In general all the above companies are investing heavily on the development of new materials and technologies, improving the performance of their products, reducing costs and materials waste, with a strong focus on aerospace and automotive industries. They are also collaborating with research institutions and other organisations to access the latest knowledge and expertise in the field of metal additive manufacturing.

TL;DR: In summary, for businesses looking to enter the market, having sufficient equipment to provide highly customised products or designing and selling a specific product that exploits the advantages of 3D printing is crucial.

To successfully do this, businesses should:

  1. Identify a specific application that requires metal AM, then use DFAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) to optimise the design of the parts.
  2. Test designs through service bureaus to validate and refine them before investing in equipment, as the DFAM process involves iteration.
  3. Invest in machines, a robust quality assurance process, and advanced materials and methods for the production of specialised metal parts.
  4. Establish a strong manufacturing capability to secure a competitive advantage in the niche market, with the goal of eventually developing a proprietary process for producing DFAM parts.

A strategic approach to metal AM will help businesses unlock the full potential of this cutting-edge technology. By focusing on a specific use case, using DFAM, testing designs through service bureaus, investing in equipment, processes and materials, and establishing a strong manufacturing capability, businesses can successfully enter the metal AM market and realise its benefits for their operations.