3D printing: Applications and potential

3D printing is revolutionizing the way we create products. Each year, new 3D printing materials, printers, and technologies come to market. But how can 3D printing actually improve your company’s performance and make you more efficient?

What is 3D printing?

3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) is a manufacturing process in which parts are made by adding material together. Basically, successive layers of material are deposited one on top of the other to form an object.

The process is intended to be versatile and adapt to users’ needs. When coupled with generative design, 3D printing can produce organic, optimized forms that would be impossible to achieve using conventional manufacturing processes.

The key to success with 3D printing is identifying your needs and constraints from the outset. These depend on what your company does and the applications of the parts you intend to print. Merkur recommends hiring experts to help you assess your needs properly.

Manufacturing applications of 3D printing

For most manufacturing or product development companies, the main issues surrounding 3D printing are the characterization and mechanical properties of printed parts. You might also be wondering whether it’s possible to print plastic, metal, translucent, or even flexible parts. From a materials standpoint, almost all thermoset polymers can be used in 3D printing.

A number of metals are also candidates, including Inconel, titanium, various tool steels, and certain types of stainless steel. It’s important to know that metal parts are printed with either powder or filament, which requires special facilities. It’s a good idea to get an outside perspective to help you decide whether it’s a good option for you. The Merkur team can assist you in designing printed parts, choosing equipment, or carrying out a broader review of your product development process.

Is it possible to print finished products?

Some companies do print finished components—in the aerospace, automotive, and even medical sectors, for example. But it’s rare because one of the major challenges of 3D printing is the anisotropy of printed materials’ mechanical properties. With the exception of SLA printing, the mechanical properties of 3D printed objects aren’t the same on the printing plane as the normal plane, so printing direction has to be factored into the design process. However, thermal treatments do exist to help equalize properties across all directions.

How 3D printing can help your company on a day-to-day basis

3D printing greatly facilitates template design and implementation and accelerates development of innovative products. Compared to conventional machining processes, the precision of 3D printing makes it a faster and cheaper option for producing templates that can be used to position components and parts for welding and more.

3D printing also integrates seamlessly into existing product development processes. It enables you to create functional prototypes cheaply and efficiently. Here again, it’s all a matter of clearly determining your needs in terms of precision, materials, and surface finish.

These factors dictate the printing process used to make the part. They also have a direct impact on the cost of the prototype and can subsequently be used to assess proof of concept, assembly, and wear and tear. In short, 3D printing is an excellent tool for accelerating the iterative process and proof of concept for product development.

Introducing 3D printing into your product development process, from design to production, creates paradigm shifts that your team may find hard to accept. Merkur is a strategic partner that can help your company successfully negotiate this technology transformation.

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