Additive Manufacturing vs. 3D Printing

Make additive manufacturing part of your strategy for success.

ed_haloI am disappointed in our own industry, which is missing out on a powerful message related to additive manufacturing (AM). When you look up the definition of AM, you see 3D printing and vice versa. When the terms “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” are used interchangeably (including by vendors in this industry), there are large and important components of AM that are ignored—arguably some of the most important with regard to changing how we manufacture things. Here is what I think.

A simple definition of 3D printing from the web says it is the ability to use an additive process to print, layer by layer, a physical object as a three-dimensional part. Seems pretty straightforward. But, to define additive manufacturing, we need to dig much deeper.

Defining Additive Manufacturing

Generally, AM can be separated into two main definitions.

1. Simple: Producing 3D-printed parts in volume in both a dimensionally accurate and repeatable way. These parts are suitable for end-use applications.

2. Not-so-simple, but very powerful: It is a whole new way to start thinking about your business.

If you get a printer or multiple printers in your business to print parts and continue to do things the way you always have, but in a more cost effective way and perhaps with better part designs, you are off to a good start. If you think about what having this technology could really mean to your company, however, you will find a number of other bottom-line enhancing benefits, such as:

• Lower costs by creating a better way to manage your inventory and spare parts on demand. There are many examples of how major manufacturers have upset their customers when a product is discontinued and all the customer needed was a $2 part that it is not available either. With AM, they could say: “No problem, I will have one printed for you and on its way in two days or less.”

• Part complexity is free. You can make your parts lighter, more functional and less expensive. You can reduce part count by combining multiple components into one, reducing assembly complexity and tolerance issues as well. Design for additive manufacturing, not design for manufacturing!

• Re-thinking supply chain activities such as capital to scale and capital to scope, and manufacturing closer to your customer.

• Taking advantage of a custom, short-run manufacturing model that may open the door for new customers and increasing time to market.

If you are a contract manufacturer or service bureau, you gain the ability to create a whole new proactive relationship with your customers. They will (and should always) be looking for a reason to do business with you. You can work directly with your customers to improve parts. Do not necessarily just print what they ask you to print; go ahead and print it but re-design it for additive manufacturing.

Embrace the Opportunity

So what is additive manufacturing really? It is not just producing parts in volume. Consider it to be an expansion of how you do things, similar to when CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine tools hit the manufacturing floor. You were able to envision a whole new world and way of doing things for your company and its customers—it was the future. AM brings you another opportunity at least as big.

Before you invest, do your homework with vendors that understand and can support your goals. You do not want to earn a PhD in what 3D printer not to buy (one that ultimately won’t meet your goals and requirements). Get help in selecting the materials that best match your printer’s capabilities. Additionally, get some outside input on which of your parts would lend themselves to an AM process.

Be sure to do a cost-per-part case study to determine your actual return on investment and bottom line improvements, and weigh that with competitive benefits you will gain.

Select a vendor who is willing to earn your business, and can contribute as a partner to the new knowledge you’ll need to take full advantage of the technology.

This is not just about buying a 3D printer. Treat it as an opportunity to find your next 10 years of competitive advantage, growth and profitability. Make additive manufacturing part of your strategy for success.

Ed Israel is president and co-founder of Plural Additive Manufacturing. Send email about this commentary to [email protected].

Share This Article

Subscribe to our FREE magazine, FREE email newsletters or both!

Join over 90,000 engineering professionals who get fresh engineering news as soon as it is published.

About the Author

Emil Berthelsen

Emil Berthelsen is a principal analyst at Machina Research, leading the Enterprise IoT stream, and focuses on Big Data, data analytics, M2M and IoT Platforms and SLAs.

Follow DE