3D Printing in Manufacturing Solutions

Modern 3D Printing

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates an object based off a 3D model.  One of the main appeals of 3D printing is having the ability to produce complex objects both quickly and cheaply.  This is especially true when manufacturing one-offs or short runs, but the virtue might not be as you would think.  Many times, the cost savings of 3D printing comes into play when you need to create a jig or fixture quickly, or need to create tooling for something that you might not see again for a while.

Since 3D printers are capable of printing using a variety of materials, you can even use printers to create industrial parts, such as dies for a press brake.  By printing the tooling and reinforcing critical points with steel inserts, you can create forming tooling at a vastly lower cost. This is an example of when 3D printing is actually a better industrial manufacturing tool than the traditional tool-and-die process from a cost perspective, because many times the tooling costs exceeds what the customer is willing to pay when it comes to one-offs or short runs.  


Best Use Applications

Most people are aware of additive manufacturing and the value it has brought to the world of engineering.  There are, however, limits which keep additive manufacturing from matching the capabilities of subtractive manufacturing (such as CNC and lathe work). 

So, where does 3D printing provide the most value and how can you get the most bang for your buck?

Up until the past few years, any practical use of 3D printing has been relegated to plastics.  Metal 3D printing and various forms of hybrid manufacturing (which combine additive manufacturing a raw form and finishing on a CNC) have emerged, but generally still will require secondary operations to get a final part. 

So even though they aren’t fully capable of production work, many manufacturers have embraced the capabilities of 3D printing in different ways.  This spans from creating custom tools, creating fixturing for lighter machining work, or prototyping.

Time is Money

Prototyping is a very advantageous use of 3D printing technology.  Even if an organization has a machine shop, taking time on those machines not only costs money to run but also an opportunity cost in parts that could be running. The downside is the speed.  A full print could take six hours for a part that would take minutes in a CNC mill.  However, there is a cross-section where the amount of time needed to print is less important when a faster process could be used to continue making parts. 

What If You Don't Have A Printer?

As with anything in the world of manufacturing and engineering, one needs to find the right tool for the right job, and every business's needs are different.  If your business doesn't have access to a 3D printer in house, then a contracting the work out is often still a very cost-efficient option.  If you're working with a company to help you develop an automation solution and they have access to a printer for quick prototyping, this can be an extremely valuable asset. 

At BlueBay Automation, we have 3D printers as well as a mechanical design team ready to help you in your prototyping efforts as well as any sort of proof-of-concept you might be looking for.  But it doesn't stop at prototypes: our printers are capable of working with premium materials, allowing our products to surpass prototypes and be ready for use in your plant.  Reach out to our team today if you have a project we can help you with, whether that's a prototype, custom end of arm tooling, fixturing, or anything else.


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