When implementing a new platform, it is easy to make a costly error without realising until it is too late. Mistakes always cost money and can ruin your business if they’re big enough. It’s simpler, cheaper and far less painful to learn from other people’s bad business decisions.
Here are 6 common pitfalls when launching an additive manufacturing system and how you can avoid them.
1. Choosing the wrong AM system
This is the big one and it could bring an end to your own personal industrial revolution in additive production before it begins. Selecting an additive manufacturing system sounds simple, but this is complex, fast-moving technology. Even if you get the right system today, there’s a chance it could be the wrong one next month.
The only way to avoid the problem is to hire the right people before you commit to an AM set-up. Define your goals, account for other 3D printing tasks in the planning stages and make sure you have a solid system that serves all your needs.
Consider a modular design for your production line too, as both your company and the technology will evolve. A flexible floor-plan where individual units can be easily replaced is a basic requirement in the emerging science of additive manufacturing.
Until you’re truly familiar with additive printing and ready to invest serious money, it might be safer to order 3D printing online from an outside supplier using the 3D cloud. Metal 3D printing, in particular, is a challenge, and a smart move could be to entrust it to experienced professionals as you build your expertise.
2. Choosing the wrong software
Past performance is the best indicator for the future
The wrong 3D printing software package isn’t as difficult to fix as the wrong hardware, but it’s a mistake that could cost you money forever and you will never know. The inefficiencies and problems you come to accept, especially if you’re using several different packages, might never occur with the right manufacturing optimization software.
More and more companies are opting for end-to-end 3D printing software packages that deal with everything from the design stage through to the post-print validation. Packages like Siemens NX Additive Manufacturing software enable an end-to-end solution from design, through validation, to machine code generation. Miscommunication and other problems are eliminated by design.
Past performance is the best indicator for the future, so build a shortlist and talk to potential suppliers. Ask how this specific machine and software package has previously solved the problems you face.
3. Basic design flaws that compound in the finished product
Design for additive manufacturing isn’t as simple as producing the product in CAD and feeding it to the printer. 3D printing comes with its own complex set of problems, including support structures, wall thickness and voids.
If a wall is too thin then the layer-by-layer approach of a 3D printer won’t work, the product will collapse under its own weight and the print will fail. Also, hollow spaces can be filled with support structures that cannot be removed after the fact or even unused resin. That can affect functionality.
Other common design issues include designing with unstitched surfaces in CAD files, which then translate to broken STL files that will hold up your production processes.
You can fix this issue before it begins by ensuring your designers have specialist training and can convert existing design skills to the world of additive manufacturing.
Modern end-to-end software packages also flag up design issues before the print stage. So printing and post-processing should be faster and cheaper, with fewer expensive failures.
4. Unacceptable tolerances
Industrial additive manufacturing processes generally work with tighter tolerances than hobbyist and simple prototypes. If you apply the traditional standards to additive manufacturing, you might find your parts just don’t fit.
Heat, warping and slight variations in the surface finish are part of the manufacturing process. The new breed of industrial printers like the HP Multi Jet Fusion are closing the gap on traditional manufacturing processes. Simulation software can also combat and account for warping, while industrial printers offer a better surface finish than home PLA printers.
Before you fire off 1000 copies of your traditional components, though, it is definitely worth playing with the tolerances to see what works in the real world. You may even want to outsource and order 3D prints online to give yourself perfect components on which to base your decisions.
5. Excessive post-processing
Printing a part is not the end of the story. You also have to plan for post-processing in the design stages for maximum efficiency, otherwise the overall cost could skyrocket.
That means minimizing support structures, making them easy to remove and limiting the post-processing any way you can. Again, this is a skill that comes with experience, although modern end-to-end 3D printing design packages for the industrial sector can help shorten this learning process. Simulations will help you find the right balance of support and time spent in post-processing.
We’re at a tipping point in history. Additive manufacturing is set to command a larger portion of the manufacturing market
6. 3D printing everything
We’re at a tipping point in history. Additive manufacturing is set to command a larger and larger portion of the manufacturing market as it progresses, but we’re not 100% there. Right now, some parts are simply too expensive and complex to create with additive printing.
Leading companies have used Additive Manufacturing for rapid prototyping for more than 25 years. This enables them to quickly evaluate design, see and feel the parts, check assemblability and make quick changes. The finished parts are often manufactured by traditional methods.
Additive Manufacturing can also complement existing manufacturing processes in some cases, rather than an outright replacement. BMW uses tools produced on the fly to help its workers place components more efficiently, including a thumb protector for pushing in fasteners.
Other companies have found that producing molds with a 3D printer and then opting for traditional injection molding, is the most effective way to incorporate modern tech into their production cycle. It’s a long way from rapid prototyping and yet 3D printing isn’t quite a magic wand for every part.
Evaluate each and every component and decide if it’s ready for 3D printing. You might find a combination of traditional manufacturing techniques and additive manufacturing is the way to go as the 3D printing marketplace matures.
Join the Siemens Additive Manufacturing Network to avoid painful and costly mistakes as your company switches to 3D printing here. You can also contact us and our experts will get in touch to talk through your specific project and how our AM network can help make your dreams into a production reality.