Additive manufacturing has the potential to completely upend entire product design, analysis, manufacturing and distribution processes. It also has the potential to transform people’s lives. Look no further than a group of engineers who designed an exoskeleton for a little girl who can now play and hug despite her struggles with arm strength and control.
This is a disruptive technology that could have an exponential impact on a lot of parts of businesses, and its potential impact is what worries CEOs and business managers every day. But instead of fearing the technology, they should embrace it.
In this series on additive manufacturing, Andreas Saar explores the impact this new process is already having on businesses and industries. In part one, he described companies in a number of industries that have started experimenting with the different types of products additive manufacturing can create. Here, he discusses why and how companies are paying attention to additive manufacturing.
Industries explore additive manufacturing benefits
Printing on demand is a major factor that’s driving companies to use additive manufacturing, particularly for the spare part industry. If you need a replacement part fast so it can replace a defective part, but you don’t want to store expensive spare parts, this manufacturing process can do that. You can print whatever, wherever and whenever you need.
Siemens Mobility has a Spare Part Services program that prints spare parts for trains all around the world. This program takes each organization’s unique requirements into consideration and can provide spare parts over a system’s entire lifecycle.
If a drill head breaks on an offshore oil drilling platform, 3D printing would give the company the option to recoat the broken drill head and minimize or even prevent disruptions to their production schedule.
The U.S. Navy has already installed a compact 3D printer on a ship and has printed out sample parts. And according to defense contractor Qinetiq, navies around the world could use 3D printing to print autonomous vehicles at sea in the next 15 years.
The additive manufacturing revolution has already started. It will further force companies to consider how they can use this disruptive technology to innovate products, radically change designs, alter production, and optimize their business processes. Additive manufacturing will be, and already is, a catalyst to inject new ideas and designs into new product development. It will inspire designers young and old to come up with innovations that haven’t been possible before. And it will allow companies to simplify production processes and in-source production for better quality control and inventory reduction.
Let’s look at GE’s 3D printed fuel nozzle, the first FAA-approved product of its kind. GE simplified a complex production process by reducing part complexity from 20 components to one. It printed the entire nozzle and improved performance at the same time, leading to a superior product that can be produced faster and more cheaply.
A small, dedicated team designed and printed this part. The team accomplished its goal to make this part. Imagine the thousands of designers using NX who are starting to think about how to innovate their design with additive manufacturing. A revolution has started.
What about the casting industry? Additive manufacturing can help increase the motor’s cooling surface and reduce total weight by printing the engine block. Today, a small series is already cost efficient. Falling hardware prices for printers combined with higher printing speed will push the curve up.
Siemens Power and Gas offers a good example of product innovation with its new burner head. It has fine channels to allow cooling fluid to push through and reduce the temperature in the burner head. This significantly increases the burner’s life span and reduces maintenance costs for large gas turbines.
In the end, what counts for companies is making better products, faster, and cheaper, accelerating innovation and staying ahead of competition.
Why companies are paying attention to additive manufacturing
There are three main reasons why we see companies looking into additive manufacturing.
The first is the statistics. The additive manufacturing market is experiencing exponential growth. New players like HP, Trumpf, DMG-Mori and Autodesk are entering the market. Gartner estimates that worldwide 3D printer shipments will reach more than 490,000 in 2016. New materials, plastic and metal, are being developed by independent providers as well as larger companies. And there’s a lot of money being spent to research additive manufacturing. In 2013, the National Institute of Standards and Technology awarded $7.4 million in grants for additive manufacturing research.
The second is that there are always people exploring alternative ways to produce a part. They want parts that are cheaper and better, and they want to print those parts at times and locations most convenient to them. Production and distribution cost reduction are enormously important for a company’s future. Additive manufacturing offers new distribution method possibilities that could allow companies to reach their customers faster while reducing inventory.
The third is that people are visionaries. They believe that with this disruptive technology they can create products they have only dreamed of in the past. I met some of these people working at SpaceX, VG, NASA and Siemens. They strongly believe that additive technology will change the manufacturing industry. They believe this technology will help them to radically innovate products to a new level like never before.
And we should believe them.
This concludes part two of our three-part series on additive manufacturing. In part three, Andreas Saar highlights what additive manufacturing means for Siemens PLM and what its impact will be on its business.
Tell us: What do you think is the most important reason why companies should pay attention to additive manufacturing?
About the author
Andreas Saar is vice president of manufacturing engineering software for Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division. He and his team are responsible for developing applications and solutions, primarily on the NX platform, to deliver world-class software for part manufacturing, manufacturing planning of single and mass product production, machine tool simulation and shop floor data management. Andreas has been with Siemens PLM Software since 1984, holding a number of positions in product development, product management, technical support and sales. Andreas has been in the manufacturing software business for more than 28 years. He received his diploma in mechanical engineering and business from The Technical University of Darmstadt/Germany (TUD) in 1982. He is currently based in Siemens PLM Software’s Cypress, California office.