What Is Additive Manufacturing?
September 2, 2022
Additive manufacturing is a sustainable concept of production, whereby factories strive to satisfy the needs of their customers and tap into the natural world for its resources. This philosophy has been brought about as an alternative to traditional mass manufacturing which is commonly seen as unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly.
The concept of this means of production was first documented back in 1981, when Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute thought up a layer-by-layer approach to manufacturing, in response to his need for a rapid prototyping system. Later in 1983, an American furniture builder named Chris Hull invented stereolithography, a system for creating 3D models by curing a liquid photopolymer resin, layer by layer. Since these first theories and developments, additive manufacturing has come on in droves, with new technologies continuously being developed. Today AM is utilised worldwide and ever-expanding.
An Alternative Means Of Production
AM can be considered a direct response to the increasing amount of criticism and concern over current production methods. AM attempts to address the criticism that mass production fails to take into account, which includes: the needs of customers, the inappropriate and inefficient use of materials, environmental waste, and sustainable development.
The key to AM is that the object is created in a computer-generated design file, and then quickly made a reality by a 3D printer. These “3D printers” differ in that they work with varying raw materials. The materials with which they can work range from plastics, metals, concrete and even human tissue.
The industrial revolution ushered in a major shift in manufacturing. During the industrial age, manufacturers were able to mass produce goods and ship them around the world. However, this mass production had several drawbacks. One of the biggest problems was waste. Machines vary in the types of materials with which they can work. For example, an industrial machine may be best suited for making plastic, but that same machine cannot be used to manufacture a product made of graphene.
To begin additively manufacturing something, the 3D printers first requires a model. This model can be created in several ways such as drawing, modelling, computer aided design (CAD) or scanning. With the model, a 3D printer then uses successive layers of material to create the object, one layer at a time. The object is built downwards, layer by layer until the object can be removed from the printer.
Additive manufacturing has also been used to manufacture food items, including chocolate and cheese and can address the issue of wastage. Other foods previously manufactured through AM include soft foods such as biscuits, cakes and frozen desserts, as well as hard foods such as bread.
Similarly, additive manufacturing has resulted in the production of components using metal, industrial polymer, graphite and carbon fibre and so has led to an increase in industries relying on these materials. Industrial polymers are replacing the use of metals for manufacture, such as in aerospace, where AM can be used to create intricate components. The automotive industry is also one of the largest industrial consumers of polymers, and this has been further accelerated with the increase in sales of new technologies. AM has created new manufacturing opportunities in an ever-increasing number of industries and does so while saving money and raw materials.
Additive manufacturing is a broad term used to describe any product that is built using a layer-by-layer system. Although a model can be created in several ways such as drawing, modelling or scanning, a computer aided design (CAD) system is often the method of choice. A 3D printer uses successive layers of material to create the object, one layer at a time. The object is built downwards until the object can be removed from the printer. Although AM is now widely used in the aerospace and automotive industries by companies such as Boeing and Ford, 3D printing is not a limited technology and has come on in hurdles since the term was first coined in the early 1980s. With additive manufacturing, many intricate objects are able to be created with plastics, metals, concrete, food and even human tissue, meaning that the possibilities are limitless.
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