What is Additive Manufacturing?

Discover how AM can revolutionise your performance

Additive manufacturing, leveraging the latest in design and production technology, enables the creation of complex parts and systems, with minimal material use, that overcomes the limitations on design experienced when using traditional machining techniques such as milling, machining, carving or shaping.

Often referred to as “3D printing” or “rapid-prototyping”, additive manufacturing is the process of taking a digital 3D design of a part and building through the depositing of material across multiple thin layers in the exact geometric shapes required to produce the finish component.

As the name implies, this is very much a process of adding material to manufacture the required part, whereas standard machining techniques require material to be removed until the finished part is created.

In manufacturing parts and systems using an additive approach, part designs can be optimised such that minimal material is used (saving money) whilst still delivering required functionality, part designs can be exponentially more complex to improve performance, and speed of manufacture can be increased as fewer machining processes are required.

Although not necessarily a new technique, the technological capabilities available through design software and additive machinery is quickly making additive manufacturing a go-to solution for many industries.

Learn how you might benefit from an additive approach by using our additive manufacturing resource centre, or get in touch and speak to our dedicated additive engineers.

Why choose Additive Manufacturing

Let’s begin by considering the benefits of Additive Manufacturing and what value you can expect to extract from using this manufacturing methodology.

As mentioned, additive manufacturing is a process of depositing material in many layers to form a finished part. There is no switching to another machining process to achieve certain design requirements such as angles, channels, bends etc, if it is designed into the software model then the print will deposit the necessary material to form that element. 

This gives us predominantly 4 key advantages:

Complex Geometries

The single biggest opportunity that an engineer can leverage when using additive manufacturing is the ability to create extremely complex parts that might not even be possible using traditional machining techniques.

As an example, designing increasingly complex heat sinks that fit into tight assemblies whilst delivering the heat dissipation qualities required to maintain performance.

Other such design complexities that can be accommodated easily with additive manufacturing include constant diameter radial channels, honeycomb structural design, in-built gearing systems, etc.

Designers are no longer restricted to the limitations previously bestowed on them by the manufacturing methods available, creating parts with greater design freedoms to extract improved performances.

Weight Savings

Whether required as a cost restraining strategy or a system performance improvement strategy, the weight of a part has always been looked upon as something to reduce. This is certainly a design requirement for industries that require as lightweight construction as possible such as aerospace, automotive, and medical.

Additive manufacturing enables engineers to design parts that maintain structural integrity whilst also reducing large amounts of weight by incorporating structural designs that can be produced in print and not through traditional methods.

The commonly used example in AM here is the utilisation of a honeycomb structure that preserves the strength and function of a solid shape whilst dramatically reducing weight. The intricate bonds would not be able to be created traditionally but through additive, they can.

Some applications have seen a reduction in weight by up to 84% when deploying a design for additive approach.

Time Saving

Manufacturing a part through traditional methods can be time-consuming, dependent on what initial material forming process is used and the many cutting techniques used to create our final shape.

Take casting or forging as a method to produce our initial material shape, a large time and cost investment is required to produce the patterns and dies needed to form our shape, followed by many machining processes to get the finish we require.

The print phase of additive manufacturing is taken directly from the 3D design file, requiring no additional patterns or dies to form the shape. Variations on designs can also be incorporated into the print phase at any time. As quick as your design engineers produce the design file you can start printing.

Weight Savings

What may be a logical conclusion as a result of the weight, time, and complex design benefits of additive manufacturing, cost-saving is, of course, one of the major benefits of this manufacturing method.

If you can produce a complex design that is manufactured with minimal material and minimal time, you’ll save money compared to traditional cutting manufacturing methods that produce lots of waste and consume many man hours.

But, what also cumulatively adds to the cost-saving benefit is the low run numbers that can be accomplished through additive manufacturing. As a method of manufacturing prototypes, generally manufacturing 1 to 10 off at a time, additive manufacturing gives you the ability to be cost optimised at low and high run numbers. Something that can’t be done with traditional methods.

Types of Additive Manufacturing

There are a variety of different additive manufacturing processes. Here at Freeform Technology, we use a Powder Bed Fusion process to form highly accurate and versatile parts using our SLM SL280 printer.

Powder Bed Fusion involves spreading a thin layer of metal powder across the base and sintering this using a highly focused laser to melt and fuse the powder in the locations determined by the design. The base plate lowers, a new layer of material is swept across the plate and the material melted. Continuing in this vein until the part build is complete.

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Videos of Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing Materials

Adding to the versatility of Additive Manufacturing as a manufacturing method is its ability to form parts from various materials.

There are generally three material types that can be used; metals, polymers, and ceramics. Each of the various AM processes can accommodate these different materials.

When identifying a material to use variances in material characteristics on completion of the print need to be considered. As part of the process includes high temperatures, different materials react differently to in how this impacts structural integrity, print formation, thermal expansion etc.

Here at Freeform Technology we only print in Aluminium. As a material known for its weight and heat dissipation characteristics, we’ve found that we can leverage our design for additive manufacturing expertise to extract additional performance outputs compared to traditional machining techniques. 

Par for the course, we’ve run hundreds of tests using the finest Aluminium powder so that we can accurately model how the design will fair whilst undergoing these high temperatures. We can programme our laser sintering profile to ensure that the constructed part is manufactured under known and controlled thermal stresses.

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The Additive Manufacturing Process

Additive Manufacturing isn’t as simple as made out by those with a 3D printer sitting on their desk. As with any part manufacture, there is a process that needs to be undertaken to ensure the finished part is fit for purpose.

As found with many “3D Printing” service providers, this process is only partially completed by any one individual e.g. they print and nothing else, but it’s the cumulative benefits of each step that will improve your design, reduce cost, and meet deadlines.

Freeform Technology, as world-class precision engineers delivering highly spec’d parts to the Formula 1 industry are equipped to deliver this whole process.

See how process improves performance

We’ve identified 8 steps within the AM process

  • Part specification

  • Design for Additive Manufacturing

  • First print

  • Design optimisation

  • 2nd Print Test

  • Print Run

  • Post print finish

  • Inspection

Interested in the potential of Additive Manufacturing?

Speak with one of our AM engineers to understand how you might be able to improve performance, save time, and save money by leveraging Additive Manufacturing for your part manufacturing.