Yakima County Development Association - A 3D Twist to Traditional Manufacturing

Jean Brown

Article by:
Jean Brown

Jean publishes a blog called the Enterprise Corner.  It features articles on entrepreneurship, local industry trends, manufacturing news and periodic ‘toolbox’ articles showcasing assistance, incentives and other resources for local businesses.



A 3D Twist to Traditional Manufacturing

A 3D Twist to Traditional Manufacturing

April 10, 2014

Three-dimensional (3D) printing, which involved making products and components from a digital model, is revolutionizing manufacturing operations across the country.  Similar to an office printer, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material according to a digital blueprint.

There are many value added applications for 3D printing (aka “additive manufacturing”).  Additive Manufacturing (AM) itself is not new, some of its rapid prototyping technologies have been used for decades.  The new 3D technology allows companies to go much further today – using additive manufacturing for actual production.  As an example, instead of milling a component from solid block, a 3D printer builds up parts layer by layer using materials which are available in fine powder form. A range of different metals, plastics and composite materials may be used.

The strengths of AM lie in those areas where design and manufacturing complexities require innovative, customized solutions. With these new technologies, you can design parts and products that were previously not possible.  3D printers work directly from a computer model, so people can devise completely new shapes without regard for existing manufacturing limitations.  This allows companies to implement design-driven manufacturing process - where design determines production and not the other way around.  AM provides wholly new degrees of design flexibility, optimizes and integrates functional features, and allows companies to manufacture small batches of specialized products economically.

Engineers are starting to explore how to use additive manufacturing with a wider range of metal alloys, including some materials specifically designed for 3-D printing.  GE Aviation, for one, is looking to use titanium, aluminum, and nickel-chromium alloys. A single part could be made of multiple alloys, letting designers tailor its material characteristics in a way that’s not possible with casting. A blade for an engine or turbine, for example, could be made with different materials so that one end is optimized for strength and the other for heat resistance.

3-D printing finds its value in the printing of low volume, customer-specific items—items that are capable of much greater complexity than is possible through traditional means.   Design and production companies use 3D printing to make components for digital cameras, mobile phones and machine parts as well as interior trim elements for automobiles, components and modules for aircraft, medical and dental implants and that’s just scratching the surface.  Companies are claiming the value of additive manufacturing is that it enables shorter lead times, mass customization, reduced parts count, more complex shapes, parts on demand, less material waste, and lower life-cycle energy use.

The potential impact of additive manufacturing is huge. 3D printing technology is changing the game for manufacturers. It is disrupting the age-old supply chain and replacing it with something entirely new: a globally connected, local supply chain.  You can print on demand, meaning you don't have to have finished products stacked in warehouses anymore. In the future it may not be financially efficient to send products zipping across the globe to get to the customer when manufacturing can take place almost anywhere.

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"We are a community in transition, we are hungry...seeking to draw new business." - Dave Edler, City of Yakima