Manufacturing benefits add up
Additive manufacturing has now broken out of the world of prototyping and will be featured at MACH 2020 as a production tool in its own right. New materials, new applications, improved processes and a growing role for additive manufacturing as a productivity tool in traditional production lines, will be key themes at the show.
Stuart Offer, Additive Manufacturing Sales Manager at exhibiting company Renishaw, says: "We have seen a big shift in the last two years and are getting a lot of serious enquiries from companies who want to use metal additive manufacturing as a production process. The majority of the machines we sell now are for production applications."
He says that there will be a lot of new technical advances at MACH 2020. "Because the technology is relatively new it doesn't stand still for long, so we are adding a lot of features and benefits like improved gas flow, laser control and user interfaces."
Renishaw's latest 4-laser machines are designed with productivity in mind. "The faster we can make the parts, then the cheaper they become," he says. These machines can also be used in innovative ways to process difficult metals that might be prone to cracking -- opening up a host of new applications.
Stuart says that a lot of work Renishaw carries out with its customers is in the qualification of the process for new applications.
"The key though, is to make sure that the parts have been designed with additive manufacturing in mind. If a part is easy to cast or machine, then generally that will still be the best process. But if the part has been designed with additive in mind, that is where additive manufacturing shows its capabilities."
Sabina Gonzalez-George of CREAT3D reiterates Stuart's message that AM it is not just about prototyping anymore.
She says that low-volume, one-off parts are being used in all sorts of industries, and not just for high-end parts.
"For example, a company making cooling equipment uses a small additive component as a fixing to hold a tray. We also have people making torque instrumentation who are now 3D printing batches of 100 small components rather than outsourcing them - they are just small parts that are used internally in the equipment.
"So, there is a shift to production pieces, but the area where people are really going to see value is in making their current processes more effective."
Sabina says that in terms of making production more efficient this includes items such as assembly fixtures, grippers, bespoke tools, spacers, guides, measurement tools and protective covers.
"You can also make sacrificial parts like stoppers or plugs - typically it is things that you have always sourced externally or maybe milled in-house.
She says companies should look at how applications sit within what they currently do.
"It doesn't need to be an exact copy of what you used before. It can actually be a better fit, or lighter, or stronger or cost less. It is a very practical approach to applying additive manufacturing."
If you're looking for the latest in Additive Manufacturing technologies from the leading companies in the sector, make sure you visit MACH 2020 to see the very latest in AM. Don't forget you can also speak to the MTA as the UK trade association representing the technology.