When early manufacturing giants realized that their mass production techniques would not be effective if they wished to maintain their competitive edge, they started to research new manufacturing methods. One of the most remarkable outcomes of these efforts was rapid prototyping. In the past, production had always been a way to convert or shape a material into another form by subtracting parts of it. With rapid prototyping, companies began to envision a very different vision to approach to manufacturing: additive manufacturing. In the beginning of this new era, rapid prototyping tools were used only to model the product before production. This eventually gave rise to rapid tooling, which is the production of tooling directly from rapid prototyping process.
In the last two decades, additive manufacturing has grown from rapid prototyping into new technologies like 3D printing that has was originally used to manufacture medical implants, mold/die, brackets/tools/fixtures and many more products. Today it is a growing trend used by manufacturers in almost every industry. The additive manufacturing market, excluding materials, is expected to be valued at $5B in 2016 and is expected to reach $ 11.4B by the year 2020 at an annual growth rate of 21.0% from 2016 through 2020.
Growth rate and developments in the area makes one wonder what makes additive manufacturing so attractive when compared to subtractive manufacturing. Dr. Swee Mak, Director, Future Manufacturing Flagship, CSIRO explains, “In comparison with traditional subtractive manufacturing method in which a block of finished material is machined down to make a product, additive manufacturing methods are fast, use less energy, and generate less waste material.” With additive manufacturing it is possible to produce geometrically complex designs with no tooling and setup required. It also gives the product better strength than wrought/cast.
Today it is unknown if additive manufacturing will be the new face of manufacturing and replace the currently used machines and processes. However, it is certain that it will have its place in the market in the very near future and we will see that these advanced applications are going to be increasingly accessible to businesses and individuals.
Check our blog next week for the next installment in our Rise of Additive Manufacturing blog series!