Additive Manufacturing VS 3D Printing

3D Printing | 2 May 2024 | Rick Beddoe

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3D printing vs Additive Manufacturing

What is Additive Manufacturing

“Manufacturing” has been around for centuries. The basic definition, “the making of articles on a large scale using machinery” which is a good summary. There are myriad methods of manufacturing. Casting, sintering, machining, and molding are just a small sampling. With the advent of 3D printing, the term ‘Additive Manufacturing’ evolved as an umbrella to generally refer to all manufacturing methods that use 3D printing. 

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a relatively inexpensive process to implement. The equipment is straightforward, for the most part, and does not require the extensive resources of equipment that traditional (i.e. casting, sintering, machining, molding) require. The materials available to Additive Manufacturing are comprehensive and growing. These include everything from plastics to metals, with plastics being the largest substrate by far. 

In addition, additive manufacturing offers not only innovative materials but also enhanced sustainability. By minimizing the amount of scrap generated, this manufacturing process contributes to a more sustainable approach. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that often generate significant amounts of waste material, additive manufacturing builds objects layer by layer, utilizing only the necessary materials. This low cost of entry has made it possible to rapidly iterate product development. AM is so commonplace now that it’s easy to lose sight of what a major impact this has had on getting products to market.

What is 3D Printing

April 12, 1981, was the launch of STS-1 – the first Space Shuttle. That same year, Dr. Hideo Kodama invented the first 3D printing machine using a polymerized resin that could be laser-cured layer by layer. In 1984, Chuck Hull patented that technology as the first ‘Stereolithography Apparatus’ (SLA). Chuck would go on to found 3D Systems, today one of the leading SLA manufacturers in the world. In 1988, Scott Crump developed a plastic extrusion machine he called ‘Fused Deposition Modeling’ (FDM). His company, Stratasys, began selling FDM commercially in 1992. Back then, a 3D printer cost over $300k ($800k today).

3D Printing is a Commoditized Process

3D Printing has become a commoditized process that is accessible to anyone.

It’s that commoditization that equates the term ‘3D printing’ with a low-cost, hobbyist platform. Most implementations of these low-cost 3D printers in any commercial environment have little to no impact on overall business goals. It’s not uncommon to see a 3D printer sitting on the desk of a design engineer. It provides an easy way to manifest physical outputs to be used as a supplement to the development process. 

However, when considering commercial applications that are a part of overall business strategies, these consumer-grade (sub $2000) printers lack the ability to conform to the rigorous processes companies require when developing manufactured (end-use) parts. For instance, there is much more to medical device products than the product itself. There are overarching FDA and ISO requirements, supply chain requirements, and process control requirements such as receiving and inspection that need to be applied to production equipment.

The machines need to go through a lengthy characterization process that includes manufacturing documentation, performance monitoring, and understanding service level agreements from the equipment vendor. This is not something you will be able to develop for a $200 3D printer purchased from Amazon.

While 3D printers find a great deal of utility as a tactical, point solution. There is a coming-of-age that requires more from this equipment in order to realize its true strategic potential. That’s where Additive Manufacturing comes in.

The Difference Between Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing

To get a sense of the implications for industrial-grade Additive Manufacturing solutions, consider a company like Cargill. You can be forgiven if you do not know who Cargill is. They are the single, largest privately held corporation you’ve never heard of. They provide all the basic ingredients for the food you eat. You would be hard-pressed to not consume a Cargill product.

Given their great importance to the entire world’s food supply, it’s no surprise they employ rigorous controls to automate production. These controls are very expensive. However, their function is simple. One of their representatives was asked something along the lines of, “you realize that Arduino and Raspberry Pi can do all the stuff you guys are doing at a fraction of the cost.” They agreed. Then replied, “sure, but if one of those devices fails and people die, who’s liable?”

Implementing a manufacturing solution is much less about the technology and more about mitigating risk while having a positive outcome on business goals. Bringing 3D printing into the business ecosystem as a strategic solution is the defining characteristic of Additive Manufacturing. 3D printing is a component of Additive Manufacturing.

As a solution provider, the team at EAC is more interested in the broader implications of Additive Manufacturing. We have decades of experience in the design, development, and implementation of products. This gives us a unique perspective with the ability to understand how Additive Manufacturing fits within our already extensive offering. It is a natural extension of development. 

Why Should I Implement Additive Manufacturing

A ‘paradigm shift’ is defined as “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” We have seen several paradigm shifts in the last 50 years. Mobile phones weren’t much of a paradigm shift when they were introduced in the 70s. They were exclusive to the few who could afford them. The infrastructure did not exist to make them ubiquitous. While that quickly changed in the 90s, it wasn’t until phones took on many other tasks beyond being a phone with the advent of the iPhone. That device ushered in a major paradigm shift that we are currently experiencing. 

Manufacturing is currently experiencing a paradigm shift. We are still in the early stages. The early stage of a paradigm shift is characterized by creativity, confusion, and ‘solution saturation’. Additive Manufacturing is a major component of that paradigm shift. With over 2000 manufacturers of Additive Manufacturing equipment, it can be daunting to figure out what direction to take when implementing an AM solution (or whether implementing AM even makes sense). It begs the question, “why bother?”. For many manufacturers, this is uncharted territory.

Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC)

As a manufacturer, you will not want to carry the overhead of managing an entire Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machining floor or invest in a room full of injection molding equipment. The specialized nature of this equipment requires extensive resources and expertise that impacts the bottom line of your retail sales of vacuum cleaners. As a result, it has been a tradition to outsource the fabrication of components to providers who perform these specialized operations. While this is cost-effective, there are other considerations such as lead times and quality control that manufacturers have to contend with. This is especially challenging when developing new products as it is difficult to have design iterations using these traditional providers. The time and expense of creating tooling for products that may not work is not practical. 

This desire to quickly iterate through a design is what has driven the implementation of 3D printers in manufacturing environments. 3D printing was used as a bridge to a final product that was machined or injection molded. While this is a very useful process for development, there’s still a gap between the iterative prototyping phase and the final production phase. Unfortunately, that gap can be quite costly when the final product does not conform to the results of the 3D printed prototyped product.

3D printing was relegated to this stage in development for a number of reasons. From an aesthetic standpoint, 3D printing left a lot to be desired. For FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication – remember, the term ‘FDM’ is owned by Stratasys), the stair-stepping of layer lines is apparent. Resin-based printers are capable of very smooth surface finish but there are often artifacts left behind due to support structures. SLS does not have to worry about support, but the surface finish is described as ‘grainy’, and highly detailed features are difficult.

3D Printed Parts and Isotropy

In addition to that, 3D printed parts exhibit poor isotropy. Meaning they do not perform the same across all axes of the part. FFF parts in particular have less strength in the z direction than in the x and y direction. SLA, on the other hand, has 100% isotropy, yet resins have not demonstrated the same kinds of strength that traditionally manufactured parts exhibit.

Now, as this paradigm shift picks up speed, all of that is changing. Especially in regards to SLA and SLS. There are SLA resins that can create incredibly strong structures from silicone to polyurethane. For SLS, new postprocessing equipment is capable of reducing or even eliminating the graininess of powder-based prints. The implications of this are enormous. It means that design iterations can be performed using the same equipment and materials that are used for final production parts.

With the relatively low cost of entry and skill requirements, AM equipment can be reasonably implemented within the walls of final production. Lead times for production parts can now be a matter of days (or even hours) rather than months. The lack of tooling (AM is often referred to as ‘tool-less’ manufacturing), eliminates major costs. One major aspect of AM is the fact that each part can be unique. Not only does this mean each part can be personalized. It also means that changes can be implemented with no impact on production (other than appropriately documenting the change). 

How EAC Additive Can Help

EAC Additive is your go-to partner for all things Additive Manufacturing from hardware to consumables, and even services. While there are many AM providers in the industry, our company that’s been providing engineering solutions for over 27 years, EAC has the expertise in all aspects of manufacturing that companies require in order to be successful. We understand the implications that AM has on product development, quality assurance, supply chain, and production. 

To that end, EAC offers the AM Assessment, which is a comprehensive analysis of your company’s current state of utilizing Additive Manufacturing, and then gives you a roadmap and actionable steps to improve and integrate this innovative technology into your operations.

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