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  • Writer's pictureKenko Soluciones

Products that, without additive manufacturing, wouldn’t exist.

When we talk about fast prototyping in physical products, 3D printing almost always comes up in conversation. Or at least, I consider it a compulsory topic for developing new products nowadays. But, how can additive manufacturing (AM) help expand the possibilities of new products? Can a final product be produced by AM? Is AM only viable for prototypes?

In this article I talk about those questions briefly, and since this is the first article on this blog about AM, let me talk briefly about how we define AM. It is the newest type of manufacturing process among other 5 types (forming, casting, molding, joining, and machining). Its working principle is simple: construct a part or model by strategically adding material to it. In this type of process there are 7 types of AM, out of which I will remark fused deposition modelling (FDM), VAT photopolymerization, and multi-jet fusion (MJF). Those three types are the ones most available in Mexico.

After that quick review, we can cover how AM expands what is possible for products. Just with the three types of AM that I introduced we can manufacture objects that are hollow, have an organic shape, don’t require draft angle, multi-colored, multi-material, and almost with no constraints for CAD designers (we will retake that “almost” in following articles).

Experienced engineers will surely think that the features I just listed are possible without AM; however, at what cost? A blessing of AM is that complexity comes with almost negligible cost. Take for example a titanium caliper made by Bugatti®, designed with a generative approach. Doing the DFM, planning toolpaths or creating the sacrificial part for casting, sure are somewhat possible, but it would be quite an engineering feat to accomplish (along with the incredible cost of it). Also, such a model would require a humongous production volume to make up for the initial investment. Considering that Volkswagen only manufactures around 80 Bugattis per year, even less people would be able to afford one of them.

There is also another case of AM being used for tooling, to help other types of manufacturing. For example, when optimizing the cooling time of injection molds; AM can help by creating a non-uniform tube around the cavities for the coolant to travel. This is known as conformal cooling, and is used for improving the heat transfer of the mold to the coolant, increasing yields.

Here in Soluciones Kenko, AM has helped us in producing prototypes, validating those prototypes with clients and users, and in manufacturing products ready to market. We use this process practically daily, either for making parts for ourselves, or for other clients that are selling pilot production runs. Take the rcpractica as an example (a CPR trainer with audible guiding sold by Soluciones Kenko), as the project was leaving the prototyping phase and entering the pilot production run, we faced the cost of the investment for the molds for injection molding. While we could just pay the mold and continue with the project, the problem was that we were not sure about how well the market would buy the product. So, we resorted to AM for the first batch run. We optimized the model to achieve a light but sturdy case, suitable for 3D printing by using a generative design process. The end result saved us money and reduced risks or uncertainties inherent to the product. Later on, we transitioned the model to injection molding, once we were completely sure it was the way to go.

For us, AM has helped us develop all of our products, and will very likely continue to do so. If you want to implement AM in your research, prototyping or manufacturing process, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll be glad to help you in assessing which technology suits your needs.

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