Video: Additive Manufacturing Allows You to Iterate to Excellence

In the past, iterative design allowed manufacturers to achieve mediocrity. With advanced 3D printing and CAD software, iteration is the path to exceptional parts.

James Anderton: I’m with Glynn Fletcher, president of EOS Additive Manufacturing. Glynn, overall, this industry has maigrated slowly from a curiosity, a hobbyist endeavor, to a desktop prototyping technology, and now we’re seeing increased interest in additive manufacturing on a true mass production technology scale, like a machine tool. Is the future of this industry on the factory floor or in the designer’s hands?

Glynn Fletcher: To answer that, you have to start at our origins. We’ve been in business almost 30 years in additive, and we were one of the early adopters of additive manufacturing as a technology. Our owner and founder bought into additive manufacturing quite some time ago, but it took us 20 years to sell the first 1,000 systems. It took us five years to sell the second 1,000 systems, and almost on our 28th birthday we passed 3,000 systems. So, the timescales are condensing all the time. As of now, we are scaling production to be able to supply our customers with 1,000 systems per year. It’s accelerating fast, but it’s actually only really started to exponentially grow over the last few years. One of the reasons for that is, of course, that it was associated only with rapid prototyping in the past. But now it is going through the transition into the production environment.

JA: Manufacturers are traditionally conservative in how they make equipment choices and design choices, and for good reason. But are we moving into a paradigm now we start to think about parts designed to be additively manufactured?

GF: We have to think about parts are designed to be additively manufactured. Too often, people who are making their assessment of additive manufacturing come to us with a traditionally manufactured part. It’s either cast, or injection molded, or traditionally machined, milled, turned, all of those processes. That’s not really the right approach. You have to start with a functional objective, a functional imperative in mind. That could be light weighting, that could be optimized topography, meaning fitting it into an Italian space, or it could be combined functionality, but if all you try to do is replicate what you’re doing today but with the additive manufacturing, creating something that looks the same and does the same, then it’s probably not going to be a success.

JA: Before computers, all manufacturing was iterative. It was, try something–it breaks–redesign it, make it stronger, better, optimize your process, optimize your part. Now, with computer technology, we have developed the ability to simulate, or to use finite element analysis, various technologies to try to make the part better at the design phase before we cut metal. With additive, in a way, we could go back to the original form of try it, see if it works and iteratively design our way to part perfection. Will simulation coexist with old-school iterative design?

GF: I like to think of it this way: in the past, we used to iterate to mediocrity. Now, with additive manufacturing, you can iterate to excellence. What I mean by that is if you take that previously accepted idea of design for manufacturing, you are always trying to find ways of improving the manufacturing process through design, rather than improving the function through design. Now, iteration can cost very little. We can test, and we can do a lot of things even before we put it in the machine, but that digital format is there, and it can be adjusted. And the cost of that adjustment is minimal. The level of complexity is almost free with additive manufacturing. Previously when we were designing for manufacturing, complexity cost a lot of money. Now, complexity is as I say almost free.

JA: Better parts, lower cost parts, and a more cost-effective parts system, says Glynn Fletcher president of EOS.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.