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How Additive Manufacturing Can Help Design Engineers Meet Manufacturability, Sustainability, and Cost Initiatives

 | September 22, 2022

There has been a lot of buzz around the additive manufacturing industry. It offers promises of new forms not manufacturable by other means (lightweight lattice structures, biomimicry-inspired topology optimized designs, and mass-customized production). There are many examples where additive has been used successfully. However, they still feel like pilot projects. What’s more, it doesn’t appear that additive manufacturing for production has reached the mainstream yet.

Is there incentive to look at design for additive manufacturing beyond mere interest in it?

Combined with early feedback from aPriori’s manufacturing insights platform, design for additive manufacturing offers an alternative manufacturing approach with increased sustainability and an improved product/price/performance balance.

In this article, we explain how additive manufacturing differs from traditional manufacturing, and its key advantages. We also will discuss how design engineers can leverage it to meet manufacturability, sustainability, and cost initiatives.

Additive vs. Traditional Manufacturing

In a traditional manufacturing process, a single product is created, or a small number of similar ones at high volumes. Depending on the product or part, a different approach is required for design and production. It often involves taking a large piece of material and reducing it to the necessary part or desired shape.

Where the traditional manufacturing process is subtractive, additive manufacturing adds material layers to create a part or shape. Essentially, it is high volume, 3D printing on a manufacturing scale.

Depending on a manufacturer’s current technologies, additive allows them to innovate products faster, with less waste and minimal post-processing. They can take a hybrid approach (additive and traditional) or move fully to additive.    

Four Key Design Advantages of Additive Manufacturing to Meet Initiatives

There are four opportunities for design engineers to find value in additive over traditional manufacturing when meeting manufacturability, sustainability, and cost initiatives:

  1. More flexibility when creating parts: Since additive allows manufacturers to create nearly any 3D shape or complex geometries, it gives design engineers more design freedom and leeway to create better performing, more cost-effective parts than the traditional method. For example, aerospace parts can be made lighter and with a much improved “buy-to-fly ratio”.
  2. Greater customization: With less reliance on molds and fixed toolings, there is more room to customize parts. Due to greater customization, there are more opportunities to use higher performance, lighter weight materials that could be more cost-prohibitive with traditional methods. With less waste and higher performance, a product could be made at a more reasonable cost. This advantage is crucial, particularly during supply chain and material shortage issues.
  3. Faster time to market: Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, additive does not require time-consuming fabrication or toolmaking. As a result, development is more efficient and production faster, allowing manufacturers to accelerate time to market.
  4. On-demand parts, less inventory: Due to additive’s nature, fewer parts are required to make a product. Consequently, there is less of a need to keep a large inventory of spare parts. For example, GE reduced its LEAP fuel nozzle from 20 parts to one. Its new turboprop engine, which is to be featured in the Cessna Denali, went from 855 parts to 16. Additionally, there are fewer failure modes since there are fewer parts. For the aerospace industry, lower inventories mean fewer certifications are required.

How Additive Solves Manufacturers’ Challenges

Manufacturers have faced a multitude of challenges over the last few years. To remain competitive and profitable, it is essential to differentiate, potentially by considering more innovative manufacturing methods.

Additive manufacturing can support this initiative and help them weather current challenges as well as those that lie ahead in the following areas:

  1. Manufacturability: As mentioned above, additive manufacturing technologies allow manufacturers to reduce the number of parts produced and their inventories. Design and production time could potentially be reduced due to fewer required materials and processes to create those parts. However, they can have more iteration flexibility since it doesn’t require the lead time that tooling necessitates.
  2. Sustainability: For those manufacturers committed to sustainability, additive manufacturing processes are a step in the right direction. It is less wasteful than traditional manufacturing. As previously mentioned, there is less inventory to maintain since the number of required parts can be reduced significantly. The EU is mandating sustainability initiatives beginning in October 2022, and the SEC has proposed initiatives for the U.S. Design engineers can optimize additive manufacturing to support sustainability initiatives. Here are a few benefits:
  • Fewer materials are required, meaning less waste.
  • Carbon emissions footprint can be lowered due to less reliance on other suppliers and distant supply chains.
  • More fuel efficiency since parts and products can be made with less weight.
  • On-demand production ensures more local support, boosting sustainability initiatives.
  • Can be manufactured close to where needed, less transportation required
  1. Profitability: Today’s manufacturers have to do more with less, while still making a profit. Additive manufacturing affords design engineers an excellent opportunity to reduce costs. Did you know that 80% of a product’s cost is determined in the design phase? Thanks to the agility additive offers, they can easily and quickly design very cost-effective parts. For example, if a current part design is too complex or expensive, it can quickly be redesigned and produced with additive. Another example would be decreasing the number of parts required to reduce costs further. Additive or AM processes also can produce a low volume of parts at a lower cost, ensuring profitability (see above graph).

More Incentives to Move to Additive Manufacturing

The Federal Government recognizes the importance of instituting financial incentives for manufacturers to implement sustainability initiatives. The Inflation Reduction Act is a bill that features $370 billion in spending and tax incentives on energy and climate change provisions. These provisions are intended to spur investments not only by traditional energy companies as well as transportation, real estate, and manufacturing companies.

Section 48C Manufacturers’ Tax Credit proposes an expansion of this credit. It includes advanced energy properties designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as potentially determined by the IRS. Additionally, it could include any property that re-equips existing infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20%. It potentially could make way for new technologies to take advantage of these credits in the future. aPriori customers that implement green factory initiatives could possibly benefit.

Leverage Additive to Optimize the Entire Product Lifecycle

The right manufacturing insights software can lower manufacturing risks and facilitate sustainability efforts. Products like aPriori’s manufacturing insights platform foster collaboration earlier in design with sourcing and suppliers. As a result, manufacturers can look for more environmentally friendly materials and production methods.

Additive manufacturing reduces reliance on one specific supplier, material, or process. Consequently, supply chain risk is mitigated. Additive manufacturing reduces exposure for the manufacturer if any of the suppliers fail or disappear.

More local suppliers mean a reduction in carbon footprints. Now, manufacturing software platforms enable them to improve workflow and collaborate better with all teams throughout the product development lifecycle. Additive manufacturing makes design to cost a more manufacturable and sustainable reality.

Finally, aPriori helps manufacturers find the breakeven point (refer to the above graph). Our manufacturing insights platform ensures instant costing of a part manufactured by traditional methods. It then compares it to the additive manufacturing method, using specific volumes. The insights will then determine the volume point where it is best to use traditional high-volume methods. It also will relay the below volume point where additive can be used instead. [NOTE: How to find the breakeven point for additive will be one of this year’s topics at our Manufacturing Insights Conference]

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