The time is now to prepare for series production with additive manufacturing (AM). For many, widespread use of AM as a production process is something for the future. Yet, there is no better time than the present to begin preparations. Whether actively exploring or tentatively considering, now is the time to expand your knowledge base.
AM has many unique characteristics that radically differ from conventional manufacturing methods, which means that it is not a substitute that can be thoughtlessly deployed. Deep reserves of experience and knowledge are needed. Build those information stores by design rather than waiting until the need arises.
As new products progress through the development cycle to manufacturing, the demands on the process and output become increasingly stringent, and the risks associated with failure rise exponentially. So a good plan of action is to use the lower-risk applications, those earlier in the product development cycle, as an experience builder.
The preparation Seneca speaks of in the context of AM is a deep understanding of the capabilities, limitations and possibilities of additive manufacturing, in general, and specific technologies, which differ significantly. Sure, you can wait until an opportunity arises, but a much better plan, one executed by design, is to build the information coffers in advance.
This is best achieved by exercising AM technologies in the role of a product development tool or an aid for manufacturing. Use models, prototypes, patterns and fixtures as your learning tools. Discovery while achieving real value through necessary applications is the optimal way to increase knowledge and minimize risk.
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To be fully prepared, don’t simply stop at a successful application, keep pushing the technology and continually ponder other potentials. Move beyond the process defaults to experience the level of control that you have over products and processes.
This approach allows you to gain the necessary preparation by design. Doing so places you in a position to say “Yes, we can,” when the need or opportunity arises.
And this is more important than you may think. Necessity is a far more powerful force than innovation. Lacking the know-how when necessity arises may mean that the right tool, AM, is not an option. Many of the successes over the years have resulted not from foresight but necessity. Faced with only two choices — remain unchanged and be guaranteed failure or try AM and have the possibility of succeeding — those that were prepared used AM to counter issues and challenges. Necessity will emerge, perhaps sooner than you think, so be ready to capitalize on what is possible rather than rolling the dice and hoping for the best.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Seneca, Roman philosopher
Design for AM
Nowhere is preparation more important than in the area of product design. At best, it is wasteful to feed an AM machine a design originally intended for molding, machining or casting. At worst, it can guarantee failure by artificially driving up time and cost and neglecting to leverage all of AM’s potential.
But preparation in this area is quite the challenge. There is little training available when learning how to design for AM. Also, the rules change on a platform basis. What’s good for laser melting may be bad for EBM, for example.
So your only real option is to discover the rules through trial and error, firsthand attempts and general discovery.
Practitioners know that “everything is possible” has caveats, and the uninitiated suspect that to be true. The latter needs to understand to what degree that complexity is free.
Without guidance and without rules, the designer may struggle to execute based on the supposed reality that you can make anything. That statement creates a universe of possibility, which can initially be overwhelming and daunting. Staring at this expansive world of opportunity, while lacking an understanding of the impediments, proves to be difficult for the average person since there are too many unknowns.
Design for AM has a steep learning curve further hindered by the radical notion that the rules of the past no longer apply. Combined, this means that change is needed; change in goals, approaches and mindsets. Change requires a break from old habits and practices, which is often the greatest obstacle.
So success is best achieved by changing design by design. Craft a plan that encourages design-rule breaking today so that the product development and manufacturing teams can devise their own rule books for tomorrow’s implementation.
Couple that with intimate knowledge of the technology so that you can leverage every advantage and design around, or work around, all of the constraints. Start today to prepare for a future when AM becomes the right solution for your series production needs. Do this and you will be creating your own luck, by design.