Value Added from Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing processes can provide value at nearly all aspects of a manufacturing line, whether allowing for the supply chain to be brought in-house or opening the manufacturing capabilities to include far more complex parts. Determining whether integrating a 3D printing process into the manufacturing line will increase or decrease efficiency, though, requires a fairly thorough analysis of past, present, and future projects.

Additive manufacturing is most commonly called upon for high volume manufacturing of very complex parts generally impossible to manufacturing at scale using other methods. 3D printing, specifically, has simplified the additive manufacturing process and has validated that small batch manufacturing of very complex parts is economical.

Metal 3D printing has now moved the validity of 3D printing from a primarily prototyping method to the core manufacturing line. Consider an all-in-one material handling, machining, and assembly process taken care of by a single 3D printer with the help of a simple design change that removes hardware and other components.

Design engineering is focused on the development of the best product for the end user, problem, and environment; although, the process is constrained due to budget and currently available manufacturing technologies and techniques. Modern additive manufacturing allows companies to build and iterate designs economically and quickly.

Where does 3D Printing (and Additive Manufacturing) Belong?

The below diagram illustrates a generalized manufacturing line that excludes specialized processes. The positioning of additive manufacturing is conditional upon a job-to-job basis propagating from cost effective product development. Product development is highly dependent on pre-processes, prototyping, and iterative testing. Product development methods apply to the early stages of the manufacturing line, providing a road-map in order to improve logistics and reduce time intensive processes in the manufacturing line. This stems from “processing and manufacturing plan” as well as “product analysis, modeling, manufacturing prep.” labeled in the below diagram, from which fixturing and tooling can be derived.

Example of a manufacturing line in a custom manufacuturing mechanical design shop.

Example of a manufacturing line in a custom manufacuturing mechanical design shop.

Additive manufacturing allows for re-visitation of previous assemblies and jobs, providing an infrastructure revolving around digital products/services, digital spare parts, customization and personalization, and flexible production volume and location based on time. Value-chain repositioning allows for the reinvention of the manufacturing line, creating a dynamic procurement system where additive manufacturing can be placed to increase cost effectiveness and decrease design and build time.

Further Value

Further value than simply cost-per-part analytical analysis can be extracted from additive manufacturing integration. Transitioning into a position where additive manufacturing as a service or substitution can be operational, multiple steps must be taken. Moving the supply chain in-house requires the ability to supply certifications of compliance documentation for material testing and all post-processing. Because AM is a newly adopted process, it is unclear to customers how post processing will affect the initial printing build. Once fully developed, the following transitioning steps should be taken:

  1. Understanding AM – Because there are no educational services available, the original equipment manufacturer must be contracted to provide ample training
  2. Part Selection – Not all parts will benefit from AM, it is recommended to only consider AM if the part cannot be created using traditional MFG techniques
  3. Re-/Design for AM – All manufacturers and design teams should be prepared to re-design for AM processes or design from the start for AM
  4. Process and Material Optimization – Striving towards the optimization of direct metal laser sintering printing by altering orientation and support structure should be performed prior to every new production run
  5. Fast Production Implementation
  6. Optimization for Production – Implement a process to quickly move from the AM process through to post processing and machining.



Jarrett Linowes
Mechanical Engineer

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