What is Additive Manufacturing?
Often referred to as 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a process that builds physical 3D products by depositing and fusing layer upon layer of material, in powder or liquid form.
CAD data is converted into an industry standard file format know as .STL, which captures the data as a series of 2D slices. In this form, the data is sent to an AM machine where the product is built layer by layer according to the 2D cross section at each sequential point, so ‘growing’ a final product within hours.
A Short History Lesson
AM technologies were initially developed as an unforeseen consequence of laws in the 1980s aimed at improving the environment by limiting the quantity of volatile organic compounds discharged into the atmosphere. In an effort to remove solvent-based carrier vehicles from high volume products such as printing inks and packaging materials, research into replacements that avoided their use was emphasised. As a result, in 1984 the first ‘Rapid Prototyping’ system (as it was called then) was developed at the University of Austin, Texas.
A New 'Industrial Revolution'
Digital Forming firmly believes that AM will trigger the second Industrial Revolution, as the technology has a number of remarkable benefits that will undoubtedly change the landscape of manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is:
• Rapid - The technology allows for complex and unique parts to be produced rapidly and en masse over a number of hours.
• Flexible - AM can produce products of far superior complexity and tensile strength than standard manufacturing processes, which can consist of one or more movable components without the need for assembly.
• Competitive – It can eliminate tooling, moulding, set-up and some labour costs. Economies of scale do not exist and generally speaking, it is no cheaper to manufacture a run of a million products as it is to produce one. Hence, mass customization with AM is very much a viable proposition. Furthermore, manufacturing on-demand promotes a positive cash flow and can further reduce costs due to the absence of warehousing and stock handling.
• Efficient - There is considerably less material waste than with traditional manufacturing techniques.
• Environmentally Friendly - ‘Local’ manufacturing results in a lower carbon footprint and materials can include recycled plastics.
What Part Does Digital Forming Play in AM?
AM technology allows for new paradigms to take centre stage, expanding accessibility for anybody wishing to create their own work. However, despite existing since 1986, bottlenecks in the process still exist. Additive Manufacturing technology is only just reaching the wider public due to the breakdown of fundamental barriers.
In order to tap into this manufacturing technology, users have typically tended to be engineers or professional product designers with a sound understanding of professional 3D design software which generate AM compatible file formats. In order for the technology to reach the wider public, software and services are required to simplify the process for non-CAD users.
Digital Forming's mission is to create software that makes this objective possible. With its innovative, simplified interface, unprecedented accessibility to the public and a complementing infrastructure designed to take models from concept to consumer item, our software will readdress what 3D CAD means today.