The concept of automation is hardly new to industrial manufacturing—in fact, they pioneered the practices. 

Robots and factories go together like macaroni and cheese, and they have for half a century. However, there’s a new wave in manufacturing that could create just as much of a sea change as the original introduction of automation: additive manufacturing. 

If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t fret. Additive manufacturing is just another phrase for “3D printing,” specifically when used to aid the manufacturing process. It’s also being called by some the “second industrial revolution,” which is a mighty bold statement (that could prove to be prescient). 

But how does it work, where has it been successfully used, and what kind of printers, industrial panel PCs, and design strategies are needed to implement this new technology for peak efficiency? 

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Also referred to as AM, additive manufacturing involves using a 3D printer (or more realistically, many 3D printers) to create the parts necessary to create anything from cars to false teeth to airplanes and more. 

And while most consumers are more familiar with 3D printed objects being made of plastic or resin, industrial additive manufacturing can also use different kinds of steel to create objects of high tensile strength and durability.

The plans for the 3D printed parts, objects, and products are designed in a computer, usually through an engineering problem like AutoCAD. In the software, all parts can be designed together and measured out and tested virtually to ensure they all fit together, match each other, and are generally compatible and able to perform their duty.

From there, a 3D printer, combined with an attached rugged computer, begins the process of manufacturing all of the pieces, which often combines either laser-cutting or a form of powdered metal and a fusible bonding agent to create a solid, strong piece of metal at the end of the process.

The Computers to Power Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, like any manufacturing, can be a dirty business. And while additive manufacturing is generally cleaner due to the sealed inner chamber of the printer, no fabrication process is 100% sterile and pretty. 

3D printers often require a computer to power them, to work as both the display and the “brains” of the operation. When considering additive manufacturing, it may be wise to invest in industrial panel PCs or industrial HMI panels that are IP65 rated. IP65, if you’re unfamiliar, is a rating that denotes how resistant the computer is to liquid and dust intrusion. The “6” portion of the rating refers to dust, dirt, metal shavings, and other particulate getting into the computer itself and causing damage. As you can imagine, 3D printers of any kind will emit plenty of small particles that could escape notice and slip right into the cracks and crevices of a standard PC over time.  An IP65-rated industrial panel PC prevents this from happening, meaning the 3D printers for additive manufacturing can run around the clock with far less chance of breaking down. 

While liquid intrusion is less an issue for additive manufacturing, the IP65 rating does make the units easier to clean — after all, that dust has to accumulate somewhere, and will often hang out on the outside of the device and need to be regularly wiped away. 

Additive Manufacturing Saves Time

One of the most interesting benefits of additive manufacturing is not obvious at first blush, but ends up paying huge dividends for both the company and the planet in the long run.

It’s no surprise that this computer-controlled, automated, holistic approach to fabrication is far faster than the standard method of creating each individual part and welding them together. Desktop Metal, a company that pioneers a new style of metal 3D printing, is able to produce over 540+ hydraulic manifolds in the same time it takes a traditional process to make 12 equivalent manifolds. 

Because 3D-printed parts are created whole-cloth in a single shape with a combination of special injectors and laser-cutting, there’s no need to spend time on welding and cutting. This also means that less metal is lost during the manufacturing process, which leads to . . .

Using Less Resources

Speed isn’t the only benefit of additive manufacturing. In fact, the mitigated resource loss from trimming, cutting, and welding can reap huge savings.

Instead of all of these bits landing on the floor and ending up in the sweepings barrel, it means that the amount of material that goes into welding, and the amount of material that gets lost from cutting/shaving/sanding is instead saved. While that may not seem to be a huge amount, it actually reduces waste and material cost by as much as 90%

That’s a logistical savings that is difficult to match or even come close to with other, traditional methods of manufacturing and fabrication. 

Spend Less on Tooling 

Machine tooling is one of the largest investments for any manufacturing process.

The process of engineering all of the bits, fixtures, jigs, and milling tools needed for any factory production is often the major roadblock at the beginning of any new industrial venture. Each part must be designed with the new product in mind — everything measure and customized and perfect before even prototyping can begin. 

Then, of course, all of the tooling must be tested, tweaked, altered, retooled, and eventually set in place. All of that customization and custom-tailoring is extremely slow and expensive with modern methods — much of the tooling, at least for the prototyping phase, must even be done by hand. 

With 3D printing, especially with the ability to 3D print actual metal, tooling goes from nightmare to no-problem. The entire new manufacturing system can be designed on a computer in full three-dimensional detail and to perfect scale, played with and adjusted in the simulation long before even a dime is spent on physical materials. Then, when a new manufacturing process is ready to begin real testing, the custom parts for the tooling process can be printed to exact specifications. 

Small adjustments (which inevitably happen when the rubber hits the road) are simple as well, because the one part that’s causing trouble can be redesigned and reprinted at any time. 

Considering Adding Additive Manufacturing to the Equation?

Whether you were just curious about the term “additive manufacturing” or are doing preliminary research into taking the leap, now is a great time to get into the technology. Major companies are already adapting industrial 3D printing to a number of uses, from aerospace to healthcare to car manufacturing. 

Additive manufacturing is extremely flexible, and can create objects out of metal, ceramic, polymer, and even living tissue like organs and bone replacements.

Want to learn more? Contact the experts at Cybernet today to begin the journey to additive manufacturing, including the kind of computers and hardware you’ll need to make this new enterprise a successful one.