The Potential Benefits of Additive Manufacturing for Full Production

Published on by John Teel

This article was written by Steven Szymeczek who is a mechanical engineer that specializes in product design for manufacturing. He is one of the many experts available to help you in the Hardware Academy.

How do we determine if additive manufacturing is a viable option for our product? Many factors have to be considered, ranging from value based decisions, to your product’s complexity, and long term constraints.

Before we can understand how to implement return on investment strategies for additive manufacturing, lets first examine a brief history.

Traditional manufacturing, including the common subtractive and forming technologies that we have commonly used over the past century, were built to produce large quantities.

This need for scaled production came from massive amounts of materials and equipment needed to support us during war times. This then led to post-war times where we developed into the consumer driven society we are today.

NOTE: This is a long, very detailed article so here's a free PDF version of it for easy reading and future reference.

American and international industrialization has allowed us to produce products at very low cost and has rooted our thinking in this way.

Here is a timeline showing the general progression of traditional mass consumer manufacturing and the introduction of 3D printing.

Many are unaware that 3D printing is 30 plus years old. Initially it was coined as a high-end expensive technology.

This viewpoint remained until the patents expired in 2012 for technologies such as FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), commonly used for desktop hobbyists printers.

A new viewpoint formed starting around 2012, that 3D printing was low quality and meant only for hobbyists.

Both of these viewpoints have formed a sense of impracticality, especially when comparing it to our traditional thinking developed over the last 100 years.

The term additive manufacturing was created to characterize 3D printing processes that can now be used in end production. With new technologies such as Carbon Digital Light Synthesis and Hewlett Packard Multi-Jet Fusion, economies of scale have become possible while maintaining part quality.

Technologies like these are pushing new standards and are beginning to be seen regularly in the higher end markets of aerospace, medical and automotive industries.

Product Value

What barriers to entry will you have to overcome to ultimately sell your product to a customer? What value added features differentiate your product from others on the market?

Could you increase the value for the physical aspects of a design by “unconstraining” yourself from the typical restrictions related to other manufacturing technologies like Injection molding and CNC machining?

Exploring the geometrical freedoms that 3D printing/additive manufacturing allows, can in many cases bring increased product value.


What are your product requirements? 3D printing/additive manufacturing can be optimized for better strength to weight ratio, resistance to impact, better sealing design, airflow control, heat dissipation, and enhanced ergonomics just to name a few.

Alongside new artificial intelligence algorithms, we can examine viable options that optimize not only the performance but manufacturing and materials options as well.

By exploring options earlier in the process we can greatly reduce the downstream changes and issues that may occur.

Return-On-Invesment (ROI) for Short and Long Term Production

Could you benefit from releasing your product in phases rather than a large cost commitment to tooling? Could you benefit from overall product life cycle advantages including faster new product revisions, customization, on demand parts limiting your need for storage?

3D printing excels at reduction of waste and flexibility across the lifecycle. Making it easier to adapt to the needs of your design team and the changing tide of the market.

The product lifecycle, which is the journey from creation until it becomes obsolete, is how we will compare technologies.

The following graph is by no means a 100% accurate graph for all types of product scenarios. Many of the traditional manufacturing data points are taken as a worst case scenario. Amortization, or the paying back of cost over time, can affect these numbers greatly.

In the near term we can see by using optimization methods we can reduce some initial costs associated with the development of a product. By focusing more on viable options we can decrease downstream negative effects on manufacturing cost.

Additive manufacturing technologies like Hewlett Packard Multi Jet Fusion allow artificial intelligence algorithms less restriction, creating the best producible geometry for the application.

Additive manufacturing also allows an easier transition from prototyping to production, by utilizing the same materials and process.

The greatest shifts in costs occur as you get further downstream. Large accumulation of costs starts with initial tooling, storage, and product design changes.

The benefits of additive manufacturing start to take shape. You can see that it has the benefit of creating a more predictable batch or series production, committing to only as much product as is needed.

By batching, it also allows for design changes to happen concurrently with new releases.

You will see that overtime as initial large costs are paid back, processes like injection molding become very cost efficient.

As long as you can get over the initial large expenses and sell enough of your product quickly, injection molding is still the best option in terms of long term ROI.

This sets a threshold between lower and higher margin products, explaining why most lower cost consumer products fit perfectly into a business model that uses injection molding.

In conclusion, additive manufacturing is by no means a full replacement for traditional technologies, but by looking at your full product lifecycle and exploring this hybrid way of thinking we can find the best ROI for our circumstances.

This article was written by Steven Szymeczek of Penumbra Engineering. Steven is a mechanical engineer who specializes in product design for manufacturing. He is also one of the experts available to help you in the Hardware Academy.

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