Additive Manufacturing and the Next Generation of Manufacturing - Miller Fabrication Solutions
Additive Manufacturing - Miller Fabrication Solutions

Additive Manufacturing and the Next Generation of Manufacturing

June 18, 2019

Worldwide research efforts in recent years have largely transformed additive manufacturing from a tool just for rapid prototyping to specialty part production. With additional material and process data, additive manufacturing stands ready to enter full production mode for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and their strategic supply chain partners alike. Additive manufacturing exhibits unique advantages over traditional cutting and milling techniques, including more efficient use of raw materials, less generation of hazardous waste, less consumption of energy, shorter supply chain, reduced time to market, and easier fabrication of products with extreme complexities.

Metal 3D Printing - Miller Fabrication Solutions
In spite of past doubt about the ability of 3-D printing to make durable and ductile metals used in the fabrication of heavy-duty parts with complex applications, 3-D printing is rapidly progressing and becoming a useful industrial application.

Fabrication at Scale

Take additive manufacturing as it is used in glass fabrication. The fabrication of glass has been somewhat challenging because of its complex geometry. Additionally, custom objects made with glass remain quite difficult to design and actually fabricate on a large scale. At MIT, thanks to the wonders of additive manufacturing, a new digital fabrication process for producing transparent glass is now possible at what they believe to be an industrial scale.

According to management consultant Bain and Company, 85 percent of parts suppliers plan to use additive manufacturing in their future production. Bain cites the newfound feasibility of taking orders globally, but fabricating or printing near where the order is to be delivered to bypass shipping. They cite, as an example, the pump maker Sulzer, who use “additive manufacturing in conjunction with traditional milling to create better impellers, the rotating component of a pump, and to do so more quickly. In 2016, the historical average delivery time for a Sulzer part was more than 10 weeks. With this new approach, the company expects, later this year, to be able to ship high-quality, closed impellers within 48 hours of ordering.” This technology is certainly disruptive.

Metal Printing

Metal printing, along with all the other wonders of 3-D printing, is becoming a new genre within the field that is not only disruptive, but shows great promise for future fabrication in manufacturing. In spite of past doubt about the ability of 3-D printing to make durable and ductile metals used in the fabrication of heavy-duty parts with complex applications, 3-D printing is rapidly progressing and becoming a useful industrial application.

Additive Manufacturing - Miller Fabrication Solutions

Manufacturer General Electric has been using metal 3-D printing to produce parts for its products, such as the fuel nozzles in one of their aircraft. This technology helps them reduce numerous separate components into just a few. More specifically, they began with 900 separate components and were able to distill that number down to just 16 and make fuel nozzles that are 40 percent lighter and 60 percent cheaper. Time will tell how effective metal printing will apply to various metal materials and engineered designs.


Additive manufacturing also offers a new paradigm for engineering design and manufacturing through the enablement of unique macro-structural design of components, and nano-structural design of the material. For example, researchers at the University of Maryland recently pioneered the first 3-D-printed fluid circuit element. Ten of the elements could feasibly rest on the width of a human hair. This remarkable 3-D nanotechnology printing has created a diode that ensures fluids move in a single direction. This an important feature for products like implantable devices that are used to provide various therapies for the human body.

Additive manufacturing presents challenges, though, when using different metals, polymers and composite materials. According to the Argonne National Laboratory, “to gain reproducibility of high-quality parts and optimization of material properties, industry needs characterization of raw materials; an understanding of how material structure affects product attributes, such as how porosity decreases resistance to fatigue; [and] in-situ, real-time analysis of deposition specifications such as temperature, speed, and spacing.”

Multiple Uses

In the future, expect to see additive manufacturing commonly utilized on the fabrication floor, not only for OEMs with in-sourced fabrication production, but for their strategic metal fabrication partners as well. As this technology overcomes certain hurdles in being useful for the printing of metal materials to produce and fabricate products, it will supplement production operations already in process. It will continue to be used as part of the design process to produce short runs as well as prototypes that will enable larger, more complex metal fabrication efforts to take place.

Any way we look at it, additive manufacturing in 3-D printing has found a home in manufacturing and represents a new frontier in the fabrication of parts and products. For innovative OEMs in particular, it is a technology to watch, know, and investigate its applicability throughout the supply chain.