Factory production methodologies are about to be enhanced by scalable, industrial-grade additive manufacturing

For more than two centuries industrial factory production has excelled in four key aspects: repeatability of the process, durability of parts produced, productivity of the workflow, and an economical total cost of operation. Factory workflows have been optimized to produce the best possible parts in quantity, as inexpensively as possible. Any new production method or workflow process that hopes to be accepted alongside this standard process must meet or otherwise improve on these time-worn elements. 

Today manufacturing is undergoing rapid transformation: it’s a process some call Industry 4.0. New marketplace demands push manufacturers to increase speed and agility. New business models require a rapid response to consumer demand and rapid design iteration. Manufacturers need shorter production cycles and faster product ecosystem evolution; they must create physical products at a digital pace. 

Scalable metal Additive Manufacturing for seamless large parts.
The DMP Factory 500 is a workflow-optimized metal 3D printing solution for massive scalability, repeatable high-quality parts, high throughput and low TCO, producing parts of up to 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm in size.

Fortunately for manufacturers facing these pressures, 3D printing technologies have advanced in capability to be strategic assets for industrial factory production. New materials, new printing methods, new design capabilities, and new workflow processes mean a digital approach to manufacturing is now possible. For the past 30 years, 3D printing has been an R&D staple for design review, prototyping, and occasional one-off or bridge manufacturing. Today, 3D printing is joining the factory floor and can be part of manufacturing the final products in production volumes. 

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3D Systems calls this revolution the Digital Factory, and it meets the four key criteria for factory-grade production:

  • Part repeatability can be guaranteed to six sigma quality.
  • Durability can be assured using new design techniques and innovative metal and plastic materials.
  • Productivity is 24/7 using state-of-the-art production processes.
  • Total cost of part manufacturing, for the right parts and the right level of production, beats existing analog methods.
  • Topologically optimized aerospace bracket 3D print with the DMP Factory 350 metal powder bed fusion printer by Thales
  • Parts created using Digital Factory technologies can be more than repeatable and durable. They can deliver on the promise of Industry 4.0 with products and processes impossible to achieve using traditional methods. Advanced design algorithms enable interior lattices instead of solids, resulting in lighter yet stronger parts. Injection molding industries can design conformal cooling molds available in hours instead of weeks, or create novel thermoplastic parts in volume. Digital foundry processes can create wax mold casting patterns and casted parts with speed and flexibility — without the cost and wait for tooling and the inherent dangers of traditional casting when printing direct to metal.

Three Pillars of the Digital Factory

Research firm Jabil claims 68% of automotive manufacturers report a go-to-market aim of under two years, down from nearly a decade only a few years ago. Other industries have similar velocity requirements for new product introductions. To meet these new market demands requires the innovative production speed and capability available through the Digital Factory. 

The Digital Factory offers transformative opportunities for injection molding, casting, and part production. There are three pillars of the Digital Factory: metals, plastics, and the Digital Foundry. What a manufacturer needs depends on the industry, products, and level of art-to-part velocity required. All three pillars depend on state-of-the-art software to achieve their full potential. 

  • Digital factory for Metals

    3D Systems DMP Flex 350 robust metal 3D printer for 24/7 part production and flexible application use

    The Digital Factory for metals uses a modular process incorporating additive and subtractive solutions to produce parts with factory repeatability on a continual basis, leveraging key industry metals. Additive integrates with traditional methodologies to create more effective parts, faster.

  • Digital factory for Plastics

    Parts printed on Figure 4 Standalone at 3Dprintedparts.com

    The Digital Factory for plastics uses the latest additive thermoplastics and resins to create durable parts in volume, in a fraction of the time it takes to ramp production with traditional injection molding methods, for short-run plastic parts with no MOQs and the cost and wait for tooling.

  • The Digital Foundry

    3D printed wax patterns drop seamlessly into the foundry process for rapid production of cast parts

    The Digital Foundry can create, iterate, refine, and produce cast parts with improved speed and flexibility — without the cost and wait for tooling. Companies using Digital Foundry processes are delivering casted parts in a few days after receiving CAD data, instead of waiting for up to 12 weeks for tooling.

Digital Factory Onramp

The Digital Factory is about more than new hardware. 3D Systems has invested heavily in R&D for both new materials and new software. A wide range of metals, thermoplastics, and resins are available, all certified for use in the Digital Factory framework. 3D Systems’ file preparation software eliminates the needs for CAD experts and costly software in the factory leading to significant cost savings.

Manufacturers now have the ability to rewrite their business models and seize competitive advantages in the era of Industry 4.0. As engineers and executives learn what can be accomplished in the Digital Factory, they will find new ways of creating better products faster. New products, new business models, and new companies will be the natural result for those who embrace the Digital Factory.