INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: 3D Printing for Production Parts Gains Credibility

Why are some engineers so hesitant to use 3D printing for more than just development?

Engineers are hardwired and trained to make calculated decisions based on facts. Traditional manufacturing processes such as casting and molding have been around a very, very long time—since the Bronze Age—and time has perfected these processes and brought them to what they are today. Both industry experts and novices alike can benefit from hundreds of years of this process evolution. 3D printing processes are relatively new, especially when compared to casting or injection molding.

Motor mounts are among a growing list of automotive parts that are now manufactured using commercial-grade 3D printing.

Modern, commercial-grade printing equipment and processes are capable of predictable results that will ease the mind of the most skeptical engineer. DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) can produce repeatable results for parts that can be manufactured in no other known method. Proto Labs’ 3DP facility is not only ISO 9001:2008, but also AS 9100. This is the supplemental requirement established by the aerospace industry to satisfy DOD, NASA, and FAA quality requirements. This certification should give any engineer a sense of security.

Understanding some basic quality parameters around the processes can help to lay a foundation of credibility. For example, limits are set to the number of times base material can be used, or only virgin powder could be specified. This is no different than controlling the amount of allowable regrind into a plastic injection-molded part.

Rolls-Royce is a notable automaker now using commercial-grade 3D printing for some production parts.

Testing parts to confirm material properties are extremely common in DMLS. Building a standard tensile bar with each build is a great way to confirm batches of production are producing the desired results. This way the first batch can have destructive testing on the tensile bar and parts to confirm the material and process are producing parts with the specified properties. The future batches can test the tensile bar for confirmation the predictable results were achieved.

The aerospace industry has been embracing advanced manufacturing methods for some time now and the automotive industry has also been making great strides in this area. For example, recent articles have been published around the Rolls-Royce Phantom’s printed parts and BMW’s leading spot in adopting printing technologies.

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Commercial 3D Printing for Production Parts

Technology in the 3D printing space is advancing at the speed of light—everything from support structure software to material options and properties to ever improving processes. Some simply take these advancements as small steps in the overall progress of 3D printing, but these improvements are significant attributes that add value across industries and applications. 

Nylon handheld device 3D printed with SLS.

Medical and Health Care Development
Industries are adopting this technology for varying applications at very different paces. The health care industry has embraced nearly all forms of printing, but has particularly grasped onto direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). As we discussed last month, DMLS has a solid advantage over other 3D printing processes since it produces functional, production-quality parts from metal powder.  When plastics are concerned, selective laser sintering (SLS) is another additive manufacturing process with production in mind.

Product developers, designers and engineers in the medical and health care industries use many different types of 3D printing technologies, but why?

  • concept modeling and prototyping during early phases of product and device development
  • iterating design often to get parts in hand fast
  • reducing financial and design risks
  • building high-quality assemblies for end users to evaluate and influence human factor designs

TIPS WITH TONY: Machining Capabilities for High Performance Parts

Do you know how machining a part from titanium can improve its functionality and performance? How about using key inserts for improved durability to your part. Here are few capabilities and design options to keep in mind for your next machined part.

Titanium machined parts.

Titanium
Let’s start off with some big news. Previously, we only offered titanium for 3D-printed parts, but it’s now available to customers for machined parts. And, if that wasn’t enough to catch your attention, how does titanium machined parts in as fast as three days sound?

Titanium is extremely strong and boasts a high strength-to-weight ratio. It also has excellent corrosion resistance, high operating temperatures (up to 1,000°F) and is nontoxic.

Titanium has range of applications due to its advanced material properties. Frequently, you’ll find titanium parts in the aerospace, medical, military and marine industries. More specifically, it’s used for parts like rotors, compressor blades, hydraulic systems, surgical equipment, dental and orthopedic implants as well as in military aircrafts due to excellent ballistic characteristics.

The only drawback is the cost of the raw material. It’s more expensive than steel. For this reason, most manufacturers don’t hold a lot of inventory, but that isn’t the case at Proto Labs. We maintain a level of inventory that allows for on-demand milling and turning of titanium parts

Visit our machining materials page for more information.

Key insert for added durability.

Key Inserts
Key inserts are steel threaded inserts commonly used in aluminum parts for added durability. Note that these are different from standard coil inserts as they have an added keyway with a tab inserted to prevent twisting under extreme load.

Key inserts are primarily used by the aerospace and military industries following the military standard of MS51835B. We offer eight thread sizes ranging from #8-32 to ½-13. For a full list, visit our threading page and click the key inserts tab.

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