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.

DESIGN TIP: Choosing Industrial 3D Printing for Production Parts

Using 3D printing for fully functional end-use metal and plastic parts is becoming increasingly common in rapid manufacturing with industrial-grade processes like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and selective laser sintering (SLS).

Industrial-grade 3D printing is well suited to produce organic shapes, like this nylon turbine (left) and end-use production parts such as this titanium drill component (right).

With an expanding material selection and improving material properties, designers and engineers have another good option for small quantities of production parts.

Accordingly, our monthly design tip covers this emerging trend.

This month’s tip discusses:

  • Choosing the best 3D printing process for your application
  • Selecting the right thermoplastic and metal materials
  • Designing part geometry for 3D printing
  • Using SL, SLS, and DMLS for end-use production parts


WEBINAR: Designing for Direct Metal Laser Sintering

In our next webinar, we’re focusing on direct metal laser sintering—our industrial 3D printing process for metal parts. Join David Bentley, our DMLS expert, to learn why product designers are turning to DMLS for prototyping and end-use parts. The presentation will include:

  • An overview of DMLS including materials and design guidelines
  • A case study on an innovative bike design
  • An open Q&A session 

TITLE: Designing for 3D Printing: Direct Metal Laser Sintering
DATE: Thursday, August 25 at 1 p.m. CDT
REGISTER: Click here to sign up

Busy that day and can’t make it? Not a problem. You can still register and we’ll send a recording that can be watched on-demand. Also, feel free to forward this invite to your colleagues.


On-Demand Webinar: How Rapid Prototyping Accelerates Medical Device Development

The latest webinar in our continuing series of rapid manufacturing presentations focuses on rethinking the traditional medical device development cycle. With new prototyping tools available, product designers are accelerating development since they can iterate and test new designs more effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Strategies to accelerate medical device development cycle
  • Prototyping effectively with rapid manufacturing
  • Reducing risk with design analysis

The webinar can be viewed on-demand here.

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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