Getting business on board with additive manufacturing

Posted by Monika Mahto

Monika Mahto
As additive manufacturing nears everyday use, business managers must get onboard with the technology basics and underlying benefits

I’m headed to Bangalore for an annual tech conference. Over the years I’ve come to know a lot of other regular attendees, and we have debated and discussed many technologies as they move from the theoretical to the applied state. The evolution, development, and application of Additive Manufacturing (AM) has been one of our favorite topics–and just look at how far that technology has come. We are fast approaching using 3D printing in our everyday lives. It’s possible there may even be 3D printed parts on the large commercial aircraft I am about to board!

Fast approaching, yes, but let’s separate hype from reality: AM is not quite yet integrated into our daily lives. It’s easy to be carried away by images of astronauts printing pizza in space,1 but more immediate—and more broadly relevant—applications are for printed-to-fit implants and prosthetics or 3D printed industrial parts-things that are hard to manufacture using traditional processes.

While the hype surrounding 3D printing is relatively recent—reaching a fevered pitch in perhaps the last five years–the technology, as such, is not. AM’s development can be traced back over 30 years to 1986 and the invention of stereolithography. Since then, the technology has evolved to include at least seven different processes, all of which manufacture products by adding material layer by layer but in different ways. Deloitte’s report, the 3D opportunity primer, provides detailed description of how 3D printing works, different processes and associated technologies, and key applications.

It’s exciting to see how AM has evolved over the years. The full promise of AM technologies is just starting to bear fruit, as new capabilities are making it possible to use AM in an ever-increasing variety of ways. For example, the ability to embed electronics directly into a part while it is additively manufactured opens up many opportunities to put sensors in everyday objects, and make use of the captured data in an increasingly information-driven economy.2 Additionally, developments in multi-material printing enable manufacturers to make a part using materials with varying properties, making it possible to produce a wider variety of parts than were possible previously, when manufacturers were constricted to single-material production.3 For instance, an automotive part could be built mostly of a light-weight material—while a certain section, critical to the driver’s safety, could be manufactured with a fire-resistant material. Alternatively, applications that require superior product finish–such as those in the car’s interior–can make use of hybrid AM systems that combine AM with conventional machining capabilities.4

But AM goes beyond engineers. Business managers must also get onboard, helping to consider what AM technologies to deploy, and where to deploy them. These go beyond the new capabilities I just described, here I’m talking more about the underlying printing processes themselves. Managers interested in deploying AM to their business operations must be aware of the differences among AM processes, and the ways in which they are suited for different applications. For instance, of the seven key AM processes defined by ASTM International, directed energy deposition is an AM process in which metal powder is melted using a laser beam.5 As such, with superior accuracy, the technology is well-suited to repair high-value parts comprised of metals or to produce parts where strength is crucial, as in aerospace and automotive industries.6 Binder jetting, another AM process, works by selectively depositing a liquid bonding agent to join powder materials; ink can also be deposited to impart color.7 The accuracy is currently limited, but the technology is well-suited to applications that require building models and prototypes in color, in industries such as consumer products and packaging.

There is little doubt that AM’s impact on the manufacturing industry will grow as increasing number of companies are using AM not just for prototypes but end-part production and are seeing benefits of their product and supply chain transformations.8 Deloitte’s ongoing research-the 3D Opportunity series-provides in-depth analyses on how technological developments are leading to strategic implications for number of industries. The upcoming course, “3D Opportunity: Additive Manufacturing for Business Leaders,” designed for business managers, provides an overview of additive manufacturing and offers a framework to help them understand how AM can impact their business. Check it out!

Well, time for me to board; I am excited to see what’s new at the event this year.


1 CNet, “NASA funds attempt at 3D food printer for pizza,” May 21, 2013 http://www.cnet.com/news/nasa-funds-attempt-at-3d-food-printer-for-pizza/, May 21, 2013, accessed December 1, 2015
2 Reuters, “3D printing is merged with printed electronics,” http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/23/idUS186286+23-Mar-2012+BW20120323, March 23, 2012, accessed November 19, 2015.
3 Ellie Zolfagharifard, “The rise of multi-material 3D printing,” http://www.theengineer.co.uk/channels/design-engineering/in-depth/the-rise-of-multi-material-3d-printing/1016242.article, May 9, 2013, accessed November 19, 2015.
4 Zhu, Zicheng, Vimal Dhokia, Stephen T. Newman, and Aydin Nassehi. “Application of a hybrid process for high precision manufacture of difficult to machine prismatic parts.” The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology 74, no. 5-8 (2014): 1115-1132.
5 ASTM International, Standard terminology for additive manufacturing technologies, designation F2792 − 12a, 2013, p. 2.
For detailed analysis on quality assurance of 3D printed parts, refer to the report, “3D opportunity for quality assurance and parts qualification,” Deloitte University Press, November 18, 2015, http://dupress.com/articles/3d-printing-quality-assurance-in-manufacturing/”, accessed December 4, 2015.
7 ASTM International, Standard terminology for additive manufacturing technologies, designation F2792 − 12a, 2013, p. 2.
8 Mark Cotteleer and Jim Joyce, “3D opportunity: Additive manufacturing paths to performance, innovation, and growth,” Deloitte Review 14, January 2014, http://dupress.com/articles/dr14-3d-opportunity/, accessed December 4, 2015.

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