Rapid manufacturing’s growth is ... well, you know

April 16, 2009

That’s right, rapid—as rapid manufacturing (RM) continues to be the cutting edge for companies seeking to cut time and costs of production. In an industry briefing, Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Assoc. notes that, where plastics are concerned, there is a fair amount of additive fabrication of plastic parts in end-use applications, particularly in aerospace. For example, he says the Boeing 787 will have a number of laser sintered parts on it. “Military aircraft have had laser sintered parts for quite some time, as have business jets and helicopters,” he says. “But as far as large-framed aircraft, this is a first.”

Wohlers also points out that the terminology in this industry has changed. “Rapid prototyping has fallen off in this industry except in cases where parts are truly acting as prototypes,” he said in a recent interview. “We’re using terms such as additive fabrication or additive manufacturing, which is the latest term.”

Wohlers Report 2008, a 240-page global study that focuses on the advances in additive fabrication worldwide, notes that DDM (direct digital manufacturing) has “enormous potential.” Some see it as one of the most important emerging approaches that will drive the future manufacturing economy. DDM allows for significant part consolidation, which reduces tooling, manufacturing, inventory, assembly, maintenance, and inspection costs.

On the processing side, Galloway Plastics Inc. (GPI; Lake Bluff, IL) uses a direct metal laser-sintering (DMLS) system from EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems (Munich, Germany) as a part of a larger strategy of expanding its rapid prototyping and manufacturing business across a range of industries. GPI uses an EOSINT M 270 DMLS system as part of its strategy to support the expansion of its sister firms, GPI Prototype and GPI Anatomicals. For GPI Prototype, a complete service bureau, the equipment will broaden its in-house offerings. GPI Anatomicals, a manufacturer of anatomical/medical device models, will use it to further expand its capabilities. “We see DMLS as a huge step toward eliminating the gap between prototyping and production,” says Scott Galloway, president and owner of GIP. “Also, with it we can create parts that would not be possible to manufacture using traditional methods.”

Wohlers said that the adoption of DDM can lead to many business benefits, including the reduction or elimination of fixed assets such as tooling and assembly aids, which reduces capital investment. “DDM also has the potential to greatly reduce or eliminate many stages of the traditional supply chain, reducing lead times, inventory, and supply chain transaction and logistics,” he added. [email protected]

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