Adopting new technologies generally involves lots of experimentation coupled with low expectations. Sloppiness, imprecise results, or outright failure are fine learning experiences when evaluating a novel system’s potential but completely unacceptable outcomes for production systems.
With additive manufacturing (AM) moving from prototyping and design labs into serial production, users demand higher levels of quality, repeatability, traceability, and output. And while 3D printer makers and other AM technology providers continue to improve their equipment, a new, advanced supply chain has emerged.
Just as traditional job shops work with a network of machine tool manufacturers, cutting tool makers, software vendors, and materials suppliers, AM users are learning that it takes a network of manufacturing technology providers to create a finished part.
An early dream of AM was direct print-to-use components – imagining a 3D part using digital design software, sending it to a 3D printer, and getting a finished, usable part within a few hours of ideation. While possible in some situations, users have found that building semi-finished parts and going through post-processing improves cost, quality, and productivity.
In the pages of the 2019 AM/3D Target Guide, several technology experts discuss where post-processing techniques fit into the maturing AM ecosystem. Experts highlight heat-treatment systems for thermoplastic AM parts, finishing fluids used in cleaning post-processes, and using AM to develop custom tooling. There’s also coverage of cutting-edge developments in AM systems and use cases showing how manufacturers can benefit from new equipment.
AM is still a cool, gee-whiz, sky’s-the-limit technology capable of revolutionizing any industry it touches. The growth of support industries and post-processing shows that it’s also maturing, making it more capable of producing complex parts quickly, cost effectively, and most importantly, reliably.— Elizabeth, Robert, Eric, & Michelle