OK, we aren’t able to 3D print entire vehicles. But we are using additive manufacturing (3D printing) to quickly design and develop prototype parts in a much faster and cost effective manner than was previously possible.
So what is it? And why is it the next best thing to the conveyor belt in the manufacturing world?
Additive manufacturing is a process used to create a 3D structure by adding materials layer by layer based on a digital model. It’s essentially the exact opposite of what is more commonly used in manufacturing today. Traditional forms of manufacturing can require weeks of setup and constraints – you typically need to develop a mold, obtain materials from a variety of vendors, procure the right tools and then consider how it will be built on a manufacturing floor before production can even start.
Additive design is an enabling technology. It allows for a design with minimum constraints on how it can be produced. With additive, you can design impossible structures (like cavities inside solid blocks, for example) that you wouldn’t be able to machine otherwise.
At BAE Systems, we’re applying additive manufacturing to the manufacture of lower volume, complex parts – the ones that are the hardest to manufacture using traditional forms – and we’re creating them faster than ever before.
This high-tech process is especially beneficial during new vehicle design. Rather than use traditional manufacturing to produce parts for low production volume vehicles, we use additive manufacturing methods to quickly design and test parts for the vehicle. This helps us to quickly detect and resolve potential problems early in the process. Basically, we’re able to create a prototype, test it, and then tweak it in a much faster cycle time than traditional methods that require much more time, effort, and money. Because designs can change quickly, and it’s hard to achieve perfection the first time, every time, additive’s quick cycle time and design flexibility is a fantastic tool.
The possibilities for additive manufacturing are limitless,” said Steven Diaz, manager of the Advanced Materials and Joining Technologies group at BAE Systems. While we are currently focusing efforts on solving problems related to lower-volume, high-value parts, we are also exploring ways that we can utilize additive manufacturing technologies for higher throughput and return-on-investment. For example, sustainability efforts have untapped potential with excellent margins… we can use additive to cut these costs and produce these components, faster.”
Additive manufacturing is in its early stages of use. We’re just poking our feet in its ocean of possibilities - for now. Eventually, we envision using additive to build more sustainable parts, for very large components – like entire combat vehicle hulls.