3D printing is the process of manufacturing an end piece from a digital file. Also known as “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing starts with a virtual file or CAD (Computer Aided Design). The file can be designed or it can be scanned into the program using 3D scanning technologies. The object is then made into a 3 dimensional object. It’s like your every day printing, but with a little more technology, design, and difficulty.
Although 3D printing has its cons, these are slowly being resolved to create better ways to utilize 3D printing. Its benefits are promising in the world of manufacturing and can play an integral role in affecting the fastener industry.
No matter what is designed, it is rare to achieve a perfect product right from the start. It involves tweaking, testing, and alterations. When companies find and fix problems early in the design cycle, scrapping, reworking, and retooling could be prevented. Prevention saves companies time and money with waste. Furthermore, designers and engineers can sooner find the mistakes, further contributing to cost savings.
While computers offer a product preview, nothing compares to holding a model. Rapid prototyping can present a physical product which will allow for detailed feedback.
Additionally, if a final production process requires a large demand for capital, rapid prototyping offers testing opportunity before making the full investment.
Threaded Fasteners in 3D Printed Parts
Most 3D printing plastics aren’t the best for 3D printed threads or even tapped threads. Material limitations means that printed plastics could have low material yield strength. Some printers also experience difficulty in 3D printing smaller threads. As a result, 3D printed or tapped threads usually wear down pretty quick. Instead, assembly should be done with metal threads in order to maintain precision and reliability. Threaded fasteners allow for quick assembly and strong connections for securing 3D printed parts. There are an array of threaded fastening techniques that can be implemented when dealing with 3D printed parts.
Image Courtesy of 3D Hubs
For a better and more reliable fastener pilot hole, drill the hole after printing rather than printing it within the part. Wall thickness of the threat should match the diameter of the fastener (ex. M5 fastener requires a minimum of 5mm wall thickness around the threaded hole). The most popular methods for securing 3D printed components involve heating up or tapping in inserts and embedding nuts. Due to their simple installation, connection strength (metal on metal), and ease of assembly/disassembly, these methods should be considered when fastening 3D printed parts.
What Does This Mean for the Fastener Industry?
3D printing is changing the way that manufacturing is functioning. Parts made using 3D printing are usually lighter in weight, but also have the potential to be much stronger than traditionally manufacturers parts. Rapid prototyping is saving money and offering a chance for a physical prototype rather than a virtual one. Even beyond prototyping, 3D printing is a part of the end product. From aerospace to race cars, 3D printing is finding places where it thrives before hitting every other sector that “makes things.”
There are many uses for fasteners in 3D printing. The durability of fasteners can make traditionally made fasteners an asset to a structure that has been 3D printed. However, as the technology and materials advances, it will have an impact on the industry. While smaller threaded fasteners may currently have difficulty being produced utilizing 3D printing, eventually the technology could impact fastener production. Metal 3D printers can now create parts using aluminum, titanium, and steel.
The demand to produce small spare parts has already begun within the supply chain. Companies want their parts and they want them as soon as possible. GE has been looking into a vending machine that 3D prints parts on command. A lighter, more compact engine was also recently built using 3D printing. The number of components in this engine were reduced by 25 percent, making a total of 200 fewer parts.
It Matters to Know
Knowing how 3D printing is advancing and where it is heading could be a huge help to your business. When you can anticipate the market and adapt sooner, you will maintain a competitive edge that cannot be matched by lagging competition.
Attending industry shows to keep yourself informed and to network with professionals is necessary. RAPID + TCT (RAPID), happening May 8-11, 2017 in Pittsburgh, is one of them. RAPID is “North America’s preeminent event for discovery, innovation, and networking in 3D manufacturing.” Here attendees will find the most experienced and influential individuals within the 3D manufacturing community.
RAPID offers opportunities for attendees to learn how to integrate technologies and business practices which cut costs, eliminate time to market, and produce low volume end-user parts and components, among a variety of other lessons and tips.
The event offers knowledge on casting, plastic injection molding with metal additive manufacturing, traditional machine shops adopting 3d printing, post-processing, 3D printing for medicine, and more.
To keep up to date on what is happening within manufacturing as well as share what we have learned with the fastener and manufacturing industries, we will be in attendance at RAPID 2017. We hope to see you there!
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