Why Automation is the Next Step for Additive Manufacturing
22 February 2018
The shift towards Industry 4.0 has led to the digital transformation of manufacturing, as manufacturers incorporate digital technologies to enhance their production workflows. With the evolution of additive manufacturing as a viable means of production within this digital transformation, manufacturers are now recognising the benefits of using automation in additive manufacturing as a means of enhancing their operations, and ensuring greater efficiency and a faster time-to-market.
Automation, described as the single biggest evolution of 3D printing, will be the next step in the evolution of additive manufacturing. Achieved through a combination of hardware and software, as well as robotics, sensors and networks, automation will ensure more streamlined processes as part of an end-to-end digital production cycle.
Automation in Additive Manufacturing
For industrial manufacturers, incorporating automation systems into AM production lines can lead to greater efficiency along each stage of the production lifecycle, for example by replacing manual processes and establishing advanced tracking and analytics systems.
Simulation software, which has particularly gained ground for metal 3D printing, is one example of how automation software can help streamline the pre-production stage. With metal simulation software, engineers can better understand how complex geometries and parts will behave before production has even taken place, and predict potential deformities of the part during the printing process. This can greatly minimise build failures and reduce the need for trial-and-error – which is very often a time-consuming process.
At the production stage, workflow automation will mean more productivity for manufacturers, primiarily through the integration of automation software and hardware technologies. For example, by implementing production management software, manufacturers can manage their production process through real time tracking of parts along the production line, ensuring greater traceability along the process. Production management software can also be used for data analytics and production statistics to improve performance. Our automation software incorporates full integrated production management, enabling companies to implement an end-to-end production management process, through automation tools. Indeed, meeting rising demand and ensuring efficiency in the process is a key concern for manufacturers – which is why automation software can go a long way to streamline these manufacturing process.
Furthermore, the AM post-processing stage has typically been a manual process – indeed, perhaps the least digitised stage of the entire AM production line. However, several companies, such as Additive Manufacturing Technologies and Post Process Technologies are now overcoming this bottleneck by providing post-processing solutions that speed up the process of support removal and surface finishing – for example through automated post-processing machines.
In spite the many benefits to automation for additive manufacturing, one of the biggest challenges for companies is adapting their current processes for automation. This can mean a significant investment in IT infrastructure – for example to ensure that hardware and any ERP systems can support automated systems. However, what is clear is that the benefits of automation far outweighs the initial costs of implementing automation strategies – through higher throughput, greater efficiency and streamlined processes.
Furthermore, the key to wider adoption of automation for industrial 3D printing lies in greater collaboration between software companies, machine manufacturers, suppliers and other key players within the supply chain. It is then that will we see the next sea change in additive manufacturing – through automation.
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