Last year BMW announced its first additive manufacturing plant. The future installation, which will require investments of around 10 million euros, will be located in Germany and, as its main objective, will seek to accelerate the development of 3D manufacturing expertise.
Additive manufacturing is one of the pillars of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
But what is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is the term used to describe the manufacturing process in which a variety of tools – such as so-called 3D printers – operate. It is a mechanical process in which layers of material are progressively added, overlapping one another, in order to fabricate an object usually based on a digital model.
This technology makes it possible to fabricate objects of complex shape designed on the computer.
The fabrication of a part according to additive manufacture is similar to common printing, but instead of normal ink, a powder, gel or filament of plastic or metal is used. During the manufacturing process the raw material is added in layers in order to avoid waste, ensuring efficiency and maximum utilization.
In additive manufacturing designs are developed using 3D modeling software, such as AutoCAD, SketchUp, SolidWorks, 3ds Max, Meshmixer and TinkerCAD, among others.
Additive manufacturing has several applications, the most common being as a production technology in industry. The possibilities for improvement in the manufacturing and assembly processes of products of all kinds suggest the prospects for adoption are good.
One example illustrating industry interest in 3D printing is the development by a Chinese company of a car produced entirely from parts printed through the additive manufacturing process.
Figure 1 – LSEV – a car made entirely from parts manufactured through 3D printing.
In medicine additive manufacturing make possible the fabrication of several types of prosthetics at low cost. 3D printers will also be able to manufacture drugs and tissue, such as cartilage, arteries, bones and even skin.
Imagine being able to make an out-of-stock replacement part for a discontinued home appliance!