Energy consumption in Metal and Polymer Additive Manufacturing- a comparison with traditional manufacturing methods and analysis of the longer term product benefits of adopting AM technologies.
Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) has been promoted recently as the new phase of modern manufacturing. In many regards this is correct, but like any new technology it needs to be adopted not as a replacement for traditional processes or an enhancement of the old way- additive needs to be adopted with a fresh approach to component manufacture.
Traditional manufacturing methods have become very energy-lean in terms of energy utilization in the process, and AM processes such as DMLS and FDM are very energy-thirsty. That said, a holistic view should be adopted and a simple process comparison between traditional processes and AM technologies is a small minded approach. These processes are not comparable for a number of reasons. The supply chain for traditional manufacturing processes is far more energy dependent than with AM, where the supply chain starts at the machine, when the electronic model is sent for printing.
An example of this is where NASA sent a polymer printer to the International Space Station, and their Chief Engineer stated at a press conference that rather than scheduling a launch to deliver components to the ISS, they could just email it up! While it’s likely that it was in some ways a publicity stunt (given the challenges of printing in zero gravity) it is without question a window into the future that AM is the technology of the next industrial revolution.
Industry in Ireland has become both excited and scared by the prospect of AM technologies being thrust into the “Factories of the future” and everyone is talking up the “Internet of things” and “Industry 4.0” but my experience has been that there is interest but no real deep knowledge of the technology in terms of 3D printing.
AM technology such as FDM, SLS, Polyjet, SLA in polymers is energy intensive in terms of the energy usage for the preparation of the material to be printed and the build conditions in the chambers of the machines in support of the process.
In the metal printing process, there are two main technologies and both are extremely energy dependent. The primary methods, DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) and EBM (Electron Beam Melting) both use lasers in a heated chamber and as such are extremely energy dependent, using either 400 watt or 200 watt lasers depending on the materials in addition to the heating requirements of both the build plate and the build chamber.
But we should look further than the cost of the process, and further into the long term benefits of this new technology, and it has been described as a disruptive technology- and we can’t at this point predict how disruptive this will be.
On an energy usage level, while this technology is expensive to use, the product geometries that can be produced can reduce the extended energy usage over the lifetime of a product. The prime example of this is an aircraft, where there have been some examples of non-structural components being redesigned with AM technology thinking, and the redesign results in a significant weight saving that can have significant cost savings over the lifetime of the aircraft.
It is impossible, when considering disruptive technologies, to examine what effect these will have on traditional industries. But one of those that I think needs to be considered is the medical world. AM offers opportunities for mass and local customization that will reduce the energy requirements of the supply chain and the immense cost within the supply of non-custom devices in the medical implements industry.
Let’s not take a narrow minded view of what the effects of AM can be in terms of the cost of the process- but we should consider how these technologies can be used to make energy usage reduction more widespread.
About Jonathan Downey:
Schivo, Strategic Projects Manager.
Jonathan is responsible for the management and implementation of projects which are of strategic importance to the Schivo group, including the implementation of new processes and introduction of new products.
He also manages the groups research and development activities and has led the development of the groups own product line.
Jonathan led the implementation of the group’s additive manufacturing (3D printing) capabilities, in both metal and plastic, and the company continues to embed this technology into a normal production environment using traditional manufacturing methodologies to compliment the additive processes.