The past year the RapidPro team has dived into the many possibilities and opportunities that are offered in the field of digital manufacturing. Digital manufacturing is an umbrella term consisting of two primary categories: additive and subtractive manufacturing. Common denominator in these technologies is the involvement of computerized numerical controlled machines (CNC) in its process. But besides this shared feature, there are a lot of dissimilarities.
The subtractive manufacturing methods are relatively mature technologies such as turning, drilling and milling. These technologies are proven over time and guided by quality standards and norms that are widely accepted by the industry. In combination with injection molding, this has been the industry standard for quite some time when it comes to shaping raw material into (end) products. Due to the extensive knowledge and time the industry had for developments within this field, subtractive methods and injection molding come with many advantages in the area of costs, effectiveness and quality.
The big discruption in the world of manufacturing?
Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies have been presented as the big disruption in the world of manufacturing. Although already invented in the early 1980’s and the first machines being sold in 1987, the word really started spreading in the ‘00’s, when 3Dprinting was first mentioned on the Gartner Hype Cycle (2007). Since then, expectations were sky-high and many predictions (accurate (NASA story) or less accurate) have been made on the subject of AM or 3D printing (as has been the go-to term). Because AM is described as a disruptive technology, the idea exists that it will sooner or later (but mostly sooner) completely replace the subtractive manufacturing technologies. Especially when it comes to consumer products. From food and organ printing to the majority of households owning a 3D-printer for daily needs, forecasts of usage were (and are) very exciting.
The future is near, but the present is now
The above mentioned examples might have a strong appeal to the general public, but current developments hold as much excitement for industry uses. Both suppliers of soft- and hardware and users in the industry have found that current AM technologies are most suitable and effective complementary to, and not instead of, existing subtractive manufacturing and injection molding applications. Both in metal and plastic printing, developments are rapid, both in terms of accuracy, reliability and production speed. It is important for companies who are in need of (functional) prototypes and small series production, to count their (current) blessings and make use of the extensive range of AM technologies with their known possibilities and limitations at the moment.
As the Gartner hype cycle on 3D-printing of last year depicts, a vast array of additive manufacturing technologies and applications are fighting for their place in the spotlights. The technologies range from the most mature applications in the medical field (hearing devices) and functional (!) prototyping to the innovative fields of 4D-printing (the addition of transformation over time to 3D-printing) and nanoscale 3D-printing. The fact that AM deserves its own hype cycle, tells all about the promising future of the technology. However, investing in the current possibilities now might be even more valuable.