Technological improvements continue to improve manufacturing processes. And manufacturing is always relevant to the supply chain; growth in the manufacturing sector means more demand in for the freight market.
Inefficiency usually leads to waste materials that in some cases cannot be reused. In certain instances, there also is the question of material integrity.
In subtractive manufacturing, products are built by subtracting material from a larger whole. But another type of manufacturing uses additive processes. “Additive manufacturing refers to a broad class of manufacturing technology in which physical objects are built based on the successful addition of materials,” said Bill King, chief scientist at Fast Radius, an industrial- grade contract manufacturer that specializes in additive manufacturing.
“Additive manufacturing allows you to make physical objects that have geometry, which isn’t possible to make from subtractive manufacturing. In some cases, the new geometry can enable design performance that is very new and significantly better than before,” King said.
Though the concept of additive manufacturing may seem new to many, it is not. King explained that additive manufacturing has been around for decades, but has been restrictive in its use. Previously it was focused on prototypes for designers and art and education. In the last few years, though, the underlying technology has improved significantly, and now there is a possibility of adopting it more widely in mainstream manufacturing.
“Now you see many products that go into build-at-scale production using additive manufacturing technology. There are two reasons why this has occurred. Firstly, additive equipment is significantly faster than it used to be, so you can contemplate and rapidly produce a lot of things,” said King. “The second driving factor is that the materials being used are quite good. So you can additively manufacture objects out of very high-performing materials like polymers, metals, and ceramic.”
Fast Radius has given a “facelift” to additive manufacturing through an innovative business model that helps businesses migrate their designs from a physical inventory to a virtual inventory. Now companies do not need to manufacture products and hold them in warehouses, but instead can manufacture parts on-demand when the need arises – saving money and space.
A strategic partnership forged between Fast Radius and logistics leader UPS enables businesses to manufacture parts by sourcing the design from its Fast Radius virtual directory and have them shipped through UPS right to their doorstep.
King also highlighted the importance of lattice structures while discussing the edge additive manufacturing has over primordial subtractive techniques. Lattice structures, also called architectured materials, are lightweight and robust, making them tailor-made to be integrated into a variety of products including aerospace parts, medical equipment, and sports equipment.
To understand this further, Fast Radius partnered with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to work on a study researching the production readiness of lattice materials through additive manufacturing. The final report took into consideration a large number of lattice parts in different materials and geometries, and concluded that the accuracy of the printed parts through additive manufacturing was excellent.
“The ability to get strong and lightweight structures is not something you can get with legacy manufacturing technology. We help customers who are interested in reducing the amount of material that would be used in packaging or in reducing the weight of containers,” said King. “For example, lattice structures and additive manufacturing is a method to reduce the weight of vehicles, which will lead to increased fuel efficiency. This is a very compelling application.”