To produce brake calipers for its Chiron supercar, Bugatti embraced additive manufacturing, creating the largest titanium 3D printed component yet.
Because titanium is so strong, it's impossible to use the same milling and forging technology used to form traditional aluminum calipers, Popular Science reported. Instead, the part is produced from 2,213 layers of titanium powder melted by lasers for over 45 hours and then heat-treated to 1,300 degrees. The part undergoes 11 hours of grinding to ensure each component meets exacting tolerances.
Manufacturers from Bugatti to Boeing to BMW have invested in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, in which objects are created by layering plastic or metal — as opposed to traditional subtractive manufacturing in which material is removed to create an object.
Aside from automotive and aerospace, the technology is also showing up in footwear manufacturing, as Adidas prints athletic shoes, and medical device manufacturers like Jabil prints orthopedic implants. However, the share for additive manufacturing of the overall $12.7 trillion global manufacturing market remains at 0.1% and may not reach 1% in the next five years as reported in the 3D Hubs First Quarter 2019 3D Printing Trends Report.
"With additive, you can take ten injection molded parts and put them into on subassembly, and now there are economies of scale."
While the costs of merely replacing traditional manufacturing with additive still don't pencil out on a one-to-one basis, the real benefits come from reimagining the components and the supply chain behind them.
"With additive, you can take ten injection molded parts and put them into on subassembly, and now there are economies of scale," Louis Librandi, a principal at Deloitte, told Supply Chain Dive. "If you're able to drive it further upstream in the value chain that's a differentiator."
Some additive manufacturing users have invested in in-house capabilities for rapid design and prototyping. But for production level output they tap vendors such as GE Additive and Stratasys.
Finding the right fit for additive manufacturing
Depending on the size and complexity of the product, companies are moving production in house. IRA Green manufactures and distributes more than 40,000 items for military uniforms, making it the largest manufacturer of military decorations and uniform accessories. Using traditional milling methods, creating each new fixture took eight hours of programming and cost $300, with a lead-time of several days.
The company invested in a Rize One 3D printer to create metal parts that can be drilled, welded and polished. In less than a year, the team printed about 300 fixtures at $2 each, Bill Yehle, IGI’s manufacturing manager, told TCT Magazine. The company cut setup and changeover time by 80%, and all the fixtures are standardized and repeatable, Yehle said. IGI uses a small printer that's operated in the design department.
For more extensive production level operations, companies face the choice of building in-house capability or working with a supplier. Developing additive capabilities in-house requires investment and finding talent with the right skill set, but lead times can be dramatically reduced. Developing internal additive manufacturing prowess allows companies to lessen their dependence on a limited supplier base.
"Many OEMs have decided to build that capability internally because it's easier for them as they're trying to do the engineering and prototyping to be able to get that rapid feedback," Librandi said.
With in-house capabilities, companies can flex from internal to external suppliers based on seasonal demands. Finding suitable vendors to meet quality and certification requirements could be a challenge, especially for aerospace and automotive manufacturers.
"It goes beyond having the technical capability to print parts, it's about meeting all the other parameters, and they need to take a comprehensive approach when they're looking to decide whether to outsource or make it internally," Librandi said of businesses considering introducing additive manufacturing into their supply chains.
"Depending on the industry, lead times could be weeks or months, so having the ability to replenish parts within hours or days means you no longer have to hold on to safety stock."
Adopting additive manufacturing can have a dramatic impact on the landed cost of parts, avoiding tariffs, customs fees and other costs of shipping as well as reducing the overall lead-time, Librandi said.
"Depending on the industry, lead times could be weeks or months, so having the ability to replenish parts within hours or days means you no longer have to hold on to safety stock and have warehouses to store the safety stock," he said.
A company may need to warehouse raw materials, but that requires much less space than finished goods.
"They can address the hidden costs of the factory, like having working capital tied up in inventory," Librandi said. "There are real decisions that can have a dramatic impact on the company's finances and performance."
Spare parts are where it's at
Service and repair parts are taking a lead role for now as companies ramp up to higher levels of production.
To keep beverage-filling plants in operation, Kamp-Lintfort, Germany-based Jung & Company adopted additive manufacturing to produce stainless steel beverage filler nozzles on demand, according to GE Additive. Many of the parts are custom-designed for each machine. There were seven to eight pieces per valve manufactured by traditional methods with a lead-time of eight to 10 weeks. With additive manufacturing, the component is constructed in one operation without assembly and can be made and installed within a week.
"Whether it's additive or any other advanced manufacturing technique, what problems are we trying to solve and what's the value that this technology brings?"
BMW began researching additive manufacturing in 1990 and has moved beyond experimenting to the production of parts and tooling. The mounting for the top cover of the i8 roadster is 3D printed and is stronger and weighs less than a part made with traditional methods. Today, the BMW Additive Manufacturing Centre in Munich produces more than 100,000 precision components per year, such as prototypes and hard-to-find parts for classic cars as well as complex chassis parts.
GE Aviation is printing parts for the GE9X engine slated for the Boeing 777X twin-engine jet at in-house facilities in Alabama and Italy. The engine will contain seven components and 304 pieces, including low-pressure turbine blades. Most of the parts are made from cobalt-chromium alloy or titanium aluminide, Additive Manufacturing reported.
As companies consider the impact of additive manufacturing, they must not look at it as the latest "shiny object," Librandi said, but view it as part of an overall strategy.
"Whether it's additive or any other advanced manufacturing technique, what problems are we trying to solve and what's the value that this technology brings?" he said.
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