Additive manufacturing (AM) is certainly becoming the “disruptive technology” predicted by some in the industry. Not a day goes by that we don’t come across news of AM companies making moves or new parts being designed. Let’s gain some perspective by taking a look at some of these stories.

As we have previously discussed, aerospace has been an early adopter of AM technology for several reasons, not the least of which being cost. Early AM work has been expensive and limited to small batches. Neither of these factors are good for the automotive industry, for instance.

A recent news story confirms Boeing’s interest in AM. A Boeing representative, Terry McGowan, was recently quoted, “We believe there’s going to be huge potential for this technology. We’re very, very close to a Star Trek replicator.”

The reasons given for Boeing’s optimism are as follows:

  • Part cost reduction: It can allow for unitized assemblies, cutting down the number of parts and thus cutting cost.
  • Part availability: When you can print your part at the press of a button, lead time and inventory management become a thing of the past.
  • Part performance improvement: Printed parts allow for designs (e.g., optimized lightweighting) that aren’t achievable with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Improved safety: The reduced mass and number of parts means safer installation, and AM/3D-printed parts can be made with ergonomics in mind.

An example of the lightweighting feature of AM comes from Airbus. Recent work done with Materialise demonstrates that parts can be 15% lighter in weight due to a more complex design. The complex design would be more expensive and might be impossible with conventional production methods, but that is not so with AM. We will see some of the design intricacies possible in the PM award winners.

The winners in the annual MPIF Powder Metallurgy (PM) Design Excellence Awards were announced during POWDERMET 2018 in San Antonio, Texas, in June. A few are highlighted here.


MPIF Grand-Prize-Winning Parts

GKN Powder Metallurgy took two awards in the categories of Automotive Transmission and Automotive Engine. The transmission part is a planetary reaction carrier made for the all-new GM 9T50 9-speed transmission. The engine part is a copper-steel main bearing cap made for FCA US LLC. It is used in the 2.0 L all-aluminum turbocharged 4-cylinder engine launched in the Alfa Romeo Guilia. The design delivers a part that is 23% lighter while offering 10% better fatigue strength.

One of the 12 Awards of Distinction was presented to ARC Group Worldwide. The part, made for Cutsforth Inc., goes into an EASYCHANGE removable brush holder assembly used in turbine generators for the power industry. The part was previously 100% machined, and you can see the complexity of it. Whether using a conventional MIM process or making a part like this as AM, complexity and detail are not a problem. Redesigning parts with a more-complex design often results in the aforementioned weight savings. In this case, the MIM process reduced the per-part cost by 60%. Industrial Heating congratulates all of this year’s award winners.

It won’t be long until FNA 2018 in Indianapolis. If you plan to attend and have not yet made arrangements, I encourage you to do so soon. If you do attend, stop by booth 624 and say hello. We’ll see you there.