The concept of design for manufacture (DfM) is not a new one. It implies that the method of manufacturing is considered during the entire design and development stages of products and components in order to optimise their functionality in relation to the way they will be produced and subsequently assembled and tested.
This considered approach results in higher quality parts, with shorter overall product development times (faster time-to-market) and is more likely to eliminate costly mistakes in tooling and/or production. In such a way, the fact that successful additive manufacturing (AM) applications benefit greatly from adhering specifically to DfAM is hardly a surprise.
Nanofabrica recently commercialised the world’s first micro additive manufacturing platform, allowing manufacturers of micro parts with micron resolutions the ability to benefit from the inherent advantages that exist in using AM as a production technology.
Additive manufacturing offers freedom in design, allowing users to create geometries of previously unimaginable complexity, complex and controlled lattices, extremely small and complex holes, as well as customised products.
Design is key to unlocking the potential of additive manufacturing
DfAM is a hot topic at the moment, but discussion of DfAM takes place within the context of a global shortage of professionals with AM design skills. The shortage of professionals that can design AM parts that translate through the additive process to the successful production of end parts is indeed a serious issue. It has developed because for years AM was used as a prototyping technology, and it is only in recent years with the move to the use of AM as a production technology that DfAM has become a concern. Design for additive manufacturing demands a whole different approach and set of skills to achieve success than DfM using traditional production technologies.
Nanofabrica’s micro additive manufacturing technology (in common with all other commercially available platforms) build parts additively, one layer at a time. It is this fundamental capability that demands a different approach for DfAM and permits additive processes to build complex geometries.
Additive manufacturing support structures
Nanofabrica recognises that much of the current DfAM conversation focuses on topology optimisation, light-weighting of parts and consolidation of assemblies. Important as these issues are in maximising the advantages of AM, the company believes this belies some other critical issues with DfAM. Specifically, that the primary design consideration with AM comes with the support structures that are needed for many additive processes.
Any parts that feature overhangs necessarily require support structures to enable their production with AM. Therefore, when designing a part with overhangs that will be additively manufactured, design skills must also be applied to the nature and placement of the supports themselves. While most AM software generates support structures automatically, the ability to design minimal but functional supports to optimise the final part demands a new design skill set.
It is also fair to say that all different AM technologies and platforms require different support structures. The development of automatic software that generates support structures requires expertise and in depth experience to create algorithms that produce them. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and Nanofabrica has a team of AM, software and materials experts that have devoted enormous resources into the optimisation of support generation. The company also works with customers to ensure that design engineers are also best equipped to design for its AM platform to ensure optimal support generation.
Design for additive manufacturing opens opportunities
Additive manufacturing opens up new opportunities for manufacturers in two main areas: part consolidation and topology optimisation to produce lighter, more functional parts. But it is only with the intelligent application of DfAM that specific time and cost benefits can be realised.
One of the major constraints of traditional manufacturing is the “manufacturability” of complex components, which often means they have to be broken down into multiple parts to make manufacturing possible and then subsequently assembled.
AM is demonstrably able to overcome this issue with the ability to consolidate multiple part assemblies into a single part – eliminating time and costs in the process of producing a more functional result. Nanofabrica is aware that the issue of assembly is especially problematic, complex, and expensive when looking at micro applications, and as such the use of the company’s micro AM platform offers hugely beneficial outcomes for micro manufacturers.
The design capabilities that enable consolidation of assemblies are extensive and in short supply. It is vital for the AM platforms to provide robust and intelligent software tools to support this capability, an area that has also been prioritised by Nanofabrica.
Many structural components are designed with more material (and thus weight) than they actually require. In turn this can mean increased and unnecessary loads on moving parts and compromised energy efficiency during use.
AM enables the design – and production – of parts with highly efficient strength to weight ratios that also result in material savings. Moreover, topology optimisation for AM parts allows designers to specify loads and supports within a part to achieve full – often improved – functionality.
Understanding the different AM processes and designing within the parameters of that process can invariably lead to more efficient parts, improved strength and durability, while also reducing costs and improving safety.
Nanofabrica advocates working closely with customers at the design stage of product conception to ensure topology optimisation is achieved, and to make sure that DfAM issues are considered as early in product development as possible. The company works with OEMs across various industry sectors where cost-effective manufacture of precision micro parts is driving innovation.