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3D printing’s impact on the machining sector


If you have been following the latest developments in 3D printing, you may have heard predictions that traditional manufacturing processes will soon be transformed by this revolutionary technology.

For the moment, however, it is unlikely to happen in the next few years. Although 3D printing will quickly become unavoidable in many areas, there is still, at least for now, a place for “traditional” machining in the manufacture of products such as mechanical parts. Discover why.

3D printing and its current limits

3D printing has numerous benefits that have already been mentioned in many articles. There is an undeniable feeling of satisfaction in seeing an object appear before your eyes.

The cost of this satisfaction can, however, be enormous. Essentially, the fact that the material must be added a small amount at a time imposes restrictions both on the materials that can be used and on the final properties of the material.

The material must change phases

Most 3D printing technologies require that the base material be in a liquid state when it is added to the unit in production. Once added, this liquid will solidify either by cooling or a chemical reaction driven by light. This phase change does not progress smoothly and steadily through the unit like in moulding, casting or extrusion, which are typical methods used to create the material from which parts such as gears are manufactured. As a result, the properties of the material are not necessarily evenly distributed throughout the object.

A 3D printing process that does not require a phase change is selective laser sintering (SLS). The main limitation of this process is that the fusion of separate material fragments tends to leave gaps that affect density, strength, surface finish and many other physical properties.

The unit must be manufactured layer by layer

Another limitation of 3D printing is that the unit must be manufactured layer by layer. This leaves the material anisotropic, which is to say having different properties depending on the direction of the load it will have to undergo. This characteristic is also observed in biological materials such as wood and nails, which break or tear more easily if they are subject to certain pressures.

Machining allows you to choose from a wide range of materials

Parts made from precision machining enable the use of a wide range of materials. These are generally more consistent than 3D printed parts since they are created independently of the machining operation. They can therefore be stretched to align molecules in a particular direction, withstand heat treatment for hours or undergo other processes that are incompatible with the 3D printing process. This versatility makes it possible to use virtually any engineering material and benefit from the special advantages of each.

Trust machining professionals

While keeping up-to-date with the latest technical advances such as 3D printing is important, it is equally important not to be distracted by all the new technologies to the point of forgetting the effectiveness of traditional machining tools and methods.

If you would like to learn more about machining parts or the various services related to this sector, please contact the Braidwood Industries team. Our team will be able to shed some light, as well as offer you the best solutions in machining, industrial mechanics and the manufacturing of gears and tools.

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