One of the key benefits of direct digital manufacturing is true "Freedom of Design."
While doing some research on the web regarding Design for Manufacturing (DFM) for plastic parts, I came across this book that had a part design checklist with all the things to consider when designing for plastic injection molding. The list consisted of the following:
- Wall Uniformity
- Molded-in Threads
- Picture Framing
For each of the above bullets, the engineer must alter his or her design to accommodate the limitations of injection molding tooling, (which is what “design for manufacturing” is all about.) By the time the DFM rules are met, the engineer’s original design may end up needing numerous adjustments, taking away from its intended use.
Talk about sucking the wind out of your creativity. Of course I understand when you’re designing a product to be produced from plastic in the tens of thousands or more, your only choice for this volume is injection molding. But how many of you design products that will only be produced in the hundreds to a couple thousand?
Using an additive manufacturing technology such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) allows you to produce parts directly from digital CAD files. Because plastic parts are built in layers, you’re no longer confined to the constraints of DFM.
Take for example this electrical connector cover. The designers knew they were only going to produce a couple hundred covers. Functionality required some internal channels that would normally require a multiple piece component. When the designers found out they were going to use their FDM system for the final production parts, they threw DFM constraints out the window. Instead of multiple components they designed the internal channels into a single component. They also minimized their design time by not worrying about radii, fillets or draft angles. Straight walls and 90 degree angles were perfectly acceptable.
Using direct digital manufacturing allows you the design freedom your product deserves. Imagine being able to optimize your design and product for its true end-use and not have to worry about how it’s going to be manufactured.
I truly believe direct digital manufacturing will be the next industrial revolution because it offers companies an unprecedented freedom to innovate their products, processes and businesses.