We are definitely seeng an exciting trend towards the use of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology for end-use production parts.
- 25% of RedEye customers order parts for end-use applications
- 42% of Fortus 3D Production System owners use their system for manufacturing parts (in some frequency)
- Even Dimension 3D Printers are sometimes used for manufacturing
As 15 plus year veteran of this industry, I find it interesting that I rarely use or even here the term "Rapid Prototyping" anymore. The buzz phrase has changed to Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) or some form of these words.
DDM is defined as using an additive manufacturing technology to produce end-use parts or manufacturing tools.
The key advantages of using DDM apply only to low and sometimes mid-volume production applications. Because of this, we often get compared to rapid tooling which produces aluminum cores and cavities intended for injection molding.
When considering which process to use for your product, Rapid Tooling vs. Direct Digital Manufacturing; here are the 7 key things to consider:
1. Quantity - Do you need 100 or 5,000? Even if you need thousands of parts, DDM is a great way to get product to market faster using it as a bridge-to-tooling.
2. Geometry Complexity - the more complex your part, the more complex and costly it is to produce a rapid tool.
3. Material Options - with rapid tooling you're open to a broad range of materials, but FDM with it's limited material choices still offers the benefit of production-grade thermoplastics.
4. Tight Tolerances - for simple geometries RT is ideal, but FDM has shown to produce parts with accuracies up to 0.003 of an inch.
5. Revisions/Modifications - if there's any risk, especially in the early phases of product production you can't beat DDM. Because there's no tool to be modified, simply continue production with revised digital files.
6. Surface Smoothness - nothing beats an injected molded part, but if the application is an internal component or surface aesthetics don't require a perfectly smooth surface, then DDM is an excellent alternative.
7. On Demand - in a digital world, nothing beats the benefits of direct digital manufacturing. DDM allows you to produce parts directly from the digitally created 3D files.