Does Additive Equal Innovation for your Company?


Depositphotos_200652410_XL-(1).jpgAdditive Manufacturing is one of several Industry 4.0 technologies taking the manufacturing industry by storm. Most commonly, companies are implementing this technology to produce tools, fixtures, and spare parts for machinery. However, the advantages of this technology extend far beyond being able to affordably produce low-volume tools or parts in-house. Today, companies are envisioning—and producing—designs that wouldn’t be possible with traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods. The question today is no longer “Can I transition production of Widget X to additive manufacturing?” but instead “How does additive’s potential change how I design Widget X?”

The flexibilities of additive manufacturing result from both the production materials and the overall manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing, as its name implies, adds layers of material to create a design instead of cutting or molding the design out of a larger piece. While this process can be more time-intensive for large-scale production, it enables the creation of complex internal geometries and other features that enable designers to reimagine parts and components from the earliest stages of fabrication.

In one example, a luxury watchmaker harnessed the flexibility of fabric and the strength of titanium by developing a 3D-printed titanium woven mesh watch band. While the company had previously created a similar-appearing band using a complex and cumbersome machine that wove individual strands of steel into a mesh-like pattern, the new process permitted a design that better adapted to consumer needs. In addition to producing a lighter product more quickly and with less waste, the additive production process allowed for an intricate weave of microscopic “teeth” and directional clasps that made the watch band flexible enough to fit over a wearer’s hand yet tight enough to secure the watch to the wrist. This feature led to better reviews and perceived performance among the brand’s customer base and reinforced their positive view of additive manufacturing as an asset to their operations. 

Additive manufacturing can also permit the consolidation of parts into a single manufacturing process, which reduces the time and complexity of assembly. Using traditional manufacturing, parts would be designed and produced as separate components that humans or machines later assemble into a whole. In one example, a manufacturer used additive manufacturing to redesign a pump impeller component that typically required the welding of multiple steel pieces together plus additional spot welds of gaps between the pieces. The additive component can be printed in a single piece and is weld- and gap-free, improving performance and reducing potential areas of failure.

Understanding additive’s capabilities can help manufacturers rethink how they approach the design process, maximizing functionality, minimizing waste, and reducing the time and effort to produce critical parts and components. This technology has a broad range of applications and can make prototyping and experimenting with new designs simple and cost-effective. To learn more about additive manufacturing or understand how it could benefit your company, see our upcoming Introduction to Additive Manufacturing courses or contact us today for a free Technology Opportunity Assessment at your facility.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, Innovation, Lean Principles, Smart Manufacturing, Technology