Additive manufacturing is being used in the production of end-use parts and is transforming traditional manufacturing as we know it.

While it’s not new, it’s nothing short of groundbreaking. For most of its quarter-century of existence, additive manufacturing, also known as layer-based 3D printing, has been considered a niche manufacturing process, a cool way to make novelty items, or use for concept prototyping. But that’s changing and changing fast as recent innovations in design, equipment, and materials are moving additive manufacturing into sophisticated prototyping, tooling, and the production of end-use parts.

“The possibilities of where additive manufacturing can go as equipment costs come down are staggering,” said Todd Waddle, Market Manager for 3D Printing at M. Holland. “The market is growing exponentially as companies uncover new applications for 3D printing and other new manufacturing technologies. We’re seeing incredible advances in the use of additive manufacturing to build not just prototypes, but structurally sound, end-use parts.”

The breakout in additive manufacturing can be attributed to a surge in new equipment manufacturers. In the early days of the industry, a few large companies owned the majority of 3D printing equipment patents. These companies created closed-loop systems for their printers that limited the type of materials that could be used with their machines to their own products. About seven years ago, those patents began to expire, opening the market to new equipment manufacturers and a wider portfolio of materials and promoting growth.

These new equipment manufacturers allow and encourage the development of new and innovative materials for use on their machines. This inspired the open platform 3D printing community who now collectively develops, shares, and builds upon 3D printing hardware, software, and content files.

Open platform refers to a 3D printer that can run any kind or brand of software and any kind of material from any manufacturer, as opposed to closed platform where the user is required to utilize only the manufacturer’s materials, severely restricting the versatility of the printer. The market is further driven by the widespread availability of easy-to-use CAD software and free slicing software, such as Cura and Simplify3D, which prepares CAD models for 3D printing.

Additive manufacturing is proving especially beneficial for light-weighting components and making cost-effective, low-volume runs of complex objects that would otherwise be geometrically impossible to manufacture. It is drastically expediting the prototyping process and significantly reducing tooling, labor, and manufacturing costs.

MATERIAL SELECTION IN 3D PRINTING

Materials used in additive manufacturing are not only polymeric – they can also be ceramic, metallic, or other organic and hybrid materials in a filament, fiber, or powder form. Recently, higher quality engineering-grade filaments have introduced new capabilities and a more consistent quality to additive manufacturing – enabling and improving the functionality of prototypes, tooling, and end-use parts.

Earlier this year, M. Holland entered into a partnership with Owens Corning to become the U.S. master distributor for XSTRAND products. Industries like automotive, manufacturing, aerospace, electronics, appliances, sporting equipment, and tooling use XSTRAND for industrial production, mass customization, and functional prototyping. Since then, M. Holland’s portfolio of materials has expanded to a selection of over 50 filament materials through new partnerships with BASF and 3DXTECH. As we continue to source the best 3D printing materials for industrial manufacturing, M. Holland’s staff of 3D printing consultants and experts are available to help determine and recommend the best methods, machines, and materials suited specifically for each client’s application.

THE SHIFT TO 3D PRINTING

“We see a world of rapid advancement for this technology, and M. Holland is in a really interesting space because we sit between the manufacturing side and the suppliers that now have opportunities to create new materials and do some really exciting things,” said Dwight Morgan, Vice President of Corporate Development at M. Holland. “We are always working with clients to offer access to the best materials and develop customized solutions to their material needs, which increasingly includes additive manufacturing.”

However, adding 3D printing into manufacturing processes is a significant change that requires new competencies and a revised business model that considers far-reaching consequences that can impact a company’s sourcing, production, supply chain, partnerships, and revenue stream. There are many considerations companies must take into account.

Haleyanne Freedman, M Holland’s new Global 3D Printing Engineering Specialist, states, “3D printing is versatile and complex and companies often make the mistake of seeking out the wrong expertise when making purchasing decisions for printers. 3D printing machine manufacturers are not the best source of advice when making this decision. At M. Holland, we are fortunate to be in the position to agnostically consult clients and help guide them in choosing the best format and machinery for their specific applications.”

M. Holland has brought in new additive manufacturing equipment and capabilities at its Technical Service Laboratory in Easton, Pennsylvania, and is building out a designated 3D printing lab at its headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois. The company has also hired Freedman to specifically focus on the effectiveness and technical application of additive manufacturing for its clients. The relationship with clients within this space extends beyond material sourcing to include application development, machinery recommendations, and even the adoption of 3D printing within their facilities.

“Additive manufacturing is changing what is possible in mass manufacturing,” Morgan added. “The time is now for companies to educate themselves on the market’s unstoppable possibilities and efficiencies.”

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