Manufacturing Innovations Removing the Need for Design for Manufacture Considerations
By Alex 07-12-2021
we’ve been getting slightly excited in the office with the release of the Arburg Freeformer earlier this month at K trade fair. With its revolutionary approach towards rapid manufacture, we ask where it leaves design for manufacture principles for smaller production runs….
This month saw the return of the K trade fair to Dusseldorf after its regular 2 year break. Bringing together the world’s leading plastic and rubber manufacturers and suppliers under one roof for the week, it’s a chance for new manufacturing technologies to grab the attention of the media and gain interest from potential buyers. One company though seem to have attracted a lot of attention around their new device, causing a stir within the manufacturing community with its innovations in rapid manufacturing machinery. Whilst some may class it as another rapid prototyping solution, the title itself does not give justice to the advanced capabilities that it offers. Titled the Freeformer by Arburg, it has been in development for some time with a view of offering rapid functional part production. Using their Arburg plastic Freeforming additive manufacturing technique, the machine is able to take granulated polymer material and adapt it in the same way an injection mold machine functions, utilising a screw to feed material through to a nozzle. Parts are then built up on a moving bed, similar to FDM processes. There is however a distinct difference, with the bed being able to move across 5 axis, allowing increasingly complex parts to be made, removing the need for support structures during manufacture.
As a design consultancy, we deal with manufacturing operations every day, either through our own injection molding facility or with external suppliers, so we know the process inside out. Also with our background and expertise in tool design, we are very aware of the cost and time commitments that surround the decision to make the next step to tool design and production. Prior to the release of the Freeformer, existing rapid production solutions haven’t been able to offer a viable alternative to produced parts from injection molding. Whilst the Freeformer is suited to low volume part production, for the first time it offers an end produced part that mimics the capabilities of injection molding but without the costs associated with the production method.
What also interests us is how the innovations in the market of rapid production are gradually removing the need for design for manufacture thinking, especially within low-scale production quantities. With injection molding requiring the designer to consider a particular set of constraints during the design phase, they must have a grasp of the manufacturing process to propose a viable end design. Many designers however are left in the dark without that experience and knowledge of their chosen manufacturing methods, leading in many instances to an increase in project costs and lead times. Could all this be able to change though with new rapid production solutions being made available to designers?
Selective laser sintering has been around for many years now after emerging in the 1980s. Its primary use has been within prototyping during the product development process, providing an opportunity to test usability and some functional elements of design features. Its use however does not lie solely within this area, as through its ability to mimic conventional materials and offer similar densities, it has increasingly become seen as a viable option for small scale production. The beauty of course in following such a manufacturing model is the freedom of design, with no restrictions in terms of undercutting features and wall thicknesses. There are also benefits in shortening the design development and detailed design stages, with the ability to obtain tangible feedback in the same day through the quick modelling of parts.
We feel the future holds so many opportunities for designers to become integral to the manufacturing of their end product when looking for small scale production runs, removing the conventional barriers often seen with traditional manufacturing processes. This is not to say they won’t have their place, as of course where large scale quantities of parts are required, their role cannot be underestimated. However where small batch production is required, the role of the designer to facilitate their own production method looks more promising than ever.