While additive manufacturing (AM) is game-changing, hybrid manufacturing that includes subtractive processes is even more empowering. This hybrid solution is often used for metal products. Essentially, additive and subtractive processes mixed together amount to combining machining with 3D printing. Here's a deeper look at what hybrid manufacturing can do.
Hybrid Manufacturing Systems
If you decide to invest in a hybrid manufacturing system, the equipment you'll need beyond a 3D printer may include a lathe or mill. In a hybrid manufacturing environment, subtractive tasks can be applied to products after additive layers are created. It's possible to design a hybrid production process of alternating between additive and subtractive elements, if it makes sense. Ultimately, many companies are looking for an all-in-one hybrid 3D printer.
The use of machining typically involves removing material such as polishing metal. Common materials that can be 3D printed and used for hybrid manufacturing include powder from various metals including aluminum, titanium, chrome, copper and stainless steel. In fact, the hybrid system makes it easier to create products mixed with different types of metal.
A typical example of a hybrid process is crafting a product using the additive method then refining with a subtractive finish. Another example includes the production of low-volume machine parts. Some large-scale hybrid processes use injection molding pellets that work well with polymers. The modern hybrid solution usually involves performing additive and subtractive processes on the same machine.
Limitations of Additive Processes
Additive manufacturing clearly is paving the way to greater sustainability simply by eliminating waste in the production process. Many producers gravitate to 3D printers because they are precise about dimensional accuracy. At the same time, a conventional 3D printer cannot do everything certain manufacturers need. It's not a good final solution, for example, when it comes to making metal parts since it can produce rough surfaces.
By adding a subtractive element, the combination of modern and traditional processes generates higher quality metal products that cannot be made otherwise. There are countless products and prototypes that don't require subtractive manufacturing, but some of the most robust industrial parts do require both processes. So no one should dismiss the traditional manufacturing process as outdated, as it still serves important functions in the making of contemporary products.
How Much Are Hybrid Systems in Demand?
The demand for hybrid 3D printers is strong in specific regions of the world. North America dominates the hybrid manufacturing market, accounting for 40 percent market share in 2019. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the aerospace industry have a growing demand for hybrid 3D printers that make metal parts. Asia Pacific is expected to become the fastest-growing market for these machines in the next decade. Europe will also expand its growth in hybrid manufacturing nearly 15 percent by 2027.
Advantages of Hybrid Manufacturing Systems
There's no reason to view additive and subtractive manufacturing as competing systems when each one offers solutions that can be integrated together. The post-processing of 3D printed parts, for example, often involves a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining process to ensure greater accuracy. There's less chance of errors when parts are made by the same precision platform.
One of the biggest advantages to hybrid manufacturing systems is that they can accelerate low-volume production schedules for prototypes and certain products. Detailed metal parts can be produced much faster, though, with the hybrid approach. Parts can be printed and machined within a single operation. Mould-making businesses also see more efficient results when including additive processes to form a hybrid solution.
Watch the recording of our "Made to Order" webinar to hear from industry experts on a wide scope of topics on the latest trends and challenges surrounding 3D printing technology, with predictions and tips for those new to or experienced in 3D printing and additive manufacturing.
Hybrid manufacturing technology can be a sustainable solution for maintenance and repair work, particularly for designing customized metal parts. It's very useful for repairing degraded parts of large aircraft. The part's precise dimensions can be 3D printed and then refined with even greater precision to fit with another part.
Two key industries that have embraced hybrid manufacturing are automotive and aerospace. Both require what a hybrid solution provides, which is additive processes for complex geometric designs and subtractive processes for higher precision. Another industry in which hybrid manufacturing makes sense is jewelry design.
Options for Available Hybrid Manufacturing Solutions
One of the most effective hybrid solutions on the market for manufacturers is Direct Energy Deposition (DED). This process involves a laser or electron beam melting material as it moves through a nozzle. The part can then be milled in a CNC machine to create a smoother surface. DED is a practical solution for working with large metal shapes.
A leading developer in hybrid manufacturing solutions is Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies. It released its first hybrid deposition and milling system called the AMBIT in 2013. This automated system can be integrated with a CNC machine. DMG MORI is another pioneering firm with its LASERTEC 65 3D hybrid machine.
Imperial Machine & Tool Co. develops hybrid manufacturing solutions for complex 3D printed metal parts that are treated in a CNC machining process to ensure accurate dimensions. The company's hybrid process begins with the design and collaboration phase, as the CAD model must take into account additive and subtractive processes. The completed design is then fed into a 3D printer, which develops the part's layers. After a thermal conditioning phase, the part runs through a finishing process in a multi-axis CNC machine.
Development of New Metal Alloys
A key factor that will expand the market for hybrid manufacturing will be investments in new ways to make metal alloys. These new solutions that blend metals can help improve the quality of shipbuilding. Aluminum alloys are particularly resourceful for the automotive and aerospace industries due to the lightweight and durable quality of aluminum. Hybrid solutions are very useful for adding touches to prototypes, particularly for large-scale aerospace projects.
Titanium is a significant metal used in hybrid manufacturing systems because like aluminum, it's lightweight and strong at the same time. Since it has an excellent weight-to-strength ratio, it works well with aircraft, which achieves greater fuel efficiency with lighter loads. The metal is also resistant to corrosion because it forms passive oxide coating when exposed to air at high temperatures. For these reasons and its versatility, aerospace manufacturers choose titanium to mix with other metals.
An overlooked condition of metal manufacturing is that it cannot rely on just the additive process, since making metal parts typically requires elements of traditional production. Mixing metals is now a key to reducing costs, as scarce metals can be blended with cheaper metals without sacrificing quality. Hybrid printers will be useful for experimenting with different alloys to make prototypes that can be refined by the same machine's subtractive features.
How Hybrid Manufacturing Improves Quality Control
A strong argument for using a hybrid manufacturing system is for the sake of quality control. The additive method puts the proper ingredients together without leaving residue or other waste products behind, while the subtractive process provides a final stage that improves the part's integrity. In order to further ensure quality control, finished parts should be inspected by specialists for evaluation. The choice of appropriate technology and experienced personnel is crucial for a quality control system to empower a business.
Where Hybrid Manufacturing Is Going
Hybrid manufacturing appears to be here to stay, as it's been growing steadily in recent years with the market reaching $80.5 million in 2019. The market is projected to grow 14.8 percent by 2027, according to Grand View Research. Part of this expected growth will be in healthcare, in which hybrid solutions may help reduce the degradation rate for medical implants.
The medical industry will continue to benefit from its adoption of hybrid 3D printers. Optomec introduced a hybrid 3D printer in 2018 for the medical industry. This laser-equipped machine is expected to contribute to the development of dissolvable magnesium medical implants. Universities that study science projects are adopting hybrid manufacturing technology to help develop medical procedures that eliminate second surgery of permanent implants. On a global level, the medical industry currently accounts for about a quarter of the hybrid additive manufacturing market, while aerospace accounts for half.
So where is hybrid manufacturing going? The short answer is outer space and beyond. Two major themes in the future will be AI and automation. Robots building machines sounds like a project in space for satellite communications development. Hybrid 3D printers will play an important role in food production to accommodate space travel. The subtractive process removes certain ingredients while the additive process adds ingredients to optimize nutritional value.
The concept of an all-in-one manufacturing plant is possible, thanks to the combination of additive and subtractive production processes. For some businesses a hybrid 3D printer might be a turnkey solution in their transition toward a digital infrastructure.