Additive manufacturing (AM) has the potential to completely redefine manufacturing in certain areas. So of course manufacturers of every size are now looking seriously at 3-D printing as a complement to existing and traditional manufacturing methods.

But before you start any serious capital expenditure on the technology, it is critical that you create a top-down corporate strategy that reflects areas where your manufacturing operation and end-use parts and products can truly benefit.

Implemented properly, additive manufacturing can significantly reduce material waste, reduce the amount of production steps, inventory being held, and reduce the amount of distinct parts needed for an assembly. But you need a strategy to make it work.

As you build your strategy, you need to understand the benefits and where they can apply to you. You need to be familiar with the choice of technologies and what each can bring, and then you need to research your options.

The rapid prototyping of the 1990’s is by no means the additive manufacturing technology we have access to today. Now it’s all about new 3-D printing processes, better and more materials, M&P design allowables, better and cheaper lasers, smaller machines with wider footprints, and so on.

As I help many manufacturing customers form their own AM strategies in my work at Quickparts, I have, in collaboration with Tim Shinbara of the Association for Manufacturing Technology, started to identify several ‘Pillars of Affordability’ that additive manufacturing can deliver. These pillars will form the backbone of your AM strategy.