Freedom of design is the hallmark of AM. However, before designers can take full advantage of the benefits offered by this design freedom — at both the micro and macro AM level — they must acquire an understanding of the Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) philosophy.
Currently a hot topic, DfAM demands an entirely different approach and set of skills to achieve success than Design for Manufacturing (DfM) using traditional production technologies — something that is often overlooked, especially with the current global shortage of professionals with AM design skills, said Donner.
"The shortage of professionals that can design AM parts that translate through the additive process to the successful production of end parts is a serious issue. It has developed because for years AM was used as a prototyping technology, and it is only in recent years with the move to the use of AM as a production technology that DfAM has become a concern. DfAM demands a whole different approach," explained Tovit Neizer, VP business development at Nanofabrica. "A primary design consideration with AM comes with the support structures that are needed for many additive processes — what kind, and where these are placed."
And while most AM software automatically generates support structures, developing the software to do this requires expertise and experience to create the requisite algorithms to produce them, as different AM technologies and platforms require different support structures.
Two other major benefits of AM are part consolidation and topology optimization, both of which contribute to producing lighter and more functional parts. Traditionally, complex components must be produced in various parts to make manufacturing possible, and these parts must subsequently be assembled. Assembly is especially problematic, complex and expensive when looking at micro applications.
AM opens up new opportunities for manufacturers, as it allows multiple part assemblies to be consolidated into a single part — eliminating time and costs in the process of producing a more functional result. The micro AM platform developed by Nanofabrica offers the software tools needed to allow micro manufacturers for the first time to benefit from the design capabilities presented by the use of AM.
DfAM expertise also includes an understanding of topology optimization, said Eyal Shelef, Nanofabrica CTO. Many structural components are designed with more material — and thus more weight — than they require. This, in turn, can mean increased and unnecessary loads on moving parts and compromised energy efficiency during use. Topology optimization for AM parts allows designers to specify loads. When designing parts for AM, a designer can take a traditionally shaped part, simulate where the loads will run through that part and remove the superfluous material, leaving only the load paths remaining. This not only yields weight savings, but it also results in the design and production of parts with highly efficient strength-to-weight ratios.
AM, in short, requires product designers to think differently from what they are used to. Traditional design constraints no longer apply, and complexity no longer comes as a premium. DfAM, designing within the parameters of the AM process, can invariably lead to more efficient parts, improved strength and durability, while also reducing costs and improving safety.