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Jul 22

Leveraging Additive Manufacturing for End-Use Parts

Although most companies that manufacture high-volume products are constantly looking for ways to stay relevant in today’s marketplace, the processes used to manufacture their products are still heavily reliant on expensive tooling, often accompanied by long lead-times. As a result, these companies are limited in their ability to respond quickly to market changes or implement product refinements.

CAD model of an NTE component that includes features too costly and time consuming to mold or machine.

Many variations of this FDM part are needed by NTE's customers for use in their daily operations

Design alternatives made possible with FDM include part consolidation (left)

Production lot of 3D-printed end use parts from NTE

What’s more, companies often need a small quantity of product-grade components, but are constrained by resources or other production limitations. It is with these issues in mind that manufacturers are embracing the use of Fused Deposition Modeling™ (FDM) as an alternative to traditional technologies. This week, we will be walking through the use of additive manufacturing to produce end-use parts, outlining the different approaches for integrating FDM into the workflow and highlighting important considerations along the way.

FDM is an additive manufacturing process that utilizes computer-aided design (CAD) files to build parts layer-by-layer, thousandths of an inch at a time, by heating thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it along computer-controlled toolpaths. This allows the user to create organic shapes that are otherwise too costly, time consuming, or simply impossible to create with traditional methods. Furthermore, FDM affords the ability to integrate multiple features into one part, rather than as an assembly - this saves time and money over traditional methods, where additional features usually equates to additional cost. Because the process uses production grade thermoplastics, parts created with FDM have the durability and accuracy of injection molded parts, withstanding exposure to heat, chemicals, humid or dry environments, and mechanical stress.

The design freedom afforded with FDM is immense, making it the ideal solution for production scenarios where complex designs, customization, and frequent revisions are common - material options, slice heights, and other model parameters can be changed on a per-product basis, providing unrivaled freedom during the this process. FDM is also ideal for applications requiring small volume production runs, with lots ranging from 1-1000+ parts, or where a "just-in-time" inventory is utilized. In addition, FDM can be used to bridge the gap between product design and traditional production methods, and in applications where having a digital inventory over a physical inventory is desirable. Whether it is used alongside traditional production processes, or to replace them entirely, FDM brings tremendous savings - on average, lead time is reduced by 75%-90% and project cost is reduced 50%-90%. FDM has proven to be a viable alternative to molding, machining, forming, or casting end use parts in a multitude of production applications, including:

Pilot production: Pilot production is commonly used to simulate full production in mass-production industries. It often leads to a better product, lower development and manufacturing costs, a more efficient manufacturing operation, and reduced time to market. FDM can be used in this stage of production planning to quickly build one-off products and tools designed to speed the production process along.

Bridge-to-production: This technique is an interim step between prototyping and full production that allows manufacturers to build products for sale while manufacturing tools and production processes are being created and/or finalized. FDM is a great fit for bridge-to-production strategies because it requires no tooling, products can be built in hours instead of weeks or months, and manufacturers can respond efficiently and cost-effectively to the desires of the changing marketplace.

FDM gauge pod, sanded and painted

Electronic surveillance equipment with FDM housing

Low-volume production: Sometimes manufacturers build their businesses around the production of highly-customized, highlycomplex or low-volume products. In situations like these, FDM can maximize sales opportunities while minimizing cost and lead-time because there are no minimum order parameters to fill. Plus, part complexity doesn’t add time or cost, so production can begin as soon as the CAD files are sent to the 3D printer. Finally, a product can be designed purely for its function; manufacturers don’t need to follow traditional production rules and practices.

End-of-life production: As a product nears the end of its life cycle, investments in repairing or replacing tooling may not be justifiable. FDM can be used to extend a product’s life by manufacturing spare parts on an as-ordered basis, thereby eliminating the need for physical inventory. Furthermore,

One example highlighting the benefits additive manufacturing is Nova Tech Engineering (NTE ), based in Willmar, Minnesota. The company produces automated machinery for use by poultry hatcheries worldwide, and a key part of the company’s success has been its ability to customize its machines to manage numerous types, breeds and sizes of birds. However, as the business grew, the cost of machining numerous part variations became increasingly inefficient, costly, and growth-inhibiting. “We were spending a lot of time and money machining parts which was detrimental to our overall operational efficiency,” reflected mechanical designer Jacob Rooney. It was in the process of exploring his options that Rooney discovered FDM Technology™ was excellently suited for the job.
“We bought our first two FDM 3D printers mainly for prototyping. We later purchased another for pilot production and manufacturing - today we use these printers for various applications such as rapid prototyping, creating casting molds, thermoforming, jigs and fixtures, and manufacturing finished parts. FDM is the perfect fit for us. It allows us to easily change designs so we can fit the parts to the equipment and the bird variety at any stage without being penalized by cost or delays"


Production Time


Injection Molding

4 weeks



3 days



25 days (89%)

$42,685 (97%)

Today, thanks to FDM Technology, NTE can create the many specialized parts their customers require but at a fraction of the time and cost. One example is the time and money it takes to create ten 12-piece carrier assemblies. Prior to FDM, these took four weeks to produce at a cost of $45,000. Now, they take three days to produce at a cost of $1,500 — savings of 89% and 97% respectively. Companies such as NASA, Acist Medical Systems, and more, have all experienced similar savings upon the integration of FDM into their production methods.

For almost 20 years, Cimetrix has been working closely with Canada's industry leaders to help integrate additive manufacturing into their production methods, providing the equipment, services, and expertise necessary to do so. Today, end-use products created with FDM are found in industries ranging from aerospace to medical, and everything in between. Boasting a full range of Stratasys FDM 3D Printers, Cimetrix's Innovation Centre is is fully equipped to assist you with your additive manufacturing needs - from design and prototype, to providing custom one-off products, pilot production and bridge-to-production services, we can help you experience all the benefits that integrating additive manufacturing into your workflow has to offer. To learn more about our products and services, visit us at www.cimetrixsolutions.com.

- Cimetrix Staff