Steel fabrication has come a long way in recent years. New technology, such as 3D printing, is changing the way companies design and manufacture their products. Instead of cutting, grinding, and bending steel, the 3D printer melts the steel before reshaping it according to the exact specifications. This technology can help companies of all sizes save time and money. It even has the potential to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
Discover how 3D printing is changing the steel fabrication industry for the better.
How 3D Printing Works
3D printing traditionally uses lasers to melt source materials before building them back up in a series of layers. This is what’s known as additive manufacturing. Steel fabricators may be used to cutting, grinding, or shaving down large sheets or beams of steel, but 3D printing makes this obsolete. The source material is automatically fed into the machine. The computer remakes the steel according to pre-set instructions with minimal human involvement. The process makes use of as much of the material as possible, creating less waste in the supply chain. There is no tooling required, which simplifies the manufacturing process.
Additive manufacturing is often used to created replacement parts and products at scale, especially in the automotive, construction, and transportation industries. The metal can be reshaped into a finished product in just a few minutes as opposed to a few hours. Despite a steep investment, this technology can help companies of all sizes reduce costs and build better relationships with their clients.
The Rapid Growth of 3D Printing
For many years, 3D printing has mostly applied to plastic, but the technology can now be used with other types of raw materials, including metals and even stainless steel. In many ways, 3D printing has emerged as the future of manufacturing. Companies in various industries can design and create products with the touch of a button for better time efficiency. Major players such as GE, Boeing, and Ford continue to incorporate this technology into their operations.
The cost of this technology is coming down. Some units cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars up to a million, while entry level devices go for as little as several thousands.
The Benefits of 3D Printing for Steel Fabrication
- Save Time
3D printing allows engineers to realize their vision in just a few minutes. The steel only moves through the machine once before it’s made into a finished part or product. Smaller parts may then be welded together to function as a whole. Companies don’t have to worry about cutting, bending, or shaving the steel. Additive manufacturing requires less equipment and fewer moving parts, helping companies get their products out the door as soon as possible.
- Reduce Labor Costs
Without the need for tooling, 3D printing often reduces the need for labor. Designers and engineers will oversee the production process without having to interact with the product by hand. In a fully automated facility, the machine will then move the finished part or item to the correct position on the shelf or the loading dock, so it can go out for delivery.
- Reshoring American Jobs
Despite less need for labor, 3D printing is helping companies bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. after previously moving them overseas. Research shows that this technology can motivate companies to relocate their operations in the home country, but several factors remain in play.
The move towards automation and 3D printing increases the need for highly skilled labor. U.S. manufacturers will need to look for workers that are familiar with the latest technology, but it’s not clear if the U.S has enough talent to fill the skills gap. Foreign nations like China and India continue to invest heavily in 3D printing as well. Companies will likely build their facilities in areas with access to workers with the desired skills.
- Improve Design and Functionality
Companies can also use 3D printing to improve the integrity of their products. Engineers can realize their vision in just a few minutes, which gives them more time to test and examine the product. They can easily adjust the instructions on the printer to tweak the design, which gives them more options to work with. This can help companies emerge as leaders in their respective industries as they cultivate new designs and better-quality products.
- Improve Client Relations
3D printing expedites the manufacturing process, which helps companies quickly meet the demands of their customers and clients. A manufacturer can quickly design and produce a replacement part, so their clients can get back to business as soon as possible.
Utilizing 3D Printing in the Workplace
Companies looking to leverage this technology will need to look for ways to incorporate it into their existing operations. The system should be compatible with the warehouse management system, so workers can quickly review and fulfill orders without having to switch between platforms.
Companies will also need to find a way to safely ship their products to the destination. It’s often best to use wooden crates when shipping large or oddly shaped items. The crate can be made into virtually any shape or size for a perfect fit every time.
When shipping steel parts and products, companies should use industrial metal bins to move their goods as quickly as possible. These containers can be used to ship large quantities of goods in just a few minutes. They are also perfect for storing steel items, so workers can quickly find and identify the parts they need on the shelf.
Steel fabrication is here to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. It’s a simple way to turn raw materials into something of value. Companies should keep this information in mind when implementing the latest technology.