Metal Additive Design Strategies: Where Form Follows Function to Achieve Part Count Reduction

There are three key design strategies that are a benefit to parts that are additively manufactured – especially when printed in metal. These three are: lightweighting of parts, the integration of features that are difficult, if not impossible, to realize conventionally, and finally, part count reduction. Although part count reduction is a specific design methodology, it is most successful when it incorporates all three design methodologies concurrently.

Part Count Reduction, or PCR, that uses additive manufacturing, is a new design approach that delivers an optimized, single, monolithic part, replacing an existing, multi-component assembly. Repeated research, testing and implementation has consistently shown that with the correct design methodology in place, these single, consolidated parts can deliver significant performance improvements, reduce overall product weight, improve part and product lifetime, be manufactured more cost effectively and considerably faster than traditional methods, yet with more complexity and functionality.

While such benefits listed above are a great start, PCR can deliver additional business advantages that are not always immediately evident.

Part Count Reduction removes assembly from the process. When it does so, the business bottom line can see immediate improvements:

  • Reduced overall production times
  • Improved tolerances and eradication of tolerance stacking
  • Reduced labor cost associated with assembly work
  • Less overall material costs
  • Reduced risk of assembly errors
  • Less inventory and parts ‘in bins’
  • Reduced need for assembly fixtures
  • Potentially reduced part costs

When you have a consolidated part, your business top line can improve because you can have:

  • A better part that meets customer needs
  • More efficient, functional design
  • A smoother supply chain
  • A more agile manufacturing process
  • A faster product time-to-market and profit

Here is one great example: Recently we researched a better motorsport exhaust design for a customer. In the image below, you’ll see the 20 or so sheet metal parts required for the weldment, including numerous hydroformed components, each of which required individual tooling. On the right is the single, consolidated exhaust pipe produced using metal 3D printing.

This piece was printed in just 23 hours using titanium grade 23 material, compared to the 3-plus weeks it would take to be produced traditionally. Design time for this part was reduced from 6 weeks to 6 days. The additive technology also removes the need for tooling, fixturing, multiple welding and down to a few inspections.

The geometry optimization reduced the amount of material required whilst helping to maximize performance. All elements of the original exhaust pipe are incorporated into the new design and when printed with a typical wall thickness of 0.5 mm, is approximately 25% lighter than the original, fabricated exhaust.

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