Innovation is critical for diversification into new markets and products. This creates a demand for prototypes and rapid-manufacturing businesses able to supply high-specification parts in short turnaround times.
Hybrid technology plays a critical role in supporting market development and diversification by reducing the production space, time and manpower required.
What is hybrid technology?
It refers to combining additive manufacturing with subtractive manufacturing in a single machine environment. The result is end users benefiting from the accuracy of CNC (computer numerical control) machining and the manufacturing freedom of 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing starts from the ground up to build a fully-dense metal part. Examples of additive manufacturing are:
- Powder based (selective laser sintering)
- Liquid based (stereo lithography)
- Solid based (fused deposition modeling)
Subtractive manufacturing is a top-down process that entails removing material from a substrate. Traditional processes include (amongst others) milling, drilling and turning, while examples of non-conventional processes include:
- EDM (electric discharge machining)
- Laser cutting
- Water jet cutting
- Electrochemical machining
How does the process work?
The sequence of additive and subtractive processes is not important and is driven by the product produced. However, starting with the additive manufacturing process is often more efficient as it saves the time necessary to remove material from a block of metal.
Additive manufacturing is also known as LMD (laser metal deposition). Multiple layers of metal granules are deposited onto a working surface and are then liquefied using a high-energy laser. This creates a melt pool that bonds each new layer to the previous layer. Once cooled it creates a full-density metal part.
After cooling, the subtractive manufacturing process starts. Hybrid technology systems typically employ 5-axis CNC milling machines to allow any additive surface to be machined, even if an undercut exists. As with traditional milling machines, hybrid machines can automatically change machining tools to shape surfaces and add features.
What are some of the benefits of this technology?
It closes the gap between a designer’s creative, often intricate CAD (computer aided design) designs, and what is possible to manufacture considering the constraints of current manufacturing technologies. Utilizing Autodesk products, designers have greater design freedom to create complex geometries that can be manufactured within shorter leads times, whilst using fewer machines.
In subtractive manufacturing, a near net-shaped object is machined to its final dimensions. Where parts are very complex the machine spindle may not be able to access all areas of the workpiece. Hybrid technology allows subtractive manufacturing to be utilized where possible, and additive manufacturing to be utilized to add features to the part.
Multi-material products can be made without the need for secondary manufacturing processes. Thus, a feature can be added to a part using a metal that is different from the base metal of the part. This negates the need for secondary manufacturing processes (e.g. welding) that may distort the base part, or require time-consuming setting up of the workpiece in different machines.
Hybrid technology combines the biggest advantages of CNC machining:
- Good surface finish
- High productivity
…with that of 3D Printing:
- Less material wastage
- Geometrical freedom
- Material options
Sample applications of hybrid technology
The technology can be applied in the manufacturing of new products or the repair of existing products. The aerospace, automotive, medical and defense industries are the primary drivers of implementation of this technology.
At the time of writing, the most common application is turbine blade repair. A single hybrid machine is able to add material to damaged sections of the blade and remove material to return the blade to its original condition. There is no need for multiple machines and multiple setup operations which potentially affect the quality of the repaired part.
The oil and gas industry recognizes the potential in drilling applications. They are able to add a very hard-wearing metal onto a soft, flexible shaft without the need for vulnerable mechanical fasteners or welding.
Will this technology grow in the future?
The answer is not a clear “yes” or “no”. The technology has the potential to spawn new businesses that specialize in bespoke designs for specific industries. However, the technology is far from mature, and with the continued maturation of solitary metal additive technology, hybrid technology may be considered too advanced for some. Furthermore, not all products are manufactured from metal, limiting the application of the technology.
If hybrid technology is well suited to your business or industry, then consider utilizing Autodesk software for maximum results. Combining Autodesk Inventor (3D CAD software) and Autodesk PowerMill (additive and subtractive manufacturing programming software) means you can turn your vision into a 3D model, and then into an actual part. There are no limits to what can be achieved with Autodesk and hybrid technology.