Additive Manufacturing New Year’s Resolution: Ditch DfAM, Embrace Design Freedom

by | January 10, 2022 | Business Drivers

Traditionally, a new year means new beginnings. It can even provide a chance to explore new opportunities, or perhaps break free of old habits that prevent us from achieving our goals. The additive manufacturing (AM) industry is no different. But this year, there is one “habit” that we encourage everyone to examine and ditch. This habit, of course, is the dreaded design for additive manufacturing (DfAM).

But what do we mean by DfAM and why is it such a detriment to AM and innovation as a whole?

Defining DfAM

Let’s begin by understand exactly what we mean when we say DfAM. DfAM is a process that requires designing metal AM parts in ways that alleviate the need for supports in places where they are impractical to remove or where their removal might negatively impact surface quality.

While it might sound innocuous, DfAM forces engineers to make concessions in the name of manufacturability rather than produce the best possible part and is often associated with conventional AM technologies that fail to live up to the technology’s original promise.

In an industry where things change rapidly and solutions to important manufacturing challenges are constantly needed, professionals across the manufacturing industry were promised that AM could help overcome many of the challenges they face, specifically design and supply chain challenges. Unfortunately, conventional AM technologies aren’t exactly up to the task, and they bring with them certain limitations, namely in the form of DfAM.

To be clear, when we advocate ditching DfAM, we do so while recognizing that some DfAM can be beneficial or inconsequential to performance. Instead, what we’re talking about here is a move away from conventional AM technologies that give engineers no choice but to sacrifice original design intent and performance by forcing them to DfAM.

The Limitations of Conventional AM

The problem is that adapting and redesigning around the limits of conventional AM reduces the effectiveness of the original consolidated design, and too often the performance of the intended part is directly compromised.

When creating designs that will be printable in most metal AM systems, you must consider how the part will sit within the build chamber. You must also avoid angled surfaces or overhangs that exceed the infamous “45-degree rule,” which limits what can be printed without extensive support structures to prevent curling and warping.

What’s more, you must often restrict the diameter of any interior channels because those dimensions can’t self-support and the structures themselves can’t be reached for post-processing.

Next, when preparing a design for printing, you must fine-tune the interface between the machine and your CAD model, defining the specific material and process parameters that will accurately guide the lasers to melt each layer of your part perfectly as it takes shape in the build chamber. Multiple test runs are not unusual, and it’s rare that your first, second, or even third print run achieves full success.

As a final limitation of conventional metal AM systems, start-to-finish, mission-critical quality control—in the form of process-parameter definition, automated pre-print calibration, real-time build monitoring, re-calibration, and reporting—is simply not available at a level that ensures the production of optimized finished parts the very first time.

For example, a design featuring complex internal channels would be difficult, impractical, or simply impossible to achieve with conventional AM systems as it would require the inclusion of internal support structures that would then be difficult to remove.

Most metal AM equipment is bound by the notion that one needs to “Design for AM.” The notion that you must adhere to the rules of DfAM to successfully 3D print something is based on the limits of current metal machines.

At Velo3D, we reject this notion, and it’s why we believe engineers, manufacturers, and the like must “ditch DfAM” and achieve AM technology’s full potential to create complex parts more efficiently than traditional manufacturing methods. Only then will we be able to push the boundaries of design and manufacturing.

The good news is we need not remain shackled to its constraints.

Advanced Metal AM is Here to Help

Today, advanced metal AM in the form of Velo3D’s end-to-end solution is here to help groundbreaking aerospace projects, critical oil and gas operations, alternative energy ventures, and more reach greater heights. This includes designs where walls and internal channels include can go from zero to 180 degrees instead of stopping at 45-degree angles like DfAM tells us we must.

With Velo3D’s end-to-end solution, a new world of geometric freedom is now possible thanks to the capabilities of our end-to-end process and quality controls. Through our synergy of software and hardware, we’re enabling a level of design freedom, quality parts manufacturing that is unprecedented in metal AM.

So, if there is one resolution you strive to keep this year, we recommend joining us in our mission to ditch DfAM, realize the true promise of AM, and embrace design freedom.

Interested to learn more about how Velo3D’s end-to-end solution can unlock your designs and improve your manufacturing process? Get in touch with one of our experts today.

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About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Director of Content

Amir Iliaifar is the Director of Content at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s global digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as an automotive tech journalist. He holds a Master of Arts in Digital Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.