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Harnessing Hybrid Manufacturing With Metal Additive & Subtractive Technologies
Traditional subtractive manufacturing has been a reliable approach for years, but developments in additive manufacturing have drawn attention to its feasibility as a scalable solution—especially for customization, complex geometry, and small batch production. Hybrid manufacturing incorporates both additive and subtractive techniques, especially metal additive, offering another flexible yet precise manufacturing solution. Hybrid manufacturing’s benefits include:
- Higher surface quality
- Higher strength
- Costs savings over traditional methods
- Customizable approaches to individual products
- Improved fastening
The Hybrid Advantage
The first step in hybrid manufacturing is the additive manufacture of the main shape of the component, which must include the final geometry and may include added features to be used later in the subtractive manufacturing process for clamping or location. Also, some features like holes may need to have material added to account for deformation during the metal additive process.
We form our base product from the melting of metals or polymers in additive manufacturing. These are melted down through two popular methods:
- Selective laser melting or direct laser metal sintering (SLM or DLMS)
- Electron beam melting (EBM)
According to Western Pomeranian University of Technology researchers, both SLM and DLMS offer the greatest flexibility with metal components. These methods allow manufacturers to create numerous complex geometries—even at scale. Complicated products often have unique, asymmetrical shapes with curved edges. The more design flair we introduce, the greater the opportunity for imperfections to mount during manufacturing.
Creating Better Components
For as far as 3D printing has come, the process isn’t perfect. Hybrid manufacturing allows us to craft dimensionally-accurate products that otherwise weren’t made to such tight tolerances. Machining, or subtractive manufacturing, corrects these rough edges and gets everything within the required tolerance. Quality control is essential for proper fitment, functionality, and safety in certain applications—especially vehicles and airplanes.
In many cases, the additive and subtractive processes happen on two separate machines. The metal additive machine will build the part, then an engineer will remove it, inspect it for quality, and ensure any deformation is acceptable.
However, some hybrid manufacturing takes place on a single machine. Laser metal deposition (LMD) and direct metal deposition (DMD) heads are commonly added to metal cutting machinery. These additives are ideal for correcting blemishes or rejuvenating existing parts as material can be added to problem spots and then machined to the final shape.
Hybrid Manufacturing Drawbacks
Metal powders and related substances are the linchpins of hybrid manufacturing, and those introduce some safety risks, including high flammability under certain conditions. Furthermore, they are cancer-causing agents that pose long-term risks to unprotected workers. Manufacturers must take these risks into account and comply with stringent safety regulations when adopting powder-based additive technology.
Start-up (or transitional) costs are also lofty. Metal additive manufacturing requires highly-specialized machinery. Safety concerns like the flammability and exposure concerns mentioned above also dictate that special facilities are required to ensure the safety of workers. Facility development is also expensive. Not every company can invest heavily in hybrid manufacturing due to these logistical barriers.
What About the Software?
Hybrid manufacturing begins with the design phase, and CAD/CAM software plays an important role. Engineers must experiment with materials, geometries, dimensions, and more when creating reliable components. There are also design considerations for both the additive and subtractive processes that engineers need CAD software to explore. Furthermore, FEA simulation lets us analyze how designs will perform after production. Tools like Fusion 360 excel in these areas. Best of all, remote collaboration is baked into this software to ease collaboration across distances—whether it’s the team, the machines, or full facilities that are far apart.
Hybrid manufacturing has great promise and the potential to bring distributed teams together. While it may not be the right fit for all projects, hybrid manufacturing brings together the best of additive and subtractive manufacturing, creating new challenges and offering new opportunities.
Try out Fusion 360 in your hybrid manufacturing workflow today.