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Design for Additive Manufacturing: Everything you need to know


Additive manufacturing changes not only how products find their way to the consumer but also the form and function of those products. With this new approach, you’re no longer bound by traditional manufacturing techniques. 3D printing is revolutionizing the way we create products, not simply with developments in technologies and materials properties but also with unique capabilities when it comes to design. Design’s role in the optimization of the supply chain and business strategy is something that should not be overlooked. 

As you may know, to create 3D printed parts, there needs to be a design first. In this particular use case, it requiers skills and knowledge to take full advantage of additive manufacturing. So what are the specificities of design for 3D printing and what are the benefits for your end parts ? From complex geometries to mass customization, this technique will provide many advantages for your manufacturing process. 

Overview: What is Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM)?

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) regroup different approaches and Design for Additive Manufacturing is one of them. It is the ability to produce designs specifically for 3D printing. Indeed, design methods for 3D printing are quite different from traditional designs, developed for other manufacturing techniques. Creating a model for additive manufacturing, a technique consisting into building parts layers by layers, is really different from subtractive manufacturing methods or injection molding. This method enables a new way of thinking but you also have to keep in mind that 3D modeling and design for additive manufacturing are two different things. While designing for 3D printing, you create a file that has to be optimized for a 3D Printer, in order to get the correct resolution. 

Before you start your project, check out our tips to design your 3D Printing models with the right tolerances, and make sure you have a good understanding of sizes and units measurements.

3D printing technologies all have their specificities, from FDM to Selective Laser Sintering or Selective Laser Melting technologies, which have to be taken into consideration during the designing process. 

Design engineering is using advanced software to get incredibly optimized parts, whether it be small objects or larger parts. 

3D printing and design are changing the way companies are thinking and operating!

For example, it could be the perfect approach to try out generative design.

Designing the perfect 3D model takes a specific kind of engineering. Methods such as topology optimization, parts hollowing, creation of innovative structures, or even customization, can be a real asset for your business. DfAM is not just a matter of converting an existing design, it goes further! Indeed, it is about recreating the part, optimizing it, and improving it, without the many constraints of traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or CNC machining. But it is not only about the part, you need to consider design supports, and it is also about the process: with thoughtful design you can reduce assembly time and the number of components to save time and money.

The work put in design is also a way to reveal the material properties of the plastic, resin or metal you use for your project! Let’s see a bit more in detail the benefits of this aspect of digital manufacturing

The benefits of Design for Additive Manufacturing

If additive manufacturing has so many advantages, it is mainly thanks to the design opportunities offered by this technology.

  • Design freedom

Thanks to the additive manufacturing process, it is becoming possible to create parts perfectly adapted to physical constraints. One of the main advantages of additive manufacturing is design freedom, you can create any idea you are thinking of. This printing technique also allows for the creation of interesting textures and patterns within the designs. One of the most iconic example are lattices. This technology allows to push the boundaries of manufacturing, and you will be free from the constraints of traditional manufacturing techniques, in terms of structure and design. Adapt your parts to the requirements and considerations of your business.

  • Adaptability and flexibility

Design for Additive Manufacturing can make your business more adaptable. How? You can control and change everything, from the design of your parts to the quantities you are producing. 3D printing offers the opportunity to produce on-demand: you get parts when you need them. You don’t need to store your components anymore!

  • Simplification of the whole supply chain

This whole adaptability and flexibility lead to optimization and simplification of the whole supply chain! For example, in 2017, GE Aviation revealed that it had used Design for Additive Manufacturing to create a helicopter engine with 16 parts instead of 900, with great potential impact on reducing the complexity of supply chains. Instead of using the services of 10 or 15 suppliers, they only used additive manufacturing!

  • Add value

Optimized products and an optimized supply-chain are a great added value to your business and will help you be ahead of your competitors. As we saw in our State of 3D Printing 2020 report, 3D printing is really seen as a competitive advantage by our respondents. Why is it so? It can help you optimize each part of your product’s life, starting from product development up to the manufacturing of high-quality finished products.

  •  Saving time and money

Great designs can help you save time and money! The amount of material used, the structure avoiding the assembly process, rapid prototyping, all of these aspects can help save time. 3D printing can create parts that couldn’t be made in another way, which results in better-performing components and impressive cost savings. With integrated assembly, for example, you will save time with the conception of the part and increase the efficiency of your company. You can also buy ready-made 3D Printing models.

What can Design for Additive Manufacturing do for you?

The potential of this technology is still misunderstood and for many, the idea that this technology only fits for prototyping purposes persists. 3D printing allows to achieve things other technologies can’t.

In other words, to utilize Design for Additive Manufacturing well, one must comprehend its logic. In order to do so, involving experts who can leverage this potential is important. First to be advised, but also to make recommendations and find solutions early on. In addition to the advantages of DfAM we just saw, here are what these designers and engineers can do to your 3D models:

Topological optimization

Topology optimization is a mathematical method that optimizes material layout within a given design space for a given set of loads, boundary conditions, and constraints to maximize the performance of the system. They are often challenging to handle for traditional manufacturing techniques such as CNC machining.

Structural optimization

3D printing materials are so varied that it is easy to find the proper material for your project. When it comes to a mechanical part, the characteristics of the material is one of the main aspects to consider but do not forget about the design. To help to strengthen the material you choose, there are tweaks and design features that give your object strength and solidity, such as lattice structures. Lattice structures have high strength and low mass mechanical properties and multifunctionality. These structures can be found in parts in the aerospace and biomedical industries!

It is also possible to using Simulation for Additive Manufacturing to optimize your most complex parts, to understand where they need to be strengthen for example, and improve the capabilities of your components. Design for 3D printing is also about part consolidation and improvement of the durability and functionnality of the parts.

Be sure to check out our articles on common 3D Printing problems to avoid common pitfalls such as non-manifold geometry.

TPU material
source: Sculpteo

Mass customization

Producing a different mold for each demanded product adjustment does not only take a lot of time, but it still wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demanded preferences of all customers. This is not the case for additive manufacturing. As you only need a 3D file to create a 3D printed part, customization becomes quite easy and lead times are largely improved! You can create as many parts and customized components as you need.

Make the most of DfAM: Meet our design engineers

DfAM can be a whole new approach for you and appear as a difficult concept. Mastering 3D printing is not always easy, whether it is to implement it in an existing process, or to start using it as a first manufacturing technique! Indeed, you might need a hand to understand better how is this technology relevant for your project, how you can make the most of it to optimize your manufacturing projects, or how you can use it to build a more efficient supply chain. We have good news for you: our 3D printing specialists are here to help you improve your strategy and products by accessing advanced manufacturing techniques!


Sculpteo Studio

Get the help you deserve for your design

The Sculpteo Studio team from Sculpteo is composed of experienced engineers and designers, here to help you make the most of additive manufacturing, by using the right tools. If you already have a 3D file but would like to really optimize it for 3D printing, our experts will help you create the perfect 3D model for your project.

Indeed, in order to use our 3D printing service, you know that you will need to have a 3D design file, such as an STL file. What if you don’t know how to create one yourself, or if you want to optimize your model? Discover our in-house design and modeling services, and get the help of our professional industrial designers! Our 3D printing specialists will help you with product design from scratch or optimize your existing design for 3D printing, depending on your needs and expectations. By using their professional design methods, they will know how to create complex designs while respecting the design guidelines of specific 3D printing materials. Their expertise will help you improve your manufacturing process, with innovative solutions for prototyping and production.

Get consulting and training to bring your business to the next level

You surely already know that using 3D printing would bring great benefits to your company! But you might not know exactly how to implement it into your whole process. Sculpteo Studio’s designers and engineers are here to counsel and guide you throughout the process, helping you foresee how you can use digital manufacturing techniques in an efficient way. Decide whether you should acquire a machine or use an online 3D printing service, which steps of your manufacturing process could benefit from 3D printing, how to optimize your supply chain, and which departments of your business could become more efficient and grow thanks to these technologies! They are used to work with companies coming from really different industries, from the medical industry to architecture or aerospace, they understand the requirements of all these demanding industries and can work with you to implement additive manufacturing. 

The Sculpteo Studio experts have built specific pieces of training dedicated to 3D printing. There are two categories: 3D printing technology training (dedicated to SLS 3D printing, metal 3D printing or DLS 3D printing), and 3D design training (learning how to design specifically for these technologies). We can also create custom-made conferences and workshops around digital manufacturing!

Contact our team of specialists right now to ask any question and get the help you need to improve your product and your business strategy.

What are the advantages across industries?

All industries can use Additive Manufacturing as an asset. The flexibility and the ease of design it brings can address needs all professionals have. Of course, we can identify industries with a particular interest in 3D Printing and its design advantages:

  • In the Luxury industry, in which product renewal paces are intense and are oriented towards small series.
  • In the Medical sector, where there is a strong customization need for products like orthosis and prosthesis.
  • We can also mention the Automotive Industry, which must constantly address a weight optimization challenge. We look to save every gram possible to optimize vehicles, also, using 3D printing polymers allows to make light parts.
  • In the Events industry as well, where the possibility of making complex parts quickly and without retooling investment is interesting.

In the end, the advantages that Design for Additive Manufacturing lends to are transversal. The key stake of its proper use comes down to the understanding one has of its potential, thus to implement it at the product design stage.

Sculpteo Studio tackle a large range of projects. Among their design works, they can mention: lightweight structures, where weight reduction is sought, innovative systems for all industries (such as robotics), where they develop mechanical systems with Additive Manufacturing, sports and consumer goods, housings and electronics products, for which they make use of the possibility of making small and complex parts (cable management solutions, electronic item fixations). Unique models for prototyping or full-scale models, as well as sculptures and other unique items. Tooling parts, jigs and other production aids for industry or handcraft.

BONUS: Download our free Playbook

Sculpteo’s online 3D printing service created a special Playbook to help your business become more adaptable. In this playbook, we are going to focus on how 3D printing (also known as Additive Manufacturing) is driving businesses to be more adaptable, the benefits and possibilities created by adaptability, and concretely how to implement 3D printing for more adaptability in your business.

Indeed, innovation, adaptability and scaled manufacturing are the axes of improvement offered by additive manufacturing, which also participate in adding more flexibility to your business. They will allow you to grow your business, push your boundaries, face brand new challenges, and bring your manufacturing process to the next level!

Download your Playbook for free right now !

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What are the engineering design rules of additive manufacturing?

What are principles for design for additive manufacturing?

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What is generative design for additive manufacturing?

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