Original Post Date: June 25, 2015

Additive Manufacturing (or 3D Printing) is a set of manufacturing processes that are rapidly increasing in popularity and cost-effectiveness.  In Additive Manufacturing, digital 3D design data is used to build up a component by adding layer upon layer of material.   Many existing cost estimating relationships (CERs) are based on traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, where you often begin with a larger piece of material, and remove the unwanted sections, leaving behind the desired part.  These CERs may not accurately predict additively manufactured part costs, so PRICE is focusing research efforts in this area.

There are many cost implications of using additively manufactured parts over traditional processes.  Some of the more obvious ones include less wasted material because you only use as much material as is needed, and there is less labor cost due to the fact that additive manufacturing is performed by machines.  Learning curve will have much less of an effect in additive manufacturing, as the only labor involved will be pre- and post-processing of the part.   Items that previously involved the manufacture of multiple parts, with steps to assemble and integrate them, may no longer be necessary as the item can be 3D printed in its entirety as a single item. 

There are also a set of cost impacts in development and operation and support (O&S) phases.  With 3D printing, you will likely tailor the design to best suit the manufacturing process, and you also have the ability to prototype an item more rapidly than before.  In O&S, obsolescence issues are less prevalent, as you can save your 3D design files and print more of them later, without the need to set up the traditional manufacturing environment again.

For a more thorough discussion of these cost impacts, please check out my colleague’s paper on the Cost Estimating Challenges in Additive Manufacturing.

The recommendations for future study from the paper are already underway here, as we have teamed up with universities and various 3D printing companies to help investigate the cost drivers, compile a database for cost/schedule/technical parameters of 3D printed components, and develop approaches to accurately assess the cost impacts of this potentially revolutionary technology.