With the industrial revolution and mechanization, CNC (Computer Numerical Control) became the modern answer to traditional modes of subtractive manufacturing. It helps machinists use precision to cut a solid material into desired shapes.
Additive manufacturing technology takes the opposite approach. Popularly known as 3D printing, it builds products from scratch by adding layer upon layer of the raw material to manufacture the required products. It has great advantages, such as waste reduction, creation of complex shapes, elimination of pressure points, etc. However, the technology is still evolving and despite its flexibility isn’t equipped to create smooth surfaces.
While understanding the pros and cons of each method, experts realized that subtractive and additive manufacturing technologies can be complementary and applied together to achieve quality products. This gave birth to the hybrid manufacturing process.
Hybrid Manufacturing Process: Meaning and Evolution
The best of both worlds – subtractive and additive manufacturing technologies – hybrid manufacturing combines the subtractive and additive processes in a single machine. It fuses the most popular benefits of both processes to accelerate the production processes.
For instance, all 3D printed parts have to go through CNC machining to enable smoother surfaces and greater precision. Hybrid manufacturing processes leverage the precision of subtractive manufacturing and the complexities of additive manufacturing technologies to allow a single product to be first additively created and then CNC machined for a high-quality and accurate final product.
However, this means that hybrid machines need to be designed by considering additive as well as subtractive applications. Let us consider the low-volume production of metal parts.
Here, CNC milling systems are the primary components of hybrid machines, and additive manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing nozzles are added.
3D metal printing allows for higher design complexities; however, they require extensive processing to smooth out the rough surfaces. Alternatively, CNC machining offers higher precision but struggled with complex geometries. The hybrid manufacturing trends involve combining the two to achieve complex designs with better post-processing and finishing in a single machine. Thus, hybrid manufacturing permits quality assurance.
The Applications of Hybrid Manufacturing
The pioneering applications of hybrid manufacturing processes can be seen in the aerospace and automobile industries. With small or one-off batches of extremely complex parts requiring regular iterations, hybrid manufacturing becomes ideal for these industries.
Additionally, with the ever-increasing applications, hybrid manufacturing can also be an ideal answer to multiple medical applications. There are no dedicated hybrid systems for medical manufacturing; however, 3D printing and machining specific medical parts is a popular practice. The prevalent hybrid additive manufacturing trends for medical applications will allow faster and cheaper production of highly precise, custom prosthetics and implants.
Another advantageous application of the hybrid manufacturing process would be in the repair and maintenance domain. With hybrid processes, additive manufacturing technologies can be used to repair damaged and worn-out parts and CNC machining can be used for accuracy and precision.
The Way Forward for the Hybrid Manufacturing Process
The hybrid technology of manufacturing is still in the nascent stages of development and evolving daily. However, the various ongoing and upcoming hybrid additive manufacturing trends promise endless benefits that include creating products with complex geometry, shorter production times, low wastage, lower costs of production, and so on.
Various leading manufacturers and providers like Phillips Hybrid are bringing in more advanced and better hybrid manufacturing machines that will revolutionalize unified manufacturing, making it more efficient and tenable.