Atmospheric gases – Enablers behind the additive manufacturing future


Additive manufacturing (AM), or the process of creating a product or component part layer by layer instead of using traditional moulding or subtractive methods, is leading a transformation in manufacturing technology.

So often used interchangeably with the term 3D printing, the two terms are mistakenly considered synonyms. This is a misnomer, as while AM may have 3D printing at its heart, the process consists of much more, with both pre and post-production treatments being integral to the overall manufacturing approach. And there are multiple approaches – from laser powder-bed fusion, directed energy deposition (using a laser or an arc), and electron beam melting, to binder and material jetting. But behind these various production methods – and the key ancillary processes at either end – are the critical atmospheric gases and gas technologies which are fundamental enablers of this manufacturing revolution. 

Once destined primarily for prototyping, AM is now employed increasingly for the development of spare parts, small series production and tooling. Adoption of AM has seen the greatest uptake in industries where its relatively higher production costs can be outweighed by the advantages AM can deliver, particularly in highly innovative, leading-edge industries such as aerospace, defence, medical and automotive. Such advantages include greater design freedom and customisation, improved product strength and functionality, reduced assembly time for complex components, localised production, rapid time to market, mitigation of wastage, reduced obsolescence, decreased reliance on traditional suppliers and even the creation of new materials with unique mechanical and behavioural properties.

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