A granddaddy in the world of manufacturing, machining has long been the key to making intricate, high-tolerance parts. This process is so ubiquitous that, to some laymen, machining is manufacturing.
Although a capable and versatile process, a downside to machining is that much of the original material ends up as waste. In some cases, machining removes more than half of the original material, generating more waste than part by volume.
Rather than starting with a billet, casting, or forging and machining it to final form, the additive process builds parts layer by layer, depositing material and using heat to fuse it. The result is much less waste.
Also, whenever a machined part calls for complex or intricate features, the designer has to keep in mind the limitations of the machine tool and often has to make a compromise here or there. Additive manufacturing (AM) allows much more latitude in feature design.
Keystone Engineering Co., Long Beach, Calif., a manufacturer of space-flight systems and vehicles, has found that AM can help it make some components more efficiently than with conventional manufacturing processes while meeting crucial strength and weight targets. (Note: Keystone changed its name to NuSpace Inc. after this story was filed.—Ed.)
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