Additive Manufacturing, like any manufacturing process, has its strengths and weaknesses. All processes typically have value-added steps and necessary secondary operations that are a consequence of their shortcomings. Support structures are one of these necessary evils of AM. They are part of the process but add no value to the final part. In fact, they decrease the value because support structures consume material and machine time but then need to be removed after printing. All of this reduces productivity and ultimately costs you money. So, let’s eliminate them! (OK, maybe minimize them..)
AddUp, a joint venture between Michelin and Fives, developed a system to do just that. Michelin has been utilizing AM since the early 2000s, long before I even knew what a 3D printer was (we didn’t have 3d printers or even smartphones when I was in high school). Michelin utilized the technology first to reduce the development cycle for their tire mold inserts, called sipes. Today, they produce over one million of these sipes a year for their production molds. Critically important features to these sipes are: the resolution down to 0.2mm features, shallow overhangs as low as 15 degrees, and surface finish as low as 4 Ra um, as printed.