The purpose of Hybrid manufacturing is to combine the strengths of additive manufacturing (AM) with the subtractive machining. Using a single machine, it creates the ability to produce finished parts in the same machine using both processes. Hybrid manufacturing joins the best features of traditional subtractive machining with additive manufacturing.
Benefits of Hybrid Manufacturing
Hybrid manufacturing offers several advantages over subtractive or additive machining alone. Because of additive’s ability to add material to existing parts, it allows for building up and repairing damaged parts only where needed, reducing material cost. It also cuts down on the amount of subtractive machining work because the material is only added where needed, which decreases the area requiring additional finishing. Because AM allows you to combine different metals, you can create your own mechanical properties layer-by-layer or zone-by-zone, which can, for example, add strength or aid in heat transfer. Lastly, having the ability to switch between additive and subtractive operations without having to move the workpiece brings significant time savings.
Like with any new technology, hybrid machining faces a set of challenges, learning curves, and questions. The first challenge is the investment and implementation costs associated with the equipment. Not all machine shops have immediate investment capabilities and will have to weigh the pros and cons of purchase and then plan for a significant expenditure. Another looming question is if hybrid manufacturing can be scaled to meet the demands of mass production in a timely manner.
Once the machine is up and running, you need to understand what is the best sequence to add and subtract materials and how the heating and cooling cycles may impact the properties of the part during the process. When material is added, can software automatically compensate for the new material added to the part to provide tool collision detection, or will software updates be required? Are there best practices to capture the excess of expensive powders during the AM process to be recycled and reused? Lastly, figuring out how to retain the proper shape and dimensions of machined surfaces as new materials are added, which can substantially heat the part and cause distortion.
Industries Most Likely to Benefit from Hybrid Manufacturing
Hybrid manufacturing is well-positioned for prototyping, repair, and small or single-part production. Industries getting the most immediate benefit are aerospace, defense, medical, and mold and die. Hybrid produces parts as needed, eliminating the cost and need for inventory storage as well as minimizing production time because fewer parts are required. It has the versatility to produce complex and custom parts and add materials to existing parts where needed. Lastly, hybrid manufacturing can efficiently produce or perform complicated mold repairs and add materials to strengthen molds and tools for added durability. Over time more industries will find the benefits of using hybrid manufacturing.
Hybrid machines are in their infancy but have the potential of becoming a dominant force in the manufacturing world. Combining both additive and subtractive manufacturing in one machine can save shops valuable floor space and capital investment. The machine can be run as an AM or subtractive machine, and as a hybrid when needed. The key to success for hybrid machining will be optimizing the manufacturing process to provide flexibility while maintaining the rigorous standards for the parts being produced.