Delcam knows machining. In the future, the company aims to know additive manufacturing just as well. The CAD/CAM software provider (now part of Autodesk) not only wants to be able to guide its customers in machining AM parts, but also is working to develop an AM software product called PartBuilder. But Jan Willem Gunnink, manager of collaborative research and innovation projects with the company, admits the organization still has much to learn. Just like the rest of manufacturing, Delcam is ascending a learning curve with AM. And for the benefit of everyone else who is on that curve with them, the company recently shared the fruit of its experiences—the lessons of its successes and its mistakes—from one of several recent trial runs at additive production.

The company deserves credit for this. Learning from experience is expensive. The additive manufacturing project the company carried out cost the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, learning from experience is messy, marked by missteps that seem painfully obvious in retrospect. Delcam could have kept both its discoveries and its mistakes to itself, but instead, the company—through Gunnink, who was directly involved in the project—freely discusses all of this.

The part that was additively manufactured in Delcam’s experiment was a cone-shaped 316L stainless steel manifold measuring 95 mm long and 90 mm in diameter at its larger flange, with an additional flange and a large port both extending out of the OD of the part at a right angle to its axis. The part (a real production component) is usually made through casting, but Delcam wanted to make it through a powder-bed metal additive manufacturing process to experience both the rewards and the challenges of applying AM for production. Which additive machine the company used is a detail the company prefers not to state (for the sake of not implying an endorsement or preference). However, the process involves a build plate. Four manifolds were made, because this is the largest number that could be made in a single cycle on a single plate within the machine. The parts were not just additively grown, but also were carried all the way through postprocessing to arrive at final, functional components—just as they would be if this was their real production process.

As described to me by Gunnink, the payback from all of this work included at least 10 valuable lessons. Strikingly, those lessons touch on machining as much as they directly touch on additive manufacturing. Here, in summary, is what Delcam observed:

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