Virtual manufacturing often relies on 3D printers to turn designs into finished products or models.
Virtual manufacturing uses computers and design programs to help create models, and there are many benefits to using this approach. When a new product or model is made, it is easier to create it in a computer program than to manufacture it. Virtual fabrication programs often contain geometric and sizing information about the model, so creating a model often takes less time as well. Replacement prototypes are rarely needed, so this approach uses less general materials. In addition to saving money by purchasing fewer materials, these programs also help the plant save money by having fewer tooling expenses, faster production, and fewer errors.
In traditional manufacturing, a model can only be seen as a drawing and then as a complete model manufactured. While looking at a drawing can help top management decide if the model will be any good, it can be hard to tell until the model is actually created. With virtual manufacturing, a complete three-dimensional (3D) model can be designed and will look the same as the item when it is manufactured. This should make it easier for senior management to decide whether to use the model, and may also make it easier to correct any errors.
Virtual manufacturing not only facilitates the design and approval of a model, but also speeds up manufacturing. Most programs used to make 3D models store geometric information, so it can be used to quickly and accurately define the tools to make the model. Designing the model in this way generally takes less time, especially if improvements are needed before manufacturing begins.
Materials are needed to make prototypes and models, and some complex models that require dozens or hundreds of edits can use a lot of materials. These materials generally cannot be reused except for recycling. However, virtual manufacturing can prevent these materials from being used, because a 3D model only requires a little electricity to power the computer.
In many ways, virtual manufacturing can help save the factory money, not just material costs. Tooling expenses are not as great because they can be easily defined with the program and there is generally less travel due to fewer prototypes being made. Production is often faster and with fewer errors due to the precision of the virtual program. These products can be made faster, so they can also be sold faster, which can give a virtual factory an advantage over other factories.