This week, I had the honor to present a discussion on Trends in 3D Printing for Production at the International Symposium of Additive Manufacturing Taiwan, 2018.
Part of the Taiwan International 3D Printing Show organized by the Additive Manufacturing Association of Taiwan, the full-day symposium provided an agenda geared toward research and business advances in additive manufacturing. A truly international array of speakers brought insights from both East and West, sharing in English and in Mandarin, to present a global perspective on 3D printing.
My session covered the evolution of 3D printing as the technology moves toward production.
In 20 minutes, we went through a high-level look at the state of the industry, beginning with a snapshot from the 2018 Wohlers Report, which reported a current industry valuation of over US$7 billion. While 3D printing has its roots in the 1980s and the advent of rapid prototyping, the move toward production has been in evidence for some years — with some well-known examples to highlight the move.
Hearing aids were the first industry to see mass adoption of 3D printing for end-use parts, famously seeing a 500-day changeover to the technology. Similarly high-profile, the LEAP fuel nozzle from GE has seen more than its fair share of the spotlight as complex aerospace components benefit from the capability to reduce the necessary number of parts, in this case bringing 20 discrete parts into a single 3D printed fuel nozzle.
Several areas of immediate focus for production include
- Jigs & fixtures
- Spare/replacement parts
- Customized, one-off, and short-run products
- High-end aerospace components
- Medical devices
- Surgical guides
- Surgical implants
- Sterilizable instruments
- Medical models
For all these areas of application to have an interest in additive manufacturing, we looked next to the promises of the technology.
Among the attractive capabilities frequently highlighted, 3D printing offers the potential for:
- Freedom of design complexity
- Reduction of parts
- Reduction of costs:
- Localized production
- On-site production
These promises, however, have not yet reached fruition. Additive manufacturing continues to mature into their fulfillment, and several barriers to entry and technological/technical challenges remain prohibitive.
Among these constraints are:
- Materials options
- Training / Upskilling
- Qualification / Certification
- Upfront costs
- Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM)
Recent introductions, including several in the last month alone, have been taking aim specifically at these barriers to entry. These issues are all well known among 3D printer suppliers and users alike, and significant resources are being dedicated to overcoming them and moving toward realizable production-quality additive manufacturing.
One of the benefits of being in the position of a travelled journalist in this industry is that I have a unique bird’s-eye-view perspective gleaned from regular contact with global industry participants. That is — don’t take my word for it.
I closed my discussion with a look at insights from industry insiders, many of whom have appeared or will soon appear in our current series of interviews here at Fabbaloo.
Glynn Fletcher, President, EOS North America:
“We’ve been seeing that additive is moving from what we might describe as the ‘wow’ phase to the ‘now’ phase… I haven’t heard anyone who hasn’t agreed when I say that AM should be able to disrupt traditional manufacturing by at least 20%. If we’re at 1% today, that gives us growth potential of at least 20x, which is very exciting. If we’re going to do that, we have to fit into the mainstream production equipment. We have to produce equipment that works reliably, produces high-quality parts consistently, is supported by an infrastructure that can step in and fix things when things go a little awry, when there are problems.”
Frank Marangell, President, BigRep Americas:
“When we develop technology… we have a strategic focus on applications… We are looking all the time at where the next-generation machines need to be by looking at the applications: auto, aerospace, industrial, medical, dental. Our strategic application is then developing materials and solutions that fit those solutions.”
Duncan McCallum, CEO, Digital Alloys:
“It’s pretty clear why people are excited about 3D printing metal. Time is valuable, the ability to produce shapes and geometries you can’t with conventional is valuable… When you talk to someone, the first question is what are you doing, answer is usually nothing or prototyping — except the examples everyone talks about, jet engines and orthotics. Why?
Machine speed is too slow
Production cost, speed and material cost
Phil Hatherley, General Manager of Materials Solutions – A Siemens Business:
“One of the main misconceptions, especially with metals additive manufacturing, that it is economically possible to replace your current part with AM — in reality AM is still typically more expensive… If you’re looking to use AM then the benefits, such as design opportunities, should be considered at the same time. There is also a belief that you can ‘just print it’ – and this simply isn’t true for metals printing. A repeating quote to customers is, ‘just because you can print it, doesn’t mean you should!’”
Matt Sand, CEO, 3DEO:
“Across the board, the driving force is we need low-cost parts. When you’re talking production, that’s all customers want… When it comes to being direct with customers and being in the 3D printing world, there’s a pretty big disconnect over what customers want and the language of the 3D printing vendors…Everyone wants to talk about the advantages of 3D printing. If you can’t compete on cost, those other advantages really don’t matter. MIM parts are $2-3 to $10 max for very complex pieces, metal 3D printing has to compete at that price point, and if you can’t you really aren’t at the table, period.”
New 3D printing systems, materials, and business strategies are addressing existing limitations in terms of:
- Consistency / Repeatability
- Avoiding hype
It’s the last of these — avoiding hype — that needs particular focus, as the 3D printing industry has been prone to, and hit hard by, hype. Particularly seen circa 2012-2015, overblown promises left unfulfilled did more harm than good to this young industry.
We’ll be taking a loook soon at additional impressions from this well-curated symposium in Taipei.