How do businesses that might benefit from additive manufacturing actually start to reach toward those benefits?
That’s a big question — and as with any Big Question, there are plenty of answers out there. Many come from 3D printing companies themselves, often in the form of “Buy this 3D printer and we’ll support you” which may or may not be helpful. Sometimes, that works; depending on the application and company, sometimes a single suggestion of one solution happens to be the right one, and the direct support keeps things in motion.
More often, though, a company may have heard that 3D printing is a technology that could help them. And that’s all they’ve heard. A quick Google might yield daunting results: seven different processes (at least by ASTM’s count; what about those proprietary technologies? Or FFF v. FDM?), abundant ads, results for both desktop extrusion-based systems and million-dollar industrial behemoths, something about post-processing…
So who do you ask for help?
Consulting The Experts
Guidance is needed in adopting additive manufacturing: that’s a fact. Where should that guidance come from?
One option that emerged this year is Blueprint, a consultancy focused on additive manufacturing. It’s owned by Stratasys, but much as we’ve seen with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, when this business says it’s technology-agnostic, they actually mean it.
Blueprint is designed to help provide information so companies can build up their confidence and eventually their own targeted expertise in additive manufacturing. This starts by sorting out the right technology and materials for them, then moves into deeper understandings of how to apply those aspects to their actual applications.
I first chatted with the team about Blueprint at RAPID in the spring, but dug a bit deeper in a conversation with Kunal Mehta, Head of Consulting at Blueprint.
We’ll have more from that chat soon, but first is today’s news: Blueprint has launched a new program called “Think Additively.”
A lot of current education in 3D printing is focused on DfAM: Design for Additive Manufacturing.
And rightly so. DfAM ensures that parts made additively are designed specifically to be made that way. It often doesn’t make any sense to 3D print a part in the same geometries as they’ve always been, when those geometries were designed to be made from a big hunk of material that would be machined down to a different form. Making a part additively offers different capabilities, including new shapes and forms to perform the same functions — and often better, with topology optimization often featuring for more optimal designs.
But that’s not all there is to it. There’s a shift in design toward DfAM, but the shift needs to be more total — to the entire mindset around production.
Aha, said Blueprint: people need to think additively.
So today they debut Think Additively.
“Think Additively is the seventh piece to our portfolio,” Mehta told me. “It’s all about the organization of additive. In our thought process, DfAM is a start. How do you go past talking about business value to really transformation? The Think Additively program starts with a three-day course, and the idea is to create a multi-year relationship with our customers.”
These seven pieces of Blueprint’s offerings, as Mehta references, now encompass:
Adding a program specific to holistic thinking in adoption of additive manufacturing is based on Blueprint’s findings that knowledge is currently the biggest barrier to bringing 3D printing onboard in operations. A survey they conducted among 200 business executives recently found that about 85% of companies saw this as their primary obstacle — so the demand is there for this sort of program.
The program is four-fold in its structuring:
Foundations: A three-day level-set on additive technologies, benefits, and design principles to establish a common language. This can be delivered at either a client’s location or a Stratasys site with course content accessible through an online, mobile-friendly adaptive learning platform.
Additive Coaching: A 3-12-month coaching engagement working with individuals to put Foundations knowledge into practice.
Growth Engagements: Custom additive manufacturing acceleration workshops to identify and realize the business value of 3D printing.
Advanced Courses: Deep dives into technical design disciplines, enabling applications of the future.
As we discussed the founding of Think Additively, Mehta said that the biggest throughline in their recent survey came down to what he said he would “summarize as the human aspect.” That includes design, knowledge, and management focus — any of the areas where humans come into play, really.
“The cost of adopting any new technology, from my old life in AI and blockchain through to now in additive manufacturing, is always the human aspect. There are differences. AI is fundamentally new; it’s not challenging a norm that has existed for decades or centuries. Additive is of course challenging a norm, challenging a mentality that engineers and designers have been operating in for decades if not centuries,” Mehta told me.
“Because of that, the Think Additively program we’ve established is a technology enablement program for customers, governments, and educators to adopt and fully embrace this technology.”
The core problems to adopting additive manufacturing comes down to three areas, as he laid out:
A disconnect between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’
Lingering hype in the industry leading to questions about what’s actually possible
Information on when to use traditional manufacturing or additive manufacturing
Developing a sort of common language that goes throughout an organization — from management to IT, from designer to engineer, from HR to marketing — is key to ensuring a common understanding. Vocabulary is important, and can help to avoid disconnects between the C-suite and engineers.
That vocabulary can also do away with the hype. When perhaps headlines in popular media might say “make anything with a 3D printer!” the reality in real terms might be “more geometries are possible with a 3D printer”. What can actually be done? Talk about it realistically, avoiding buzz words. Being clear about what generative design is is more helpful than saying “let the computer do it for you”.
Mehta’s final point, about traditional-v-additive, is also critical. He pointed out — as we often do — that additive manufacturing is not going to fully supplant subtractive manufacturing or other traditional making processes. They work best when they work together. Understanding the ins and outs of each ensure — and this is the real key here — that the right tool is used for each job. Even when that’s parts within the same ultimate build, the answer might change. And knowing those answers takes some expertise and experience.
The Think Additively program begins with the ‘what’, then the ‘why’, then the ‘how’ of additive manufacturing.
“We discuss the business value, then the additive manufacturing system, materials, and applications, then the details. We talk about color, strength, quality, economics, and real case studies with customers, throughout the product development lifecycle into production. We compare the various technologies — going back to being technology-agnostic, we use six of the seven ASTM-defined technologies, leaving sheet lamination out of it. We talk traditional versus additive, when to use one, when not to use one,” Mehta outlined.
The program is also customizable: “If a customer doesn’t want to talk about color, say, we leave that out. We talk about what they need to know.”
From initial foundations to later, deeper technical training, Think Additively is intended as a relationship to build expertise, drawn from experts. Training, coaching, deep dives, supply chain analysis: the program is intended to help companies think for themselves how additive might be a good fit for their manufacturing (and when it isn’t).
More from Mehta soon as we had a lot to talk about when it comes to consulting in this industry