If you listen to financial analysts, the additive manufacturing industry is struggling; additive machines are not taking over CNC machining and injection molding fast enough, or additive machines are not big enough or fast enough, and so on and so on. When I attend an Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference, I come away with a totally different picture, and the future of additive is bright indeed. The AMUG Conference is a conference for users, run by users, most of who volunteer their time to put this conference together.
Perhaps one of the most important developments was the number of large companies moving into additive to offer services. This is a key trend—those with additive technology in-house are looking to offer machines, services, and expertise to customers. For example:
–GE has opened a new business called GE Additive. This business will sell machines, materials, and consulting on best practices in additive manufacturing.
–Caterpillar is moving into additive. Stacey DelVecchio, Additive Manufacturing Product Manager at Caterpillar Inc., gave a presentation about Caterpillar’s Additive Manufacturing Factory in Mossville, IL. The management sees additive as a way of getting to the next level of innovation—which for them means “the age of smart iron,” where hardware is integrated with intelligence thanks to additive technology. Ms. DelVecchio discussed how committed Caterpillar is to the technology and how they developed this factory. One of the goals sought is flexibility, and additive helps give them that. (http://www.caterpillar.com/en/company/innovation/customer-solutions/technology/additive-manufacturing.html.html)
I had lunch with a gentleman who works with the U.S. Air Force. Our military is a huge user of additive technology with a big budget. He was impressed with what Caterpillar is doing with its additive capabilities. You could see the wheels turning, and ideas forming.
And these are just a few examples of what you can see and hear at an Additive Manufacturing Users Group conference. Conference sessions cover every aspect of using, operating and building additive capability. And the best part, even though attendees come from competitive companies, everyone shares knowledge with each other. This conference is all about building connections and relationships, as well as strengthening and building the additive industry.
A recent addition and highlight of this conference is the recognition of the early innovators of additive technology. This was the third Inventor Showcase session and the honoree was Carl Deckard, the inventor of the Deckard engine and selective laser sintering. For engineers, it’s always a treat to listen to the early experiences of those who played such a key role in this industry.
And a final sign of the strength of this industry—this conference is averaging about 40% growth in attendance per year. For the first time, the maximum number of attendees was reached early and registration had to be closed. So be prepared—the next AMUG Conference will likely be in April—register early. See you there!