Shows and conferences are slowly emerging from the effects of the global pandemic. Some offer both in-person and virtual experiences, others are returning to in-person only. The Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) conference hosted roughly 2000 attendees a few weeks ago, and it was great to see everyone.
The conference traditionally offers a range of sessions and opportunities to talk to expert users, and to listen to fascinating keynote presentations. And, of course, there were plenty of opportunities to have fun while learning.
The additive industry is maturing, so this year’s AMUG conference focused more on changes throughout the industry as a result of the global pandemic and a bit less on technical innovation. If you’ve been following the news lately, much of it covers partnerships among companies with compatible technologies, such as materials and software, with a few companies buying others to round out the capabilities they offer.
Even so, several trends stood out at the AMUG Conference:
–3D scanning is taking on an increasing role with additive operations
–additive vendors see the supply chain as a key arena where additive can grow and play a role
–the international conflict and the effects it will have on materials and the supply chain.
But one of the stronger impressions was that manufacturing is going to experience a resurgence here in the U.S.
So, let’s cover some of the trends.
Expect an increase in the use of 3D scanning equipment. Users are seeing 3D scanning as a key tool when working with 3D printing and additive manufacturing, especially when used for reverse engineering. Newer scanners are more portable and offer better data collection for use in CAD programs or when transmitting data to 3D printers.
The supply chain
Producers of goods are taking a hard look at how they develop their supply chains. During the pandemic, the additive industry displayed its flexibility and capability to deliver goods practically anywhere. Traditional manufacturers are taking notice of additive manufacturing and looking at how it can be used in their supply chains as well as their production efforts. Additive vendors see this area as a major growth opportunity for the industry.
Internationally, the war between Russia and Ukraine will affect the additive industry. Ukraine has been one of the largest suppliers of metals for a number of industries, not just additive. These metals include Lithium and aluminum, among others. Russia too offers metals but is now embargoed. Additive vendors are watching the developments here carefully, and looking to keep the supply of metal powders going.
Before additive can play a strong role in manufacturing, the vendors need to automate more of the steps used to build parts. Much of this automation will come through software, similar to how product management software and enterprise resource software helped automate traditional manufacturing years ago. You can expect to see more software introductions over the next few years.
The medical industry is a key application of additive technology. But a few gaps will hinder wider acceptance. One of those gaps involves standards for using 3D printed parts with patients. Right now, there are no standards. Various medical agencies are working with the additive industry to develop them.
On a similar note, the medical industry needs additive materials that can be sterilized. As one presenter noted, sterilization is a precise process in medical and requires considerable backup information.
Another trend is the growing use of copper as a 3D printable material. A number of users are looking at copper as a material for electronics because it can be printed sustainably. But it is also popular in applications in aerospace, particularly for small satellites and other components. For example, the copper composite CuCrZRr is being explored by NASA for use in its projects.
Other modified high-performance materials for additive applications are Zirkonium Titanium powder and AlMg–aluminum Magnesian.
Continuing with applications in space, the launching of small satellites could become a big industry. The Micro Launcher, for example, is expected to become a $26 billion market by 2027. These micro launchers tackle satellites in the 200 kg mass and under class.
Some of the more recent news mentions the introduction of laws that allow the right to repair, giving individual users the ability to fix the items they’ve purchased without needing to go back to the manufacturer. This move is trending in Europe, with some discussion of it in the U.S., as it is seen as helping with sustainability efforts for the environment. Additive vendors see this as a potentially large market for 3D printing technology.
And lastly, one of the keynotes came from Kevin Czinger of Divergent 3D. Czinger plans to fundamentally alter the way cars are manufactured. He has built a proof-of-concept manufacturing hub that showcases fixtureless assembly. Showing what is possible with additive manufacturing, he built a universal assembly cell, the Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS) that can be used to make anything from cars to drones. In addition, he only uses adhesives to assemble parts in the cars. The cars contain a range of materials and to accommodate tolerances and different material properties, he has found adhesives as the way to go. He is in negotiations with most of the major car manufacturers. It will be interesting to see where this takes additive manufacturing.