Trying to analyze the state of Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology might feel like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are being set. Each player in this fast-moving arena presents a piece, and potential and current adopters have questions that range from choosing a material to how to accurately confer properties on a molecular level.
Held Sept. 10-15 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the AM resources at IMTS include the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion and a second AMT’s Emerging Technology Center focused strictly on Additive Manufacturing, both located at the entrance to the West Building in an expanded exhibit space. The AM Pavilion now boasts 56 exhibitors, up from 21 two years ago, plus several exhibitors in other Pavilions who will showcase additive-related technology.
During show years, IMTS hosts the Additive Manufacturing Conference presented by Gardner Business Media on Sept. 11-12 and the AppliedAM – Where Additive Minds Meet symposium presented by EOS North America on Sept. 12. In addition, at least six of the technical sessions presented as part of the IMTS Conference will focus on AM technology.
Learning about trends
“Additive manufacturing is about solving the problem of high-cost, low-volume manufacturing,” says Ed Israel, President and co-founder of Plural Additive Manufacturing. “There’s been a huge void in the marketplace for companies that couldn’t afford the technology but would benefit from producing good prototype parts and serial manufactured parts using 3D printing. IMTS 2018 is a great place to learn how.”
Glenn Redding, Director of Engineering for ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, notes that AM could help manufacturers provide additional resources to manage special requests from customers, respond faster by eliminating the need to produce tooling and do so without disrupting primary production capacity. In fact, many believe that today’s fastest growing segment for AM, both polymer-based and metal-based, is for creating jigs, fixtures and other job aids that reduce cost and time-to-market.
When people see how additive manufacturing fits with current operations and understand the symbiotic relationship between the additive and subtractive technologies, it gives them confidence to move forward.
“People are beginning to see that they can quickly and locally print their own tooling and therefore increase the innovation and decrease the overall cycle time to develop that next big product,” states Bill Peter, Director of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a long-time collaborator with IMTS for creating demonstrations for the Emerging Technology Center.
Peter notes that the United States lost about 37% of the die and tool industry in less than a decade and currently imports 70 to 80% of its tools. Having demonstrated success with polymer molds, the MDF is now examining how to move forward with metal 3D printing.
Vader Systems will demonstrate its Magnet-o-Jet technology to melt and “jet” a continuous aluminum wire (e.g., no powder) to create metal parts. Vader has a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is helping co-develop the technology and new materials, such as aerospace grades of aluminum that are traditionally non-weldable and difficult to print with other AM processes.
“I cannot overstate the rate of growth in AM technology,” says Jennifer Moran, Director of Sales and Marketing for Vader Systems and four-time IMTS attendee. “At IMTS 2014, many people didn’t understand basic concepts of AM. Now, people understand nuances between technology and want to discuss specific applications and materials.”
Software for Additive Manufacturing
In a snapshot, the industry has gone from using AM for prototyping, to building jigs and fixtures and finally to serial manufacture of end parts. It’s a recommended path of technology adoption, as it helps companies become familiar in digestible increments. As companies move forward, however, they need to invest in AM-specific software.
“Originally, machines, materials and CAD/CAM software were made for prototyping. Now we need tools that are more robust to produce desirable, repeatable parts,” says Duann Scott Business Development & Strategy, Additive for Autodesk. Scott explains that AM is an umbrella term for many different technologies and each technology has its own problems to solve.
One of the issues that many users of AM grapple with is that they don’t understand what happens during the build process, and that induces more trial and error time.
“What we’re seeing in metal printing is that there’s a lot of thermal distortion in the parts from the energy directed to the powder,” says Scott.
International Manufacturing Technology Show