Additive manufacturing is shifting from the “Holy cow, you can build that?” state to the more pragmatic “let’s see if we can build this” focus. That’s a good trend. Recent successes and innovations are all contributing to this shift in expectations, noted Todd Grimm, president, T.A. Grimm and associates and a noted consultant in additive manufacturing, in the opening Keynote at the 30th Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) conference.
If you want to check this trend out on the Gartner Hype Cycle, additive manufacturing is now moving into the slope of enlightenment where real applications are being met with real solutions, continued Grimm. Soon, we will hit the plateau of productivity.
But there is a challenge still to overcome—the challenge of the status quo; the challenge of using new technology to accomplish the same old thing. As Grimm noted, additive technology is not just a way to “do what we’ve always done, just a little faster and cheaper.”
With new tools, like additive manufacturing, and new software tools, like generative design, designers can build objects they only dreamed of. To use additive just to gain a little bit of time and a little bit of savings, on design issues that have already been solved with other technology is a waste of additive’s capability.
The challenge is still to think differently. From executives trying to figure out how to use additive in their businesses to designers tasked with developing new products fast, don’t approach additive with the same thinking needed with traditional machining and injection molding.
Additive technology is fundamentally a capability. Too often I see companies approaching additive as a solution looking for a problem. The better approach is to focus on what additive lets you do that you could not have done before—focus on the capability.
As Vyomesh Joshi, CEO of 3D Systems told me at AMUG, “It’s about creating a value that you cannot do in other ways.”
Joshi went on to use the dental industry is an example. Dental is all custom. Every piece is unique. You can develop dental appliances with traditional methods, but the products are not custom and are expensive. Creating custom is easy for additive. In fact, custom is the low-hanging fruit of applying additive manufacturing. But it is effective. The capability of additive to affordably build custom parts is helping to grow the dental industry into a $200 billion business.
Instead of looking for faster production at lower cost, users should look for the value proposition, noted Joshi. Investment casting is the next industry that will be changed by additive manufacturing.
Thus, for additive to continue to grow, we must “break through the thinking that imposes traditional manufacturing requirements on this technology,” said Grimm. “In some cases, users will have to carve a new path. Let’s think about how the impossible can be done better, faster, and potentially cheaper. Machining, injection molding, and additive technologies each have their role in making parts. Let’s use additive to solve the really hard design issues.”
Ask yourself, what can’t we do today? Now ask, could additive help?