Remember your first computer? Mine was a Macintosh 128K back in 1984. It was amazing technology back then, but somewhat limited. If you remember, the biggest application was word processing. It took years, a decade or two even, to make it a bit more than a glorified typewriter. Although, many will argue that even today we are still not using the computer to its full capabilities. It took a while before this device became commonplace in a business environment.
Technology doesn’t always immediately hit its stride. Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, is just the latest example of this phenomenon.
Many users still operate under the hype of what 3D printing is, and they don’t understand, truly, what are the cool applications, said Kunal Mehta, head of consulting at Blueprint, or even what are the basic applications, such as jigs, fixtures, and prototyping.
“You need to learn in this space just like any space, just like any emerging technology, added Mehta. “You need to get your hands dirty, you need to get in there and figure it out, does it make sense, first, for you? And, if it does, try it, test it. It’s going to take time, like any emerging technology.”
But, how do you get organizations, not just individuals, but organizations to buy into additive?
“We did a quick survey, around 200 business executives,” says Mehta. “The results were the same that we’re seeing from others. About 84% of people using additive want to move beyond prototyping, but that population was stuck. We have the data on this, that it’s the human aspect — the education that’s the biggest barrier. We have to figure a way past the common mindset.
Some industries, such as aerospace and automotive, though, get it and have been exploring additive for decades. They know what they are doing. These are the users who push the boundaries.
One could ask why is education such a such an issue? “We saw a disconnect,” notes Mehta. “First disconnect was between the how and the why of additive. There’s a disconnect in knowledge between the business person and the engineer and primarily in the form of vocabulary, the business opportunities, the design principles to connect the business folks and the engineers. And, this is a common theme in the technology world of IT and business. How do you connect the two together?
The second issue involves the misconceptions due to the hype. Mehta refers to this as a disconnect of reality. While many like the idea of 3D printing, and would love the reality if they really knew what it was, they don’t have this common vocabulary. So, they can’t talk to one another and drive innovation and growth.
And, the last one is a disconnect of tactics. Additive does not solve every problem. And oftentimes, even when it’s done correctly, it actually might cause new issues.
So, how do we get an organization best positioned to win, when to use additive, when not to use additive?
Knowledge has been addressed in the marketplace primarily through Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM). But something more is needed. Education needs to move beyond the focused so you’re not focused on single technology solutions.
Several companies are offering help to organizations, not just individuals. One is Blueprint, a strategic consultancy that focuses on additive. Mehta is the principal at Blueprint. One part of Blueprint is a two-step program known as Think Additively. It focuses on developing an additive mindset, (rather than a traditional manufacturing mindset) and then pushes that mindset through an organization. It uses a language that connects the additive experts within an organization with the rest of the organization.
The Blueprint staff includes engineers and strategists, model makers, innovators, and analysts that have various deep industry knowledge applicable to additive.
Blueprint is the evolution of a consultancy, Econolyst, originally headed by Dr. Phil Reeves. Stratasys bought Econolyst in 2015. Most of the team at Econolyst are a part of Blueprint.
“We are technology-agnostic,” notes Mehta. “3D printing is seven billion dollars of a 12 trillion dollar industry. So, the mentality that we have is, if you can expand the pie so that more people are in it, all of us can get a share of that.”
A key part of Blueprint is a program called Think Additively. This program is an enablement program, focused on the technology, but primarily on helping organizations and users adopt additive through an organization. You can find out more about Blueprint here.