Recent technological advances such as additive manufacturing and even the Internet of Things are spurring renewed interest in manufacturing. While machining and injection molding offer a solid base for making parts, industries are seeing new technologies enter manufacturing with the promise of delivering greater efficiencies and lower production costs.
One notable development is the recently formed MIT based Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (ADAPT). The center was officially kicked off at the 2018 Formnext tradeshow.
ADAPT will consist of companies and developers in a consortium that will focus on new manufacturing technology through research, education, and actionable insights. This MIT-based ecosystem will pair industry and academia.
The role of ADAPT is to offer visionary research, scalable education platforms, actionable strategic insights, and develop a vibrant academic-industry ecosystem.
One of the founding members of ADAPT is Protolabs. Protolabs’ business model is centered on being a technology agnostic, digital manufacturing provider of on-demand parts. The company’s technical leaders are encouraged by the developments and investment being made into additive manufacturing and look forward to adopting new technologies as they become proven.
As a founding member, Protolabs will help advance the development and adoption of additive manufacturing technologies across different industries and applications. As a pioneer of digital manufacturing, Protolabs sees this as a great opportunity to continue to push the limits of 3D printing in industrial applications. Noted Nina Swienton, Vice President of Marketing, Americas @ Protolabs, “It’s exciting to be bringing together the minds in academia and industry. Protolabs’ role will be centered on providing technical insights and practical knowledge acquired over the last 15 years of using industrial additive equipment and building millions of unique geometries over that span of time.”
The consortium is still in its infancy. However, the group has discussed many upcoming research projects that will leverage the multidisciplinary strengths of ADAPT’s faculty, students, and founding members, with expertise ranging from mechanical engineering, materials science, computer science, and business. Broadly speaking, the group will seek to identify the “scaling laws” of additive technologies and create insights that enable members to act decisively in this rapidly changing arena.
Additive manufacturing will probably not compete with digitally enabled molding or machining. Continued Swienton, “We see AM as a complimentary technology that engineers can consider to optimize the overall performance and costs of their products. Further education is needed on how to adequately design for additive, as conventional design principles do not always apply.
“In addition, further development around materials is needed to really scale additive into an end-use production contender across many applications and industries. Lastly, while the economics of additive (at scale) are increasing in viability across some industries and use cases, we have a long way to go to really proliferate its use beyond those cases. When design freedom is not an absolute must, cutting a soft tool and running tens of thousands of parts off of it is typically still a more affordable alternative to 3D printing.”
Protolabs will bring its technical expertise and experience gained through being an industrial user of additive equipment for a long time. “We’ve worked with many different technologies, we understand build parameters, design requirements, manufacturing (at-scale) economics, etc,” added Swienton. “Additionally, we work with tens of thousands of engineers every year and have a really good pulse on customers’ needs and requirements.”
Protolabs plans to publish research reports and technical white papers to share knowledge and developments with customers and other industry stakeholders.