Here at the 30th annual Additive Manufacturing Users Group Conference in St. Louis, Mo., Todd Grimm, President of T. A. Grimm, an additive manufacturing consulting and communications company, gave the keynote address on trends in additive manufacturing that he has seen over the last year in additive manufacturing.
One of those trends is the need for more people skilled in working with additive technology. As additive grows, various industries in dental, medical, aerospace, automotive and others need more people who know how to design, operate, and take advantage of the benefits of additive technology. That’s good news for engineers and college students graduating soon.
Another trend is the continued growth and development of hardware for metal additive manufacturing.
China continues to develop additive manufacturing businesses and technologies. The Chinese government is investing billions and plans on being a major player in the additive industry. The European additive conferences have seen a number of Chinese exhibitors, and you will see more of the coming into the U.S. UnionTech, Farsoon, and XDM are among the companies out of China exhibiting at the AMUG conference.
Another development is new and unique ways to build objects layer-by-layer. The recent Evolve Additive Solutions is one example. GEFERTEC GmbH is another one, introducing its GTarc machines that manufacture metal parts cost-efficiently and at high production speed. Processes that explore further opportunities with building using Photopolymers are on the increase.
More additive technologies can be measured for Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Efforts are underway to prove that additive systems deliver ruggedness, effectiveness, and other equipment productivity measures in manufacturing situations. This is a key development in establishing greater acceptance of this technology on the manufacturing floor.
The quest for better prices is still focused on materials and continues. In addition, though, the price of additive systems is dropping a bit due to increasing purchases and efficiencies in building these systems. A number of additive systems today are about 20 to 30% lower than in previous years. Plus, it’s a lower cost of entry for many innovators. Downward pricing pressure is coming.
There’s a trend of “me too,” in that some companies claim they can do it for less. While cost and speed are not the only criteria for purchasing additive systems, you will see more of this.
Development in software is a big trend this year. One development is “direct from CAD,” where designers no longer need to convert CAD files to a language for additive, such as STL. This is a big time saver. A number of companies are developing predictive software tools for additive. These tools can predict how the build will go, where support structures are needed, and simulate geometry reactions during a build. AI is being added in several design programs where the software creates the design based on engineer described parameters. This generative software will lead to greater use of additive technology because it takes advantage of additive’s ability to produce complex and custom designs.
Another software trend is workflow management software that directs the design to build process for additive. You will soon hear terms like blockchain being used.
Grimm also sees a trend of niche targeting for additive systems. General purpose additive machines will not be the wave of the future. Instead, the trend will be for additive systems targeted at specific industries. Successes are already here with dental and medical. This trend will grow as vendors find ways to address the custom needs of other industries.
There was plenty more from the AMUG conference during the busy first day, so stay tuned for more information.