3D printing has the potential to help engineers deliver better designs, while reducing costs and still get to market ahead of the competition—if management doesn’t mess it up. A keynote address at today’s AMUG conference, “Aligning Cultures, The Ironic Art of Successfully Managing Product Development Products, by Randy Iliff, Vice President of InSight Services, presented the audience with some interesting thoughts about how we could use 3D printing. But this promise may go unfulfilled if we continue to apply the variation elimination processes and methods used for manufacturing a part to that of designing a part. The process of designing is exactly the opposite of that of manufacturing. Prototyping and designing are inherently unpredictable processes. Variance is critical to discovering, which then leads to better design. But trying to remove variability and turn design into a predictable, repetitive process is what results in dull, uninteresting designs that don’t appeal to customers.
Prototyping is still one of the best uses for 3D printing. But, given Iliff’s comments, I can see why artists, hobbyists, and makers have taken to 3D printing so strongly—the ability to create anything you can imagine. What has happened to industrial engineering, in that design engineers don’t gravitate to 3D printers in the tens of thousands like the makers do? Perhaps its because the current business thinking is to apply strategies that succeed with manufacturing to design.
You cannot always apply manufacturing’s repetitive methods to everything, noted Iliff. Using repetitive methodology, (the goal of which is to eliminate all variables), “out of context is profoundly harmful,” especially to design creativity. “Manufacturing is a special case and benefits from the removal of variance.”
Design, on the other hand, needs variance, variation, chaos, serendipity, experimentation, and so on—processes anathema to manufacturing. As Iliff noted, “Understanding is a necessity in the creative space. It is not needed in manufacturing,” where everything is automated.
3D printing can return these characteristics to the design engineer. And project management should get out of the way and let this happen.
A couple of other interesting notes from today’s conference;
It looks like the merger between Stratasys and Objet is going very well. The sessions on their materials emphasized the use of FDM as more for applications requiring performance, and those of polyjet for applications requiring fine detail. The goals of the materials department at Stratasys LTD are to develop cartridges with more material for even longer build times, improve material toughness and elongation at breaks, increase tensile strength and modulus, and develop materials that are easier to remove hands free support.
In the third quarter of this year, Stratasys LTD expects to release a 2nd generation Digital ABS material. This material will suit applications for objects with dimensional variations, such as thin walls, 1.2 mm or less. Another material the company expects to announce then will be a digital ABS in the color ivory (instead of the current green).
I met with Dr. Conor MacCormack at the show today. Mcor Technologies is renaming its process Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL).
The Mcor printers can deposit pico liters of adhesives exactly where it is needed, making the removal of excess material from the printer part much easier.
The color process of the Mcor systems is impressive. In addition, other applications for printing in a paper medium include medical, packaging, living hinges, and others.
Stay tuned. The conference continues tomorrow with some interesting presentations scheduled!