Trying to analyze the state of Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology might feel like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are being set. Each player in this fast-moving arena presents a piece of the puzzle, and potential and current adopters have questions that range from as basic as choosing a material to as advanced as how to accurately confer properties on a molecular level.
"To obtain a true sense of what is possible today and, in the future, IMTS 2018 -- The International Manufacturing Technology Show, offers an unprecedented concentration of Additive Manufacturing resources," says Peter R. Eelman, Vice President -- Exhibitions & Business Development at AMT -- The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS. "In such a short time, the history of IMTS has become synonymous with AM technology breakthroughs." At IMTS 2018, Eelman predicts that one of the hottest AM topics of discussion will be how to extend the digital thread from design through processing to final part.
Held Sept. 10-15 at Chicago's McCormick Place, the AM resources at IMTS include the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion and a second AMT's Emerging Technology Center focused strictly on Additive Manufacturing, both located at the entrance to the West Building in an expanded exhibit space. The AM Pavilion now boasts 56 exhibitors, up from 21 two years ago, plus several exhibitors in other Pavilions who will showcase additive-related technology.
Learning about New Trends
"Additive manufacturing is about solving the problem of high-cost, low-volume manufacturing," says Ed Israel, President and co-founder of Plural Additive Manufacturing. "There's been a huge void in the marketplace for companies that couldn't afford the technology but would benefit from producing good prototype parts and serial manufactured parts using 3D printing.
Glenn Redding, Director of Engineering for ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, agrees, saying that, "Additive manufacturing can be investigated and explore for unique applications and pain points for manufacturers dealing with high-mix/low-volume parts and who are driving for improved operational efficiencies."
He notes that AM could help manufacturers provide additional resources to manage special requests from customers, respond faster by eliminating the need to produce tooling and do so without disrupting primary production capacity. In fact, many believe that today's fastest growing segment for AM, both polymer-based and metal-based, is for creating jigs, fixtures and other job aids that reduce cost and time-to-market.
"When people see how additive manufacturing fits with current operations and understand the symbiotic relationship between the additive and subtractive technologies, it gives them confidence to move forward," says Eelman.
"People are beginning to see that they can very quickly and locally print their own tooling and therefore increase the innovation and decrease the overall cycle time to develop that next big product," states Bill Peter, Director of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a long-time collaborator with IMTS for creating demonstrations for the Emerging Technology Center.
Peter notes that the United States lost about 37 percent of the die and tool industry in less than a decade and currently imports 70 to 80 percent of its tools. Having demonstrated success with polymer molds, the MDF is now examining how to move forward with metal 3D printing.
"We want to look at cost-effective feed stocks and increase the deposition rate of additive systems that could make tools," he says, noting that tooling greatly affects lead times and the cost and rate of innovation.
Software for Additive Manufacturing
In a snapshot, the industry has gone from using AM for prototyping, to building jigs and fixtures and finally to serial manufacture of end parts. It's a recommended path of technology adoption, as it helps companies become familiar in digestible increments. As companies move forward, however, they need to invest in AM-specific software.
"Originally, machines, materials and CAD/CAM software were made for prototyping. Now we need tools that are more robust to produce desirable, repeatable parts," says Duann Scott Business Development & Strategy, Additive for Autodesk. Scott explains that AM is an umbrella term for many different technologies and each technology has its own problems to solve.
"With our Nebfabb® suite of additive manufacturing software, we can streamline workflow from design and optimization, preparation and simulation and then processing," Scott says.
While Doug Dingus, Plural's Director of Service, has more than 20 years of CAD and related software experience, he will attend IMTS for the first time this year.
"Jumping into the additive manufacturing scene feels to me a lot like CAD did in the 90s," he said. "If you look back at solid modeling and how it changed so many industries, this looks exactly the same way. AM is on the cusp of a big explosion. I think IMTS is the place to go, because that's where all the industry players will meet."
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