Additive Manufacturing Is Breaking Through—Sort of

2018 has seen major advances in additive manufacturing as the technology begins to go mainstream. Yet barriers still hamper widespread adoption.

During the past year, we’ve seen significant advances in additive manufacturing. The cost of machines and materials is coming down, yet barriers persist. Dayton T. Horvath, principal at NewCap Partners, explored the advances in additive manufacturing as well as the barriers that remain during the Design News webinar: Is Additive Manufacturing Finally Coming of Age?  The webinar, which was broadcast on Thursday, December 6, is now available for on-demand playback free of charge. 

Webinar, additive manufacturing, NewCap Partners, Autodesk, 3D printing

This is a rendering of a 3D printing automotive production part produced by Briggs Automotive. (Image source: Autodesk)

Horvath sees specific ways in which 3D printing, as a production process, has become more accessible for manufacturers. “There are three areas where we’re seeing advances in additive manufacturing, materials, software, and hardware,” Horvath told Design News. “The main advances in materials include higher performance thermoplastics and new alloys that are printable. In software, we’re seeing more modeling and simulation combined with generative design to help industrial designers create designs specifically for additive manufacturing while taking into account process simulation.”

As for 3D printers, Horvath sees lower costs as a significant advantage for those interested in 3D production printing. “In hardware, we’re seeing price decreases for the commonplace industrial systems, and we’re seeing many new models that fit a middle market that are particularly accessible to contract manufacturers and job shops,” said Horvath.

Barriers Still Plague Wide Adoption

One of the drawbacks of additive manufacturing is that its production process is not as predictable as traditional manufacturing methods. “Additive manufacturing is still part art and part science,” said Horvath. “It is not repeatable and consistent to the extent manufacturers are used to in subtractive manufacturing or with injection molding technologies. As a result, we still have a long way to go in developing end-use application workflows that offer reproducible results that contract manufacturers and job shops can bank on going forward.”

Another challenge for those deploying additive manufacturing is putting together an experienced team and investing in the equipment. “Finding good talent is still one of the issues,” said Horvath. “There are a limited number of individuals who are able to design for additive manufacturing, and there is a significant investment required to get up to speed in a given 3D printing technology.”

Is Additive Manufacturing Coming of Age?

As for the question posed in the title of the webinar—"Is Additive Manufacturing Finally Coming of Age?"—Horvath offered a mixed response:

1. For prototyping? Yes, it has come of age. It is now the standard and those not using the technology for product development and functional prototyping are behind the adoption curve.

2. For tooling, molds, fixtures? Also yes. Contract manufacturers and job shops using this technology are still on the leading half of the adoption curve.

3. For production? No. Ask again in 2022. New 3D printing technologies will be commercially available and tested by then.

4. For distributed manufacturing? No. Ask again in 2025. 3D printing’s supply chain advantages are the most difficult advantage to quantify and implement.

Horwath will also moderate the panel, How Emerging Materials & Machines Will Impact Your Supply Chain, at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show in Anaheim, Calif. on February 5.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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