The disruptive nature of 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) has been illustrated time and time again throughout the history of this technology sector for a host of prototyping and tooling applications. In recent years, AM has started to disrupt the way many companies are thinking about production too as the processes themselves and the ecosystem around them continues to mature and evolve. It’s a natural progression, that seems all the more natural with hindsight, and today the talk about AM for production applications is getting louder and more widespread. Just from my own anecdotal experiences, conversations about production have increased dramatically in frequency during the course of this year.
However, here’s a thing that I’ve noticed, particularly since returning from formnext this year and as the result of conversations since: it is all too easy to talk, or think, about AM as a singular solution to some generic production requirements. Reality is often very different, necessitating a unique set of requirements from one application to another, and sometimes AM fits as a solution or, more often, as part of the solution.
Producing end-use products or components for them is invariably a multi-process undertaking; it is extremely rare that one single process fulfils any OEMs or Tier 1, 2 or 3’s production requirements, whichever industry sector they are operating in. This is a fact that struck home forcibly during a recent interview with Martin Forth, chief executive officer (CEO) of Raplas. The issues we covered are detailed in the full interview in this issue of Disruptive Insight, but it was Martin’s reference to ‘the narrow view of production that many [people] in the AM sector currently have’ that really challenged my own views here and made me think and think some more.
There is also the issue of materials, specifically the metal versus plastics theme. In the context of AM and production there is a widespread implication that metals are for production and plastics are for prototyping and/or playing. I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but this is a misnomer. There are maybe a handful of stand-out examples of where AM with metal has been directly implemented for serial production applications as opposed to one-offs or very low volumes, which are more common. However, production applications with plastics at higher volumes are more prolific yet less sexy and therefore often underrated.
And then there are those production applications where AM is a part of the solution. This is potentially where AM can make the greatest and most widespread impact, I suspect. A pertinent example of this is illustrated in this issue's case study from M Di Vito, which highlights a fundamental production application of AM to create final cast parts with features that would not have been possible otherwise. Moreover, the economics and the shorter lead times made it a win-win situation.
Another feature interview in this issue is with Andy Kalambi, the newly inducted CEO of Rize, a relative newcomer on the 3D printing and AM landscape. Like RAPLAS, Rize is another representation of the growth of the industry based on new ideas and innovation. Not all of them come with multiple millions of dollars in funding or the might of a global conglomerate, such as GE, to fast forward through R&D towards speedy commercialization; GE Additive has announced both with its project ATLAS and latterly a new binder jetting AM system. However, this does not mean that they should be overlooked or underrated—they have a lot to offer and are working incredibly hard to demonstrate it.
This edition of Disruptive Insight also highlights existing 3D printing application progress, and why it is important. Medical and healthcare applications have been a staple for 3D printing and AM, but it’s good to see that companies continue to drive forward with new breakthroughs in line with improved technology and material capabilities. Thus, the new BioMimics offering from Stratasys is a great example of this, and anything that can and does improve healthcare options is welcome.
As the holidays are upon us, I would like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!