Disruptive Insight editorial comment, Issue 4

Although the hype surrounding the 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) industry has, fortunately, dissipated, it is evolving into its troubling cousin—sensationalism!

Let me be absolutely clear. I am in no doubt whatsoever about the motivation to achieve real progress through investment in research and talent in the 3D printing and AM industry. But I struggle with the sensational marketing narratives designed to generate column inches in the press and increase market share across an increasingly competitive business landscape.

Most discerning industrial consumers of AM also display a healthy level of cynicism when it comes to over-hyped processes and materials.

Two examples among many are the ‘Stop prototyping—Start producing’ and ‘Zero post-processing’ marketing taglines from the hardware system vendors Carbon and Rize, respectively. Once again, to be clear, this is not a commentary on the actual processes developed by these two companies. The evidence to support the breakthrough nature of both processes, their innovative capabilities for new applications, the talent and research behind them as well as the business acumen in delivering them to market successfully are not in any doubt.

The point here is that these companies (and they are not alone) are unnecessarily sensationalizing the processes and the very real breakthroughs they offer; and, as a result, encouraging increased levels of cynicism amongst potential users.

Discussing Carbon’s tagline, one source in the automotive industry told me engineers will never stop prototyping. What they are looking for instead is a serious reduction—say 50 percent—in prototyping times.

Another source said of Rize’s tagline: ‘Unless a part is taken off the machine and goes straight into an assembly or to the point of use, without any human or machine touching it apart from for quality control or in transit, it is not zero post-processing. I’m not sure it’s even possible. With AM, we don’t need zero post-processing, we just need easier and faster post-processing and for the vendors to be more honest and up-front about it.’

I thought these were both good points.

This issue of sensationalism is one I will be posing to the hardware vendors and visitors I encounter at RAPID + TCT, in Pittsburgh, USA, this week. A preview of this event is presented in this issue of Disruptive Insight and, highlighting the increasing focus on both metal and plastic AM as well as some high-profile conference speakers and panel sessions.

On the metals front, an emerging trend is commercializing cost-competitive metal AM platforms. The most highly anticipated announcement came from USA-based Desktop Metal —featured in an opinion piece in this issue—ahead of exhibiting the hardware at RAPID + TCT.

Desktop Metal will be competing on the show floor with German original equipment manufacturer (OEM) OR Laser, which launched a highly cost-competitive laser powder bed system—ORLAS CREATOR—at the end of last year and is now introducing it to the North American market. USA-based Markforged will also be demonstrating its low-cost metal offering.

There is one more to add into the mix: USA-based 3DEO is commercializing another ‘low-cost, metal additive manufacturing system’ at RAPID + TCT. The ‘bus’ analogy springs to mind here—you wait for ages for one and then two (four in this case) come along at the same time!

To close, let’s move away from sensationalism and emerging trends and focus on the whole point of AM: applications. Meaningful applications were a central theme of the recent Materialise World Summit (MWS). A full review of the event is published here, along with a couple of the standout applications presented by the Mayo Clinic and Tailored Fits.

I hope this issue provides you with some valuable insights. If you’re at RAPID + TCT, I hope to hear from you and get your feedback. If not, feel free to get in touch or drop me a line any time by any other means. 

About Rachel Park

Rachel is a passionate advocate of additive manufacturing/3D printing technologies and the industry that has sprung up around it. However, as the hype and hyperbole has gathered momentum, her aim is always to offer a reasoned voice in the midst of inflated expectations and to cut through the noise in order to provide a realistic outlook of how things are.