Last month’s issue of Disruptive Insight carried a preview of the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing in Nottingham. In this issue, a round-up article teases out some of the major themes that the conference raised pertinent to the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. However, a single article will never do it full justice; some of those themes and case study highlights deserve closer attention and will feature across this and future issues of Disruptive Insight.
One such highlight is this month’s feature application from hearing aid technology company Sonova (which owns the Phonak brand of hearing aids). This company has been using plastic 3D printing—specifically the digital light processing (DLP) photopolymer process—for the production of hearing aid shells for more than a decade.
This is not news to anyone who has been paying attention, but what this fascinating case study highlights is the evolution and progress of early adopters of additive technologies for manufacturing and of additive technology itself. In 2017, after years of R&D, Sonova has launched its first commercial range of metal 3D printed hearing aids. Many of the challenges of transitioning from high-volume production in plastic to metal for this application have been overcome and improved product functionality achieved.
There are also a couple of opinion editorials featured in this edition. One comes from Jim Reitz of Union Tech, who raises the issue of how we use terminology in the 3D printing and AM industry. It has proved to be an ongoing controversy over the years, both in the wider context of how we label and describe the industry itself and within the narrower confines of individual processes. Here, Reitz addresses the latter, specifically stereolithography, arguing that this terminology should be used more accurately and not as a catch-all phrase that can be misleading for users and potential users of the process.
As a person who has a passion for words and how they are used, I have sympathy for this position, although the wide range of (often valid) opinions mean that unanimity is an unlikely outcome. Rather, a broader consensus on terminology tends to evolve organically over time, as familiarity with those terms breeds acceptance and use. Although it doesn’t hurt to address the issues from time to time and consider the underlying issues.
The other opinion piece was written by myself and is a vent on the increasing volumes of hyped headlines and stories that seem to be re-emerging. Many of these are not even original, they are virtually reprints of stories that were doing the rounds in 2011/2. In the interests of balance, I have tempered these views by also considering the 2017 3D Printing Hype Cycle, which was published by Gartner a couple of weeks ago and presented by Pete Basiliere during the conference in Nottingham.
I hope you find value is this edition of Disruptive Insight and, as always, please feel free to contact me with any feedback or editorial contributions. Enjoy the rest of the summer.