Identifying critical points for the additive manufacturing process
BY BILL HERMAN
PRESIDENT, NEW ERA ASSESSMENTS
The additive manufacturing (AM) industry has emerged from its infancy, a place where science and science fiction were legitimately co-mingling for decades, to find itself moving beyond the dream stage in a search for legitimate manufacturing uses that would maximize AM’s impressive capabilities.
While it is true high compound annual growth rate (CAGR) percentages and revenue numbers starting with “b” will get plenty of attention in the global market, it doesn’t change the fact that I have seen many AM processes up close that either stumble out of the gates with unfounded expectations or stall after encountering setbacks.
For each business I assess, my first challenge is often getting leadership to understand that adopting an AM model means also adopting a new way of thinking. The first question they should ask themselves is: am I ready to re-evaluate everything I think I know?
In my experience, there’s three things that make an AM process a success:
There probably has not been a technology that has been as disruptive as AM technology since before World War II. That means nobody in today’s business arena has gone through anything like the evolution of AM.
Oftentimes, what’s old is new, and that can be said for AM. The automotive industry was using AM technology in fuel pumps 30 years ago, printing out the impellers through stereolithography (SLA) techniques. Three decades later, we all expected AM to be far more integrated into a wide array of industries. Only recently have we seen significant steps forward in plastics, composites, and metals. Yet progress still has been a challenge.
The importance and impact of a business’ culture cannot be overlooked. One could argue that AM has been advancing faster than the ability of most companies to fully utilize it. I believe that is rooted in traditional manufacturing cultures that cannot find that “new way” of thinking.
Aerospace and medical industries have always been quick to adopt new technologies. Their AM success is well documented, but their willingness to embrace innovation comes as much from their adoption of new tech as it does from their success adapting the wholly new engineering approaches required to get there.
Far too often, an AM business model is created that does not focus enough on the application of the AM technology to create a specific product. Rather, businesses may purchase a machine and then try to adapt it to creating their existing product in some stage of the existing process. With the variants of quality AM machines available – most requiring millions of dollars to simply power up – there’s no reason to not acquire the perfect machine for a specific product need.
Best practices in the implementation of AM are to start small and focus on each of the specific operational silos required for the manufacturing process. By talking to our AM customers in manufacturing, we have learned of many common problems, including a lack of understanding for what AM operations require. It all starts with an organic design.
My team has a saying we believe in when it comes to designing organically: “Let the part be what it wants to be.” The premise suggests each individual application requires a thorough understanding of the best material to use and process to follow for the very best results.
From identifying the right vendors to establishing realistic AM throughput expectations to improving the essential processes necessary to succeed, we transform raw, inefficient AM business models into viable manufacturing processes.
Manufacturers who are willing to let my team show them how they can adopt a successful AM manufacturing process will have access to the insights necessary to meet their specific needs and business goals. Our insights are geared to market growth, profit, quality, ROI, ideal energy consumption, and efficient transportation costs. It’s a new era of assessment for a manufacturing process that extends both up and downstream from suppliers to distributors. You just need to be willing to think differently.
About the Author:
Bill Herman is the President of Cincinnati-based New Era Assessments, LLC. In addition to a quality and test engineering background in traditional manufacturing, Bill has extensive experience in the additive manufacturing/3D printing industry, specializing in additive development and lean manufacturing for aerospace, medical, automotive and energy sectors. New Era Assessments, LLC is an additive manufacturing/3D printing assessment firm specializing in innovative, comprehensive additive manufacturing consulting—providing expert insights in design engineering, education, prototype parts development, production and parts development.