Collaborations are quite common in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem. It’s not surprising as there are so many factors and know-how that need to come together in creating an AM part or product. Yet, it isn’t easy to form multi-faceted partnerships and genuinely share information in a fragmented ecosystem where knowledge is precious and dispersed across many entities. We will write specifically on the AM need of sharing knowledge soon, until then, here is a look at collaborative practices in the AM ecosystem, showing what can and is achieved together.
Basically, most manufacturing processes are some sort of collaboration, whether it’s within a company or between a company and a manufacturer. When it comes to AM, it’s not strictly a customer / service-provider relationship. The back and forth between a company (customer) and a manufacturer (service-provider) allows both sides to learn from each other, develop better products and better solutions. Carbon, for example, partnered with Adidas and together they developed their famous 3D printed soles. In a recent collaboration, Carbon worked with Riddell to develop a customized 3D printed liner for football helmets, which will be presented in the opening keynote presentation at Rapid+TCT later this month (next week more on what to see at Rapid+TCT). The helmets take into account not only the measurements of each player but also the manner in which they play, and their individual field of view. In development processes such as these we can imagine the company starting with a product in mind yet only by working alongside the manufacturer can they fully understand what can be done and how. Sometimes the process uncovers even more potential and unexpected solutions. At the same time, for the manufacturer, working alongside customers allows them to gather input on the needs and wants.
Big Groups Big Initiatives
When it comes to more than two collaborators things become more complicated but at the same time, they hold a great deal of promise. Collaborative work is always a delicate balance, forces tend to pull in different directions. It seems that players in the AM ecosystem are more than willing to work together towards the industrialization and mainstream use of the technology and all that it entails. The NextGenAM project is one example where a number of companies (Premium AEROTEC, EOS, and Daimler) developed an automated scalable production line for additively manufactured aluminum spare parts. Parts for Daimler have already been produced at Premium AEROTEC and are in use in their vehicles (above replacement bracket for a diesel engine truck). An even bigger initiative is the recent “Industrialization and Digitization of Additive Manufacturing (AM) for Automotive Series Processes,” or IDAM, comprised of 11 industry stakeholders and SMEs. The group is led by BMW and includes a cross-section of collaborators in fields such as material development, consultancy, engineering and so on. It aims to additively manufacture at least 50,000 components per year (up top is a structurally optimized differential housing, developed by GKN Powder Metallurgy and Porsche Engineering – Photo via GKN Powder Metallurgy).
The Communication of Applicable Knowledge
Bigger collaborations might seem like a situation of multiple and perhaps too many experts, but there are, in fact, multiple aspects to integrate. From machines, printing methods, and materials, to software solutions spanning across design, security, automation, and the supply chain, as well as marketing and business models. Mobility Goes Additive, is a network with a long list of members, with many initiatives and work groups covering diverse areas of AM. Just recently 7 European railway companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to collaborate in RAILiability a group within Mobility goes Additive. German railway company Deutsche Bahn, a member of the network, has already additively manufactured around 15,000 parts which are said to significantly reduce costs and vehicle downtime.
Another initiative set to communicate the vast knowledge within the ecosystem is the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA). The Association just published a paper meant not only to introduce AM technology but deliver applicable information specifically for the production of gears. (below gear parts additively manufactured by Graphite-AM).
Sharing knowledge is key to an evolving ecosystem. Working together, sharing capabilities and expertise can open opportunities and bring even more players into the AM ecosystem, and those new participants, in turn, will push the ecosystem further. We, at LEO Lane, are big believers in collaborations and hope to see many more in the AM ecosystem. Tell us about collaborative AM efforts you’re part of, the challenges and benefits you encountered. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.