The Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem is just that – an ecosystem. It spans across uses and industries, it’s not a single technology, that uses one material or one method – there are, in fact, so many options within the one term. This raises the question – when companies are interested in introducing AM into their production line, where do they start from? There is no rule book, there isn’t an information source that gathers all the knowledge and know-how that pertains to additive manufacturing processes and applications. In such a complex and constantly evolving ecosystem, it’s probably not even realistically possible – but there is a definite need to access and sift through the AM knowledge.
So where do you start from? For John Flynn, vice president of enterprise solutions at Fast Radius the answer is “You just do it”. As simple as that sounds Fast Radius doesn’t leave it at that, they have a program for manufacturers taking their first steps in AM production. During the course of 6 months, the programs’ goal is to enable the participating companies to launch an end use application using additive manufacturing. Such a program is one way of introducing AM knowledge, making it both accessible and applicable (below part additively manufactured by Fast Radius).
Skills and Dots
The need for accessible knowledge relates to the need for skills, one of the challenges the AM ecosystem faces, also according to the latest Wohlers report. There are many crash courses geared towards engineers, aiming to jumpstart the learning curve. Beyond learning the basics, there is a need to constantly stay up to date on methods and materials. Of course, employing skilled professionals is crucial, but they also have to be able to educate and communicate to the rest of the company how and where the company will be influenced by additively manufacturing a part. Perhaps routine sessions, providing employees from different departments and levels, with access to use cases can facilitate not only sifting through the AM knowledge but connecting the dots on a regular basis.
Wide yet Specialized
In order to apply the benefits of AM in an industrial setting, there is a need for both a wide overview of what is applicable as well as a specialized detailed view of how best to take advantage of the technology. On the need for an overarching perspective, Steve Wishau, production development engineer at Carbon stated, “Having multiple of these printing methodologies in your toolbox is important for the same reason that there are different methods for injection molding or rotomolding. … It’s important to understand the pros and cons for all these technologies because they really complement each other in the overall workflow,” (below additively manufactured Vitamix nozzles by Carbon). During the same panel, John Tenbusch, CEO, and founder of Linear AMS said “We’re picking our lanes, and we’re staying in them,” encouraging specialized strategies. Both perspectives are needed, in many cases actually, but in AM especially. The smallest detail in design or manufacturing is tied to a business model and the entire supply chain operations.
Questions and Answers
Aiming to provide both the wide and the specialized view, many consultancy firms now have departments dedicated to the implementation of advanced technology in manufacturing, and so do some AM companies, leveraging their experience. GE Additive has Add Works, and EOS – Additive Minds (below additively manufactured automotive spare part by EOS for Daimler Buses). AddUp, a joint venture by Michelin and Fives, was also born from the understanding that the body of knowledge gained by the two companies should continue to evolve and be utilized in a dedicated setting (up top Michelin metal blades additively manufactured by AddUp). In a previous post, we interviewed Benjamin Haller, Application Development Consultant at Additive Minds and Pablo Perdiguer Eced, Digital Business Consultant at Accenture Digital, a division of Accenture. Both described the strategic approach to the process, outlining questions a company must ask itself before attempting to implement additive manufacturing in its operation. These questions encompass various aspects including design, costs, supply chain, certification processes, and IT, while the questions are seemingly simple, answering them requires diving into the AM pool of knowledge.
In-Depth yet Accessible
Professional conferences and shows also understand the need to bridge the gap between the knowledge within the AM ecosystem and the questions potential users face. At Rapid+TCT SME addressed this need by setting up the iRamp kiosks. Visitors at the event can turn to these kiosks in order to understand what technologies and solutions are best suited to their needs. Recently there has also been a rise in events which attempt to provide in-depth knowledge for specific applications, such as the Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace and Space conference in London and the AMI Composites in Rail, in Berlin. Specialized organizations are also doing their part in making knowledge accessible, for example, the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) published a paper providing information specifically for the production of gears (below additively manufactured gear using Heraeus Amorphous metal). But still, even within a specific application, the information is diverse and scattered.
When it comes down to it, what’s the point of knowledge if you don’t know how to use it or obtain it? It’s up to the AM ecosystem not only to provide technical and business case solutions but educate and communicate where and how to apply them.
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