AM Sharing is Caring?

2020-06-24

Lee-Bath Nelson  

generative design 3x2 feature pic

In many aspects of Additive Manufacturing (AM) deep expertise is needed. This includes the design steps and the actual manufacturing workflow steps. And yet, typically on a manufacturing floor, there are just a few experts and most people are operators that are less skilled – how will this work with AM as a manufacturing technology? Theoretically, it would be great if every user of AM technology could automatically benefit from the most cutting edge expertise in each aspect of AM (materials, machine settings, design, etc) but this expertise is distributed among many different disciplines of experts. Let’s look at some ways in which this expertise can be disseminated and collected by the appropriate people. Each way has its pros and cons but they all contribute to the advancement of our ecosystem.

additive manufacturing - hands free door opener from Materialise

Free (and Clear?)

In some cases, especially in the recent COVID-19 crisis, people are sharing their knowledge by publishing it for everyone to have. For example, during the recent outbreak designs ranging from handsfree door openers (above from Materialise) thru personal protection equipment (PPE) and in some cases even nasal swabs (below is an unreleased nasal swab design using material from BASF) were put on various platforms for free download to be 3D printed by the person downloading them. There is some work associated with sharing these assets online, but not a lot, and there is no support or follow up offered. On the other hand, the people downloading these designs were sometimes unsure about how to 3D print them, and also it was unclear which designs were validated by medical professionals and which weren’t. Worse, it was unclear whether the item they 3D printed was of the correct quality and characteristics to correctly perform its function. Some organizations, like America Makes, stepped in and made sure to hold only validated designs and also to limit sharing only to manufacturers that could correctly produce them. While this restricts access to these offerings, it’s still a nice solution for an emergency. But… would organizations also be willing to do this for free for commercial parts in regular times?

additive manufacturing covid19 nasal swabs - BASF material

All in 1 (Place)

Some corporations are large enough and use AM intensely enough that they can employ experts of every kind in-house. This promises that the design and manufacturing engineering are best-of-breed. However, if there are operators involved how do you make sure the expert’s instructions are maintained by them as well? We mentioned in a previous post, solutions for training, like SwipeGuide, that enables sharing of knowledge from senior, seasoned experts to others through training. Another way is to automate the parts that the expert deems most vulnerable or most important (hint: LEO Lane can help with that) reducing the errors that can be introduced by less skilled operators. This can be a solution to incorporating best of breed expertise in every part, but it only works for large corporations with a large number of new parts on a regular basis (to justify hiring so many experts) and who are willing to allocate a healthy payroll budget to this. What to do if your AM expert budget is more modest?

The More We Get Together

Many companies opt for partnerships to bridge the expertise gap. Each member of the partnership brings different expertise to the table. Sometimes it’s a consortium, sometimes a partnership, and sometimes an even more formal joint venture.  Either way, putting these groups together is time-consuming and costly sometimes requiring consultants just to put it together. For example, in the Oil and Gas sector, Sintavia (metal 3D printing expertise – fuel splitter of theirs below) and Howco Group (material expertise) formed a joint venture for this sector and Berenschot (a consulting company that has an AM group) put together a group of experts to come up with AM best practices for DNV-GL. This method can create best of breed results but it takes a long time to put in place and often costs quite a lot for the overhead of managing such a group (whether it’s a consultant doing this or one of the member companies). Because the timelines are long in this solution it can work for large, long term, problems and requires hard work in order to keep up with ecosystem developments as they happen.

additive manufacturing sintavia fuel splitter and a cast one

All for 1 and 1 for all

All the methods suggested so far were extreme in some way and created economic complications: losing revenues, increasing payroll, or spending extra time and money. However, if we think about it there should be another way. Experts should be able to securely share their expertise in a way that doesn’t compromise their economic interests or their corporate customers’. Further, companies should be able to compensate the experts based on how much their expertise contributed – it just makes more sense than a lump sum upfront or paying a continuing retainer. Traditionally these different modes of engagement are difficult because they usually require opening company books which almost all companies are unwilling to do. However, in the case of secured digital supply chains and AM, there is technology that enables secure sharing of know-how and expertise which is compatible with these more advanced models. Furthermore, with this technology platforms and marketplaces can offer these 1-stop-shop capabilities both to corporates and to experts and that is even more exciting!

Sharing of expertise from design expertise like generative design (up top) to material expertise and everything in between is important for the AM ecosystem. Let us know if you would like to be put in touch with platforms or marketplaces that can help you with getting best-of-breed AM parts in a cost-effective way. We’re looking forward to advancements in this area and would love to hear what you think about it. Is there another way for sharing expertise effectively in AM? For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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