After over 4 years of writing about the Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem and being a part of the LEO Lane team, it’s time for me to move on. As I began writing this last post I turned back to reread my first posts, and what began as a nostalgic reaction allowed me to stop for a minute and take the birds-eye view on the last years. Looking back at the 4+ years that I’ve been writing about additive manufacturing, I’ve noticed that the topics I focus on have changed. While I began writing mostly on specific projects, materials, and outcomes now I find myself writing about the ecosystem as a whole, looking at how things connect and advance together and less about specific products.
The Details of Reality
The shiny novelty of AM has faded but I find the reality of the AM ecosystem, challenges, and successes, far more interesting. It might seem technical connecting hardware, software, business models, materials, and applications but these connections are what bring AM to life. 4 years ago, 3D printing technologies, as in the development of new methods and printers were center stage, and while it is a fascinating area in itself – what would it be without material specialists and the recent involvement of chemical companies such as BASF (below mirror housing made from BASF material with Farsoon) and Henkel, now developing AM materials? Similarly, the idea of distributed and local manufacturing brings a breath of fresh air especially in these difficult times but it cannot become a reality without the day to day solutions of the supply chain, logistics software, and IP protection.
When it comes to applications, back in 2016 (not so long ago), the examples we showcased were mainly centered in the design world and served as proof of concepts. Now, most applications we show are part of an industrial process and an AM state of mind. As a designer, projects, and initiatives such as Othr and ECAL Digital Market presented in Milan Design Week 2018, are exciting as they hold great promise and new ideas on design, manufacturing, and consumerism. But it is when these ideas are translated and implemented in the industrial world that we can really see the extent of the impact they can have. An AM application nowadays takes into consideration the entire supply chain. This starts with identifying which application can benefit from an additive manufacturing process, not just in terms of geometry and performance but in terms of operations – from the first delivery to spare parts and maintenance over a period of 30 years (above AM stainless steel part installed in the brake unit of a subway train – Mobility goes Additive). An AM state of mind, as I see it, is both a holistic and technical point of view. Developing AM applications requires a wide perspective, yet at the same time, the wide perspective is best shown when discussing specific applications, as each seemingly unique application holds within it the associated manufacturing processes, the physical and digital aspects, logistics and so much more (below Ford parts produced on Carbon presented at Rapid + TCT 2019).
The AM State of Mind
As each application is a world in itself, it is also fertile ground for learning and cross-pollination between fields. It’s impressive to see how much has changed in a relatively short period of time and how a fragmented ecosystem is coming together with an overarching perspective on the needs and how best to address them. The connections between different aspects, perspectives, and companies form actual manufacturing possibilities and realities. Almost two years ago we began the #AMneeds series, highlighting specific needs that should be addressed by the AM ecosystem in order for AM to fully reach its potential on industrial scope. The first part of the series outlined the needs we felt should be addressed, as time went by these needs evoked more and more solutions, bringing new needs to the surface which are being addressed and solved.
There is a sense of constant development and a rare combination of both dreaming and doing attitudes. Yes, 3D printing as a concept began as a futuristic dream of a printer in every home but with time the dream has changed and adapted to the needs of industrial manufacturing. While there is a certain aspect of “vision into the future” in the AM ecosystem, it always coincides with a “problem-solving” attitude. The challenges are raised, addressed, further developing solutions on the micro and macro level. There are roadmaps and steps in place to achieve the vision, the AM ecosystem isn’t content with merely enjoying the hype, it’s set to prove the hype and push reality even further.
It’s been a pleasure being part of LEO Lane and the AM ecosystem, seeing it grow. It’s been especially interesting for me to see how a method of producing an object has evolved in tandem with the needs and wants of our times, whether it’s industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, or the latest challenges brought by COVID-19. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what’s next, for the ecosystem and especially LEO Lane. What’s your birds-eye view on the AM ecosystem? Tell us about it in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.