Young experts discuss what to expect in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) space in the coming years at the Rapid+TCT Conference. Young additive manufacturing engineers brought a lot to the conversation at last week’s Rapid+TCT conference.
On the first full day of the conference, the “Future of Additive Manufacturing: Young Engineers Panel Discussion” demonstrated the energy young professionals are bringing to the field. Abundant with knowledge and insight, the panel of young AM engineers discussed the current technology adoption speed and what to expect in the coming months and years with the shifting tide.
Alex Platowski, a staff scientist with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, wants to see AM determine material usability across all industries. With this, he is hopeful the field can serve as a vehicle for understanding useful materials for 3D printing at a fundamental level. Platowski ultimately wants to see robotics implemented for useful application-focused prototyping beyond its current novelty status.
Meanwhile Michael A. Kline, a senior manufacturing application engineer with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, wants to see more adoption with mass customization. Once OEMs and service bureaus are able to custom-make products with low unit costs, it could usher in a new era for 3D printing. Kline emphasizes this mass customization will open a lot of doors for exciting industry development. But there are a number of roadblocks in the way.
Resistance to Change
Aside from the lack of basic education in the field, the biggest challenges facing material suppliers is overcoming the cultural resistance to change. This includes convincing C-level execs 3D printing efficiently produces better products. Appealing to manufacturing execs with AM cost efficiency and versatility, especially over injection molding or casting, will encourage prosperity and eventual growth.
Evolving Managerial, Engineering & Technician Roles
Beyond overcoming a resistance to the changing AM space, there’s a growing demand for cross-functional technical and managerial competencies. And thanks to design and engineering compression, the lines blur between the engineers and technicians processes.
Additive manufacturing is not a singular discipline, rather, it encompasses a range of techniques, materials, and machine types. An engineers and technician’ expertise in one approach or one printer type does not necessarily extend across the full range of AM processes. Engineers with knowledge of polymer material capabilities, for example, may have little expertise with metals.
With this, design engineers must learn and implement new design processes and technologies, adapt to new design programs and familiarize themselves with modern materials. They will have to work side with manufacturing engineers on the factory floor to focus on creative fabrication and modeling.
Likewise, technicians will have to adopt new IT and software skills. To ride the shifting tide, techs will have to record, maintain and update 3D data within increasingly complex systems. Namely, they have to initially learn the ins-and-outs of of new machines, machine calibrating and post processing. Essentially, manufacturers must adapt their talent search to their own specific AM needs and curate a hands-on training approach.
Safety Standards for Materials Management
Once the value is clear, safety standards must be in place. Materials used in the AM process protect the structural integrity of a finished product, especially against thermal cycling. Confirming this durability, and subsequently the end user’s own safety, will then allow for safety certification standards to encourage AM implementation.
Designing with AM First
In addition to adapting new responsibilities and processes, design engineers are challenged with shifting focus from 3D CAD file design to 3D print files. The barriers to shifting this focus these days is more about increasing awareness and less about limited access. And as materials, hardware and software matures, these barriers continue to break down.
In addition to established value and safety standards, the young professionals called for standardized processes, materials and machine predictability. And to fill the skills gap, there was also an expressed need for more training programs and classes weaved into high school and college curriculum for industry growth.
"One of the major issue of adoption in 3d printing comes from the design itself," according to Renaud Vasseur, VP of Business Development & Sales with LINK3D. "For years parts have been designed in a way to be used in a Subtractive way. CNC machining is still the go to technology for company to build part for various industry sectors out there.
"The main challenge is to redesign part for 3D printers. This whole new technology has allow engineer to rethink the way part can be designed, shaped and being built. This paves the way to a new frontier in design.
"But most importantly, to have true additive manufacturing adoption, all design engineering departments need to initially consider 3D when designing new parts; 3D for 3D. This will promote a better 3D printing adoption rate."
The Rapid+TCT “Future of Additive Manufacturing: Young Engineers Panel Discussion” painted a thorough picture of what to expect in the 3D printing space. The future of additive manufacturing is now, with current technology adoption as fast as ever. But the panel of young AM engineers made one thing certain; there is no silver bullet to excel growth in 3D printing.
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