Since the last TCT Show we’ve seen technology launches from newcomers like Carbon, HP, XJet as well as seeing launches from established players like 3D Systems, Stratasys and EnvisionTEC, is this the most exciting time you can remember for hardware innovation?
This is probably as exciting as the early nineties when the Rapid Prototyping processes were being introduced. What makes it exciting for me is that we are clearly moving to processes designed for manufacturing rather than trying to use RP machines for manufacturing. The best example of this is the HP system but Carbon’s CLIP could also be a production process for thin walled parts. I do believe we will move to designing AM processes for specific products and we are starting to see that activity in Added Scientific Ltd.
Do you think hardware, software and materials are all at similar stages now or do we need more collaboration between the manufacturers in order to enhance the industry?
For me software is miles behind. Especially CAD. I see little progress in CAD over the last 30 years. Admittedly there is more functionality, the systems crash rarely and they are much faster but they are still based on designing for traditional manufacturing processes and not really suitable for exploiting AM with greater complexity, multi-materials, multi-scale, surface textures etc.
AMUG’s Diamond Sponsor Panel most of the big players agreed that the ability to 3D print jigs & fixtures was a low-hanging fruit, do you see 3D printing of tooling as a major application for additive now?
Unfortunately, tooling has been a big distraction, which we have not yet got over. Most of the examples of tooling would be better made by high speed machining of aluminium. AM has some place in tooling, jigs and fixtures but it is minor.
How has the mainstream hype of recent years affected the industry?
Although we have had to spend a lot of time down playing expectations at least the hype has got AM on the radar much more and so in general there is more awareness. What is needed now is a coordinated national effort of education and training. Most of this will be in work training.
What do you think is the rate-limiting step towards stopping companies using additive technologies for series production?
A big problem is quality control stemming from poor repeatability. This will be largely eliminated once we have widespread use of accurate build simulation and online process control. We have access to each layer being built unlike most conventional processes. We need to fully exploit that.
Do you think we’re beginning to see a skills gap and do you think there’s enough being done to plug it?
The skills gap is massive and getting worse. There is little if anything being done to address it at the moment. I am hopeful that the UK AM Strategy will address this.