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?
The 3D printing hype has drawn a lot of money into the 3d printing industry, both to established players, newcomers and start ups. Their funding and the scale on which they innovate are quite different compared to when I joined the industry 15 years ago. What is done today also draws a lot more media coverage. The excitement is quite different compared with the more basic development done 15 years ago. The hardware innovation today is also more driven by targeted applications, many of which are cool and exciting themselves.
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?
Hardware, software and materials are not on the same level and they will never be. Development and innovation goes in cycles and one will always be behind. Rapid Prototyping started as a great idea, consumer 3D printing was greatly facilitated by access to cheap electronics and controls. Design for additive and optimisation of products for Additive will be fuelled by software and the computational power in the cloud. Materials is starting to follow.
We need more collaboration to beat traditional manufacturing but the competition within the industry drives innovation. It’s a balance.
At 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?
I agree 100% on jigs and fixtures. 3D Printing of tooling for injection molding has been around for years, for prototype tools. Production tooling are high quality products with very stringent requirements on tolerance, strength and endurance. For production tooling to become a major application you need very high material quality and tolerance.
How has the mainstream hype of recent years affected the industry?
The hype has freed up large amounts of funding to gravitate towards anything 3D printing.
What do you think is the rate-limiting step towards stopping companies using additive technologies for series production and can you see those rate limiters being lifted any time soon?
It is all about money. The costs of AM are still too high for many products, and the financial impact of the risks of failure are too high. Most new hardware initiatives address cost and reliability and aim to make quantum leaps in productivity to reduce manufacturing costs.
Do you think we’re beginning to see a skills gap and do you think there’s enough being done to plug it?
There is a shortage of people qualified to run AM machines and implement them into a production facility, and there is a shortage of people who understands how to build new business based on the benefits of additive. Metal AM is growing 40% per year and recruiting is mostly done by hiring people from other industries. Shortage of qualified people is one side of growth pains. The industry is probably doing what it can to plug it. Is it enough? – Time will tell…