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? If so, why?/If not, why?
There is no doubt that the pace of technology introductions has increased dramatically. The entrants are from all sizes of company from small specialist software providers to the largest multi-national printer manufacturers. Robots are entering the field and traditional machine tool builders are now making or adapting machines as printers.
Siemens’ collaboration with Stratasys shows that some hardware, software and materials companies are on the same track, how important is it for the industry that these manufacturers all get on the same page?
The industrial application of 3D printing is now developing rapidly. During this phase of the evolution its important for suppliers of the key elements to collaborate to offer jointly developed and supported solutions so that the software, hardware and materials interact in a cohesive manner. It may be that these “turnkey” solutions from established partners become the norm for the foreseeable future.
AMUG’s Diamond Sponsor Panel most of the big players agreed that the ability to 3D print jigs & fixtures was a low-hanging fruit, as Head of Advanced Part Manufacturing do you see 3D printing of tooling as a major application for additive now?
This is clearly a good match for current capabilities in 3D printing. A key factor is that the volumes of parts in tooling are relatively low.
How has the mainstream hype of recent years affected the industry?
Certainly there has been a lot more attention paid to the emergence of industrial solutions and the hype around all levels of 3D printing is still helping to drive interest.
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?
A key limiter is the speed of printing compared to traditional methods of moulding or stamping or machining. The fastest take-up is in low volume, high cost, long lead-time parts such as tooling, fixtures and complex castings. As techniques that offer faster deposition become available then the take-up will accelerate. The advantages of combining additive and subtractive in the same equipment may also drive faster adoption. The developing ability to deposit composite materials could also open up a wide range of opportunities since the traditional means of producing products made of composite materials is generally a low volume process.
Do you think we’re beginning to see a skills gap and do you think there’s enough being done to plug it?
There could be a developing skills gap in materials science since parts made via deposition or fusion can have differing properties compared to conventionally produced materials. There will be new skills required in the areas of how to plan the manufacturing process. This is because the 3D printing methods are obviously very different to conventional methods and it may not be possible to fully automate some of the decision steps that are needed to plan the manufacture of complex parts.