Graham Tromans and Joe Allison
Graham Tromans and Joe Allison the only two AMUG Double DINOs on the globe.
Few people have a better feel for the market and its applications than CEO of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, Joe Allison. One of only two people – the other being Graham Tromans – to receive two of AMUG’s prestigious DINO awards, Joe has been in the 3D printing industry for as long as it has been an industry.
Q. Stratasys recently said it sees tooling as the hidden star for 3D printing. As a service provider do you also see this trend?
A. We do see a trend of tooling in the form of manufacturing aids being a more widely adopted application of 3D printing in many verticals. Our recent survey of North American professional users of 3D printing, many of them working for companies over $50M in revenue, expect substantial increases in tooling (36%), end-use parts (38%) and bridge/trial production (41%) by 2018, so those applications present high-growth opportunities for the industry. The advantages of using 3D printing for jigs and fixtures are often understated; the technology can dramatically reduce lead times and production costs for custom manufacturing aids while also offering ergonomic benefits of being lightweight and durable. These manufacturing aids also speed up production to provide more output in less time with less labor, decreasing errors through increased accuracy controls.
Q. With this in mind do you see the factory floor of the future having both traditional and additive technologies working side-by-side?
A. Absolutely. We see traditional and additive technologies as complementary. We already offer 9 manufacturing technologies at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, including traditional methods such as CNC machining, so we’re able to see firsthand the advantages of having both methods on our factory floors. Overall, utilizing technologies in tandem provides greater benefits (e.g. streamlined manufacturing) than using them on their own, as manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus and GE can attest.
Q. Do you think now that the hype surrounding 3D printing has somewhat waned we will start to see its true benefits being utilized to their optimum?
A. Now that we’re past the hype stage, the conversation is changing from 3D printing’s technical benefits to its business value. That’s an important transition because that’s the language spoken by people in the boardroom (not the technical benefits of the technology), so it becomes easier for them to understand the true business value. Decreasing lead times, improving manufacturing efficiencies and reducing costs are all benefits that make an impression on the c-suite. It’s also important to focus on fitting 3D printing to the product and a company’s business model versus simply identifying products that fit 3D printing.
Q. UL has commented in this magazine that there is a significant skills gap in technicians for additive machinery. Is this a trend you see? If so, do you think education in the technologies needs to begin at an earlier age?
A. Education is and will continue to be important, but interestingly, our survey found employee training and education does not come up high on the list of issues companies see as having the greatest future impact on the AM market. We believe this is because many have already invested in shoring up skill gaps and because younger engineers are getting educated and exposed to 3D printing earlier on. Look at the University of Louisville for example – they have a world-class additive manufacturing center dedicated to AM applications and research.
As adoption grows, companies need help identifying new additive applications to determine the technology that can best fulfill those needs. At Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, it’s our job to take customers’ amazing new ideas for products and technologies and champion them into real applications, one-by-one, by identifying ways additive can bring them to life faster and easier.
Q. Do you think the growing R&D as well as investment means we’ll be talking about an industry as big as the tool and molding industry in years to come?
A. Growth in R&D and investments will lead to new equipment and materials, allowing 3D printing to continue expanding its applications and enter additional markets. Equipment that will build parts faster, along with materials approved for critical applications, will further improve the technology’s viability in creating production parts, which has already seen marked growth in the past couple years alone.