The day two keynote at this year’s TCT Show Conference came from the inimitable Todd Grimm, who spoke to a packed out crowd in Birmingham, UK about "Justification in an Age of False Enlightenment”. This honest and insightful talk discussed the reality of the additive manufacturing revolution and how, in order to move forward through the current trough of disillusionment, we need build practical, defensible cases for additive that under promise and over deliver.
Todd is one of TCT's few reoccurring conference speakers and is also a regular columnist in our very own magazine. In our latest issue, Todd takes his presentation theme a step further by discussing the value of seeking guidance in the additive industry to uncover use cases and opportunity. Here is Todd's column in full ...
Find Your Sherpa
Success is often elusive and difficult to achieve even when the goal is clear and the path is obvious. Neither may be true for additive manufacturing, which makes success even more challenging. We are in a dynamic period where we are still discovering the real potential and value; when the possibilities are numerous; and when the landscape is everchanging.
The opportunities are there, but they are often vague and nebulous. Compounded by the constant stream of new technologies, new players and new machines, it can become overwhelming, perplexing and bewildering when attempting to map out the goals and plans for your additive manufacturing efforts.
Last month, both in the TCT Magazine and from the stage at the TCT Show, I recommended that we focus on use cases, rather than broad-based application concepts, to address the challenge. While the idea was well received, many asked how to go about identifying use cases that will yield real benefits and how to select the right technology to achieve success.
In these dynamic times, companies are seeking direction and guidance. They need sage advice and wise council, not hope, hyperbole and speculation. They need to seek out a navigator, a sherpa, that can lead them onward and upward.
Your additive manufacturing sherpa can take many forms but must be skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated. While a full-time sherpa may not be possible, or even advisable, he/she must be allowed to dedicate time to investigate the additive manufacturing landscape on a weekly basis, at a minimum. As a guide, they would be ineffective if all other job responsibilities take precedence. There is simply too much to absorb for a casual observer to be effective in charting the course.
The time allotted to additive manufacturing endeavours will also be used to uncover real applications with real benefits within your operations. But to do so, your sherpa should be observant, inquisitive and vigilant. Throughout the day, he/she should be pondering if a task, project or plan could be improved through additive manufacturing. When those opportunities appear, they should then question the value to the company.
Your sherpa should also have a blend of optimism and pragmatism. A personality that easily justifies the status quo is just as harmful as one that chases unrealistic dreams. Innovation is at the core of unleashing the full potential of additive manufacturing, but it must be balanced with a heavy dose of realism. That balance can be achieved through those that possess capabilities that span technology, operations, business and finance. He/she does not need to be experienced in all these areas, just capable of learning and appreciating the fundamentals of each.
Experience in additive manufacturing and in your industry are also optional. Those can be learned. In some cases, it may even prove advantageous to follow the lead of a sherpa who does not start with preconceived notions about what works, what doesn’t and what is possible. The critical element is finding the right personality, the right blend of skills and the right outlook.
Without a sherpa, additive manufacturing machines may sit idle and opportunities may pass by. Without a sherpa, companies are left to act on instinct and supposition rather than insight and awareness. In many ways, additive manufacturing is a solution looking for problems to solve. With the right sherpa, you will reverse that and attack the challenges, as well as the opportunities, with additive manufacturing as a tool for consideration.
If you believe that a sherpa is in order, start by looking within your company. Your sherpa may already be an employee that just needs grooming and a revision to his/her job responsibilities. The sherpa may also be you. If a candidate cannot be found, then seek to hire the sage advice and wise council of someone that can lead your additive manufacturing efforts and adapt to the everchanging landscape.