Additive by the Numbers

How long does it take for a company to learn to 3D print metal parts successfully? What portion of the overall manufacturing industry does additive manufacturing make up? These questions and more were answered during the nearly 200 presentations delivered at this year’s AMUG Conference.
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The 27th edition of the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference wrapped up April 23 in Jacksonville, Florida, after four days packed full of information related to commercial applications of additive manufacturing. As a first-time attendee and AM neophyte I tried to take full advantage of the breadth and depth of the program (which spans everything from stereolithography to aerospace applications to quality control for additive manufactured parts) during my two days there. Here’s my take on the conference, by the numbers:

  • AMUG welcomed 763 paying attendees, an increase of approximately 33 percent over last year’s attendance according to AMUG’s Todd Grimm. Total headcount was more than 850 for this year’s conference, with first-time attendees accounting for 57 percent. 
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dr. Lonnie Love pointed out that the $4-5 billion additive industry still has plenty of room to grow before it accounts for a significant share of the $11 trillion manufacturing industry. (Read a report on Dr. Love's AMUG keynote address here.)
  • Jim LaHood of Caterpillar reported that the company’s Rapid Prototyping lab produced 50,000 parts last year using FDM, SLA, SLS and metal additive technologies. The heavy equipment manufacturer has also placed six 3D printers in various facilities as part of its recently launched Nomad 3D printing program. Employees are free to experiment with these printers as a means of gaining design and production experience with additive manufacturing.
  • PostProcess Technologies’ Patrick Gannon explained how a multistage, multimedia batch finishing process took an additively manufactured metal chess rook from a surface finish of 620 microinches Ra to 6.2 microinches Ra in just under 5 hours.
  • It still takes a company six to 12 months of experience before it learns to successfully print metal parts, noted Tim Gornet of the University of Louisville in a panel discussion on the state of AM.
  • AMUG international ambassador Graham Tromans reported that the Chinese government plans to place 400,000 3D printers in the nation’s elementary schools over the next two years.
  • Stefan Ritt presented SLM Solutions’ Hull-Core strategy for laser melting, which uses two alternating lasers at 400 and 1,000 W to speed the process. Another of the company’s systems, the Quad laser, uses four lasers that can be independently operated simultaneously.
  • GE’s Edward Herderick underscored the continued importance of material development for AM, noting that currently there are only about 30 common AM alloys and about the same number of common AM polymers, while hundreds of alloys are available for metals-based processes such as welding and approximately 8,000 polymers for injection molding exist. Material science remains a major area of potential growth in additive.