Additive Manufacturing: Three Things to Watch
Discussion at a local meeting surfaced three aspects of additive manufacturing that OEMs, users and others are watching with interest.
Last week, I attended an additive manufacturing “Meet Up” event hosted by the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association (DRMA) at the Proto BuildBar in Dayton (a short drive from our offices in Cincinnati). Led by Tangible Solutions, a service bureau headquartered in nearby Beavercreek, the meeting was a sort of directed conversation amongst several OEMs, area manufacturers already working with additive, and others who were curious about the technology for various reasons.
Though this was a local event, the challenges of AM faced by the equipment builders and manufacturers, and the questions posed by those not directly involved in additive, are applicable on a much larger scale. Here are a few of the topics discussed that are worth watching:
- Software limitations. Specifically, limitations in design and simulation software. The sentiment among AM users at the Meet Up was that we need better tools for designing and manufacturing parts that are optimized to additive processes. One DRMA member, John Maguire of Scientific Simulation Systems, spoke to how his software company is working to help fill the need for simulation software. Attendees also pointed out the trend of CAD companies buying up smaller startups, which may lead to more robust design capabilities for additive manufacturing.
- Design and manufacturing optimization. Another topic of conversation was how to optimize part designs for additive manufacturing with the right features and materials, and match them with the best process and machine. “We have to design for the process,” said Adam Clark, chief strategy officer of Tangible Solutions. “But then we need to tweak the process—rapidly,” added Maguire. The hope is that this will become easier as software evolves and the industry continues to build its knowledge base.
- Equipment speeds. One attendee asked about the tipping point for additive manufacturing. At what point does it stop making sense to use AM for production? The answer varies based on volume, because of the slower speeds of 3D printers and other additive equipment compared to machining centers, said Rick Neff of Cincinnati Inc. As additive machines get faster, the batch sizes that are economical for production will likely increase.
If you’re in the area and interested in becoming a DRMA member, consider doing so before the next additive manufacturing Meet Up, happening February 2. And if you’re located elsewhere, look for similar organizations and events nearby to connect with others in additive manufacturing.