Additive Manufacturing’s Opportunity in One Word
I want to say just one word to you: brackets.
There’s that scene in "The Graduate" in which a man advises the young Dustin Hoffman by saying, “I want to say just one word to you: plastics.” Having once been in my 20s, I can relate to how the Dustin Hoffman character was hoping for a more inspiring word about his future than this. Now that I’m in my 40s, I also understand that this man was giving him some pretty good advice.
If Dick Conrow was to have the same conversation with the young additive manufacturing industry, he might say, “I want to say just one word to you: brackets.”
Conrow (seen here) is president of C&A Tool, a CNC machining business that recently committed to developing in-house additive metal manufacturing expertise. The shop currently has four EOS direct metal laser sintering machines, with more likely to be added. This technology represents the way manufacturing is headed, he says. However, he is convinced that today’s users of the technology are missing some of the best opportunities it offers.
Additive manufacturing’s proponents are too focused on attractive parts characterized by fluid forms or organic shapes, he says. Parts such as these are fine—but additive manufacturing’s real promise lies in mundane components. For example, additive manufacturing now makes it easy to produce brackets in seemingly odd forms that simplify the assembly and function of engineered structures. Forget the curvaceous forms for a minute, Conrow says. When enough engineers learn to rethink their bracketry, this technology will take off.
One answer: It already does. Lockheed Martin discusses the challenges and promise of producing parts through 3D printing.
The pneumatic gripper 3D-printed as a complete working unit has demonstrated its effectiveness for continuous operation over time. It is one illustration of the role additive is liable to play in making robotic automation easier.
Vertical Layer Printing (VLP) 3D prints layers perpendicular to the floor, extending Z height to the length of the print bed — as long as 40 feet.