Additive Manufacturing Demands, and Thrives on, Collaboration

The November issue of Additive Manufacturing magazine highlights alliances that are driving AM knowledge, technology and productivity forward.

One article in the November issue of Additive Manufacturing tells the story of a 3D-printed bracket. This particular bracket is significant because of what it illustrates about the potential for topology optimization and metal 3D printing to transform the appearance of the objects around us. But it is also significant because of what it suggests about the collaborative nature of additive manufacturing (AM). This bracket was created for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC); it was redesigned for AM by Materials Science Corp.; and finally, 3D-printed at the Center for Innovative Materials Processing (CIMP-3D). Without these organizations working together in collaboration, the bracket might never have been printed.

Many 3D-printed parts have a story like this. Many 3D-printed parts might not exist if not for multiple parties coming together, each bringing their particular needs and expertise. The same might be said for AM technology, materials and applications at large. AM works best through collaboration, an idea we’ve sought to illustrate in the most recent issue of our print magazine. Stories in this issue highlight how different parties are coming together to share AM expertise, experience and data.

Related Stories

This last point—data—is a focus of our cover story this month, which explores the work  performed at the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) Center in Colorado. The ADAPT Center is tracking numerous variables surrounding the microstructure and material properties of 3D-printed parts, with a goal of initiating qualification standards that focus not on process, but on outcomes. Together the Colorado School of Mines, the Colorado Manufacturers Extension program and private partners including Ball Aerospace, Faustson and Lockheed Martin are collecting nonproprietary test data that will help certifying agencies as well as manufacturers better understand AM processes.

But collaboration doesn’t just live in universities and research institutes; AM knowledge is being shared in manufacturing environments as well. For example, Azoth, a brand-new sister organization to tool-management company PSMI, is bringing 3D printing knowledge and printers directly into conventional manufacturing companies. Some customers now have polymer 3D printers operated by Azoth on-site in their tool cribs. When those customers need tooling, prototypes or even short-run production parts, they have Azoth’s 3D printing expertise and capacity as an option. These manufacturers can turn to a resource that just happens to reside in their own facilities, without needing to become AM experts themselves.

The future of additive manufacturing may even depend on knowledge specialization like this. Catalysis Additive Tooling, for instance, procures 3D-printed tools and end-use parts for its customers without owning very much capacity itself. Instead, the company leverages a network of partners who specialize in disciplines such as metal 3D printing, sand binder jetting, injection molding and vacuum forming. Catalysis’s role is to facilitate collaboration among its partners and find the best path forward for the part or job at hand.

It’s also worth noting that this November issue serves as our Buyer’s Guide, with profiles on AM suppliers and categorical listings. Among the categories covered this year are companies that provide additive manufacturing tooling and production services, a new addition to this guide. For many of our readers, “3D printing” may not necessarily mean “3D printing we do ourselves, in-house,” because of equipment, material, cost or other constraints. Though not comprehensive by any means, this list may serve as a place to start when looking for your business’s next partner in additive manufacturing.

Related: