AM Is at the Middle of the Beginning

Though still early in the story, the first chapter is over and a new chapter has begun. This publication, too, is taking the next step.

Technologies have lives. Technologies have stories. The stories are long and their arcs are subtle, making it impossible to say for certain where we are right now in any technology’s story progression. The past is easier to see. The story of the internal combustion automobile, for example, began around or just before the dawn of the twentieth century. Now, here in the twenty-first, it is possible—maybe—that we have seen the beginning of this story's end. Or maybe not.

Recognizing, then, that our evaluation of the present is only a guess, what guess might we make as to where we are now in the story of additive manufacturing?

My answer is this: We are at the middle of the beginning.

The beginning of the beginning was characterized by its own milestones and the mindsets resulting from these. It was characterized by things like the LEAP fuel nozzle and other successes that demonstrated to many for the very first time that 3D printing is a viable choice for production. It was characterized also by the first exploration of largely new possibilities, such as new forms for medical parts and new options for internal cooling, as well as by early adopters taking up the role of evangelists for the technology. All of that has happened.

But the middle of the beginning is marked by something different from this, by successes and acceptance that are distinctly farther along.

I got the sense that we are at the middle of the beginning during the pursuit of two of the articles appearing in this issue.

Brent Donaldson and I both visited Hazleton Casting Company for our cover story this month on 3D printing of foundry tooling. What we found at Hazleton was a long-established manufacturer not just dabbling or experimenting in AM apart from its traditional work, but instead actively realizing additive's promise as a complement to those traditional capabilities. We also found a company not just informing its customers about the possibilities of 3D printing, but in at least one case hearing from a customer that had already decided it is determined to realize those very possibilities.

Similarly, when I visited Elementum 3D for the article about this company’s new metal matrix composite, I found a firm not just looking to the hope that AM will allow the realization of new materials, but instead actively introducing an exciting new material it had already finished developing.

We are still in the beginning of the story of AM because too much is still changing about the technology and its use. Significant advances are still being made to address AM's challenges. The education and even the evangelism certainly continue.

However, we are at the middle of the beginning because the story is now underway. The introductory chapter has closed.

One other sign of this can be seen in the very magazine we publish. We are encouraged and grateful to see that the support and interest in this magazine continue to grow. Accordingly, we are beginning a new chapter with this publication as well. We have added staff (the aforementioned Brent—welcome!) and soon we will be adding issues. Starting with the next issue, AM magazine will no longer be quarterly, but instead will be published six times per year. (To subscribe, click here.) Like the technology we cover, we have discovered that we, too, are well underway.