Materials Are the Most Important Component in AM

Originally titled 'Materials Are the Most Important Component'

You will see a lot of additive machines at IMTS. Success with those machines is determined by an underappreciated ingredient. Read our collection of recently published articles focused on materials.

When people consider the advance of additive manufacturing (AM), they tend to think of the machines. The processes for additively building industrial parts are still advancing, new processes are still coming, and the machines that apply these processes continue to evolve in terms of capability, capacity, efficiency and features. Additive machines continue to captivate. 3D printers are—forgive me—really cool.

But here is the thing: The machine itself is not the end user’s experience of AM. The end user is the one who receives the part, and this person likely will not see the machine on which it was made. She might not even know it was made additively. But that user will experience the material. For as the long as the part is in use, for as long as it functions whether well or poorly, the user will live with the material choice that was made for that part.

Materials are thus the most important component of additive manufacturing.

Challenge me on that statement if you wish. Surely the additive machines must be the most important component of AM? My response: The machines deliver value only by applying a material. The machines’ ability to solve problems is entirely defined by the range of materials available for them to apply.

And in the particular case of metal additive, materials also represent perhaps the greatest area of opportunity. Additive processes make it possible to achieve alloys and other metallics that can’t be realized any other way. The most recent Rapid + TCT show, for example, saw not only new metal matrix composites achievable only by AM, but also the introduction by metal supplier Arconic of multiple new aluminum alloys, including one that achieves greater strength at high temperatures compared to conventional alloys by leveraging the rapid solidification rate of powder-bed AM. In other words, the design freedom of AM encompasses not only geometric freedom, but the freedom to realize new metal properties.

Recognizing all this, we have made a very deliberate choice in recent weeks, at this moment in the year. We are fast approaching the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which has become a leading event for additive manufacturing technology. IMTS will offer attendees the chance to see many additive machines, including some being launched at the event. See our collection of previews of what will be seen at the show. And to support and complement this experience, we chose to pursue articles on materials, so we could publish an issue of the magazine on this theme. The materials are the enablers to all the additive machines you will see at IMTS.

The theme is big. In covering materials, there is much to say. Articles we’ve recently posted explore topics including:

We are on the cusp of a materials moment in additive manufacturing. That prediction follows inevitably from the role that AM technology is now finding, the role that will be seen at IMTS. Those machines are now being applied to production. They are becoming more capable for production. So, as the very next step, the users of those machines will look to materials. They will turn to materials engineers to give them exactly the material properties required to meet the needs of those users of the parts produced through AM.

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