The Future of 3d Printing

This week CADimensions is attending the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) event in St. Louis, Missouri – perhaps the most significant professional 3D printing conference this year. In order to keep you up to date on the current and future state of the 3D printing industry and technology, we will be releasing a blog every day about what we found most significant. To view day one’s recap, visit here.

On Day 2 Stratasys hosted a keynote panel of industry experts, asking questions about what they wanted to see from 3D printing and some of the challenges they face with adopting the technology for their businesses. The panel consisted of representatives from big players: Boeing, Ford, Johnson&Johnson, FedEx, and Siemens making for a very informative on their perspective of 3D printing, and how the technology and industry can move forward. We pulled three of the most important takeaways from that session.

1. End-use parts are the holy grail that the industry wants.

Each panelist at one point or another identified that they want to be able to produce end-use parts directly off of a 3D printer. In 2018, parts produced by 3D printers still can struggle to meet the mechanical demands and surface finishes necessary for end-use part applications. While improved materials and machines inch us closer to that state every day, it is still a goal that that future 3D printer manufacturers should take note of, because their big customers are demanding it.

It brings us to question, how would businesses change if 3D printing was able to produce end-use parts for them? In particular, how would this change new product introduction?

2. Start to finish, end-to-end solutions

The panelists indicated that they’re looking for end-to-end, turnkey solutions. From the discussions that ensued, this means purchasing all the equipment, materials, and post-processing equipment from one vendor, and having software tools to track part creation throughout every step of the process.

While GrabCAD Print does a fantastic job of automatically tracking material and machine time usage, it’s arguable that support material removal and surface finish treatment are areas where our Stratasys products could improve, and shift to a more seamless workflow for our customers. Until that happens, we think it highlights our value as a reseller, to be your local knowledge resource in how you can create the best workflow specific to your business.

Desktop Metal may be the most seamless end-to-end solution outside of a company’s concept. Their software-tracked machine-to-machine guidance through the print-debind-sinter process is notable and reinforced by the perspectives of these distinguished company’s representatives.

3. Repeatability/confidence in part quality is preventing adoption.

We commonly hear many objections to companies who question the quality of 3D printed parts on a daily basis. Some companies insist they need metal tooling or prototypes, and sometimes they’re right. Other times if they are open to a paradigm shift in the way they think about their tooling, manufacturing aids, or prototypes, they can use a plastic material to accomplish the same task as a metal part. Usually, this can take some trial-and-error with the design of the parts, and the material being utilized, but the result is a component created faster and cheaper than its metal counterpart.

While using hobby-level 3D printers at home, it’s noticeable that there’s very limited repeatability of the 3D printed parts. A bed-leveling screw coming a bit lose could create a non-flat surface from one print to the next. When looking for high-demand 3D printed parts or end-use applications, the process needs to be repeatable. The panelists voiced that over time, there will be plenty of data available validating the legitimacy of materials and machines, but for now, that remains a work-in-progress. There is hope that through Stratasys’s certified-grade materials and e-Xstream partnership announced last year, that we can see this industry demand filled very soon.

The wants of these industry representatives can be reflected in most businesses at different levels of 3D printing adoption. By openly discussing the needs businesses face for the technology on a daily basis, we can all look forward to a future where these needs are met. Stay tuned for the AMUG Day 3 recap!

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