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Racecars & Printers: My Week at the Additive Manufacturers User Group

The Additive Manufacturers User Group (AMUG 2019) is not your normal trade show. It really is a ‘by the user, for the user’ event, which is great in that those concerned with the sector get to share ideas in a closed environment, but not so great in that it does not really open the technology up to the wider manufacturing world.

And that, I think, is where some of the industry’s problems lay. For additive manufacturing to really become mainstream, it needs to find its place within the broad and diverse manufacturing ecosystems. What AMUG, and indeed the additive industry, does exceptionally well is preach to the converted. What’s needed is the evangelism of this technology to the broader community. It is those that have not considered additive manufacturing as a viable manufacturing tool, who really need to see and learn what’s possible.

3D Systems DMP Factory 350

3D Systems DMP Factory 350

 

AMUG 2019 is the 31st edition of the event and it really is an impressive event, with a huge turn-out of visitors from the sector, and from those industries that recognize this technology as a game changer. There are dozens of presentations, each day starting with an impressive keynote. The exhibition is relatively small and not open every day, giving the feel of a conference or user group meeting rather than a major trade show. Many of those speaking were the developers of machines and materials, with major names like GE, GKN, Renishaw, HP and BASF present. However, my favorite keynote presentations came, not from an industrial player, but from a NASCAR driver. 

Brad Keselowski is a championship winning NASCAR driver who currently competes for Team Penske. Born and raised in Detroit, MI, Brad understands the important role manufacturing plays across multiple industries, including motorsports and automotive. His appreciation for manufacturing began at an early age growing up watching his dad and uncle build their own race cars and working alongside them in their race shop. That appreciation and interest evolved once he became a driver and had further exposure to everything from the advanced machines, tools, engineering designs, and world-class personnel at the most elite level of sports and the manufacturing industry. With a passion for technological innovations on and off the track, Brad started Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM) in 2018 with a focus on hybrid metal manufacturing and advanced engineering solutions.

Race cars on display at KAM headquarters.

Race cars on display at KAM headquarters.

What I liked about Brad’s keynote was his desire to not try and use additive manufacturing to solve every issue, but to use it within a set of manufacturing and engineering tools to solve real problems. Race cars are a great example of when a technology can really take flight. The cost barriers are rarely a defining factor, and the value of weight reduction and performance enhancement are huge. What’s more, the ability to build and test a part quickly is hugely valuable. Brad offered an example of a part that was printed and flown to a specific race that resulted in success I the form of a podium finish that would not have otherwise happened.

What we can learn from Brad’s examples and experiences is that, yes, additive manufacturing can be a game changer, but also, it does not suit every manufacturing challenge. We must also understand that additive manufacturing needs to co-exist with other manufacturing technologies, be they bleeding-edge or traditional. The successful manufacturer will have additive manufacturing within a portfolio of solutions, using it when appropriate to drive home an advantage.

This hybrid style of manufacturing requires a new mindset on the part of innovators, engineers, manufacturing companies, and even supply chain managers. Additive is disruptive and valuable, but it is not a silver bullet.

The issue of co-existence is a big one, and it is in danger of hindering adoption. For additive manufacturing to become mainstream, it needs to fit within the existing manufacturing ecosystem, connect to other machines and to software systems. And this, while manufacturing is undergoing its own revolution and digital transformation.

The good news is that additive manufacturing is digitally native. It has an inherent digital thread from design to print. I talked to Essentium’s CEO and co-founder, Blake Teipel at AMUG. He is one of a few players in the sector that really understands the needs of the industry with respect to the “Factory of the Future” and the need for additive manufacturing to exist within it. Essentium started as a materials company, but have recently released its own machine, the HSE 180, a High-Speed Extrusions machine that uses Flashfuse technology. The target is clear: to solve the z-axis strength issue and create a solution that has speed and scale. These are all some of hurdles that additive manufacturing will need to overcome to become mainstream.

Additive manufacturing must and will come out of the shadows and participate in the broader manufacturing industry. Likewise, it needs to come out of the safe confines of niche events and participate in larger events. Yes, we see some additive at Hannover Messe and Productronica, but not enough. Like our friend from NASCAR, Brad Keselowski says, we need to see additive manufacturing as one of our many tools, to be used wisely and to be considered as early as the ideation phase of a product.

My next tradeshow in the additive sector will be Rapid + TCT at the Cobo Center in Detroit from May 20th to 23rd . Let me know if you plan to be there.

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