After moderating the 1st Munich Technology Conference, journalist Melinda Crane discusses additive manufacturing’s news-making potential.
By Randy B. Hecht
When Melinda Crane was invited to moderate the 1st Munich Technology Conference (MTC), she had only a “general layman’s knowledge” of the process she knew as 3D printing. As a journalist, she quickly came to appreciate Additive Manufacturing (AM) for both its capacity to reinvent manufacturing and for its news potential.
“I came back from the conference with a sense of having had revealed to me an entire new field,” she says.
The scale of AM’s current and projected capabilities in, for example, producing automobile and airplane parts was just the beginning of what Crane found noteworthy. Equally impressive in her view was “the fact that we’re talking about using materials and creating materials in a whole new way. That has profound implications for every phase of the value chain.”
The certification and quality control implications also caught her attention and ranked among the most interesting discoveries she made at the conference. “We’re talking in some cases about materials with entirely new properties,” she says. “I find that absolutely fascinating. You could say we stand at the threshold of truly a whole new era that will revolutionize applied materials science.”
With a background in both law and economics, Crane naturally gravitates toward topics that feature interdisciplinary elements, and here, again, AM did not disappoint. She describes herself as fascinated by the way “this pushes the boundaries between sectors and between academic disciplines” and by “how we get a systemic approach that may be a challenge for some of us coming from the old world of manufacturing.”
The 2nd MTC has been scheduled for October 11-12, 2018, and Crane will return to moderate again. Thinking about themes that are still unfolding in this sphere and news that may emerge between now and the next conference, she lists several topics that she’ll be following.
Cost developments “will be very interesting to watch,” she says. “One thing that became clear from the conference is that AM methods make sense when you’re talking about very high value parts like jet engine parts. But there will need to be significant developments before this becomes cost-effective at scale in, for example, the auto industry as a whole. Watching how processes develop and costs develop will be a fascinating aspect.”
In her view as a journalist, another good story is “how we certify control quality in the field and how we are going to have to rethink certification and quality control,” she says. “That may sound like a dusty academic topic, but it’s of crucial importance. One story that was told at the conference was of an aircraft part that had been designed but couldn’t be put into use because they couldn’t figure out how to sign off on it in terms of certification. So that development, too, I think will be fascinating.”
She looks forward to hearing more about each of these aspects of AM during the 2018 MTC and is eager to learn about “new applications and the way additive challenges business models.” And finally, as a journalist who frequently covers stories related to economic policy, she hopes to hear “more about how the different stakeholders can and must work together to bring this really exciting technology forward.”
She asks, “What kind of a push is it going to take from academia and from policy makers to really bring this forward?” And in that question, she captures the central idea of the MTC: to bring together representatives of industry, academia, government, and associations to partner in creating the future of manufacturing. As MTC host, Oerlikon is delighted to count on Crane’s collaboration as conference moderator—and with her, awaits the next breaking news about this remarkable field.
Born in the U.S.A. and based in Germany, journalist and moderator Melinda Crane brings to her work an educational background that includes law and economics. She completed her J.D. at Harvard Law School and her Ph.D. in Political Economy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In addition to being an independent conference moderator, she has served as Chief Political Correspondent for Deutsche Welle TV since 2010.