By Randy B. Hecht
To understand the emerging impact of additive manufacturing (AM), it’s important to start with the right question. And that question is not what capacity AM will have in the future. It’s what capacity the future will have thanks to AM.
In fact, the technology (better known to the general public as 3D printing) is even reconfiguring what we mean when we say “the future.” Consider three of Gartner’s 2018 predictions for AM:
- “75% of new commercial and military aircraft will fly with 3D-printed engine, airframe and other components;”
- “25% of surgeons will practice on 3D-printed models of the patient prior to surgery;” and
- “20% of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will use 3D printing to create custom products.”
And Gartner projects that all these developments be in place not in another generation, but by 2021 — just three years from now.
“If you haven’t been following developments in the industry, those projections and figures may seem startling,” says Florian Mauerer, Head of Oerlikon’s Business Unit Additive Manufacturing. “But AM’s technological capabilities and business model are undergoing accelerated evolution. They’re already being adapted to countless applications and sectors.”
Presentations at the 1st Munich Technology Conference (MTC), held in October 2017 and co-sponsored by Oerlikon and the Technical University of Munich, backed up that perspective. Participants from a cross-section of industries, academia, government and associations are looking ahead to the 2nd MTC for new information exchanges and news of the latest developments in:
Aerospace. Metal AM advances being pioneered in this sector are designed to have an impact on improving performance, safety and control of carbon emissions. The complex geometries being engineered are improving functionality in every area of the aircraft, from engine and turbine parts to components of the cabin interior. AM’s capacity for reducing parts weight, and thereby addressing long-term environmental concerns, is sure to be a topic of conversation at the next MTC. Discussions will also center on challenges that must be met to fully integrate AM in design and production processes.
Automotive. Historically, this sector has been equipped to manage mass production or customized design. AM is poised to eliminate the need to choose one or the other. It enables both an increase in production flexibility and a decrease in the costs associated with manufacture of customized components.
“This translates to reinvention of the product management cycle from end to end,” says Dr. Shawn Kelly, Head of Oerlikon’s Additive Manufacturing Competence Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It mitigates restrictions that have constrained manufacturing in the past, converts processes from complex to simplified, and promotes accelerated production timelines at reduced costs. These capabilities have been validated, and we look forward to learning at the 2nd MTC about the latest returns on the industry’s investment in AM.”
Medical industry. While R&D and prototyping have not progressed to commercialization as rapidly in medicine as in the aerospace and automotive sectors, the advances it is making have life-changing potential. Among the areas of development we’ll be following at the 2nd MTC are customization of orthopedic devices and prosthetics designed to optimize mobility. AM is expected to enable a similar caliber of innovation in the creation of dental and joint replacements. Equally interesting are regulatory challenges and strategies for ensuring compliance without creating undue delays in bringing new products to market.
Power generation. With the universal interest in environmental concerns, everyone involved in AM is eager to see how its use in the manufacture of turbine parts may enhance energy efficiency, reduce repair-related downtime, and contribute to lowering emissions.
General industry and tooling. Large-scale industrialization is a long-term goal, but industry already recognizes AM’s potential to achieve two key performance metrics: cost reduction and process stabilization. Interim steps toward those objectives include AM-generated specialization in tool design that contributes to increased precision in manufacturing. Participants at the 2nd MTC will exchange ideas about which areas of the value chain should be prioritized for investment in these high-precision designs.
“All these developments depend on the continued collaboration of industry, academia, government, and associations — the four dimensions of 3D printing,” says Prof. Dr. Michael Süss, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Oerlikon. “By co-hosting the MTC, Oerlikon wants to facilitate what you might call additive collaboration: the process of creating new AM capabilities by layering expertise and insights from each of these sectors.”
The 2nd MTC will be held in Munich, October 10 and 11, 2018. For additional information about the conference, please visit https://www.oerlikon.com/mtc-event/#!index.php