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Terry Wohlers and Tim Caffrey: How Additive Manufacturing Can Change Industry As We Know It

By Ideas Lab Staff June 11, 2013

In a Q&A with GE Aviation's Greg Morris, Terry Wohlers and Tim Caffrey, of Wohlers Associates Inc., discuss how additive manufacturing will evolve.

Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates Inc., speaks this week at RAPID 2013 Conference and Exposition, an industry-leading event for presenting and discussing trends and emerging techniques specific to additive manufacturing. During an opening keynote address, Wohlers will talk about recent developments and what the future holds for the industry.

As the industry turns its focus this week to the RAPID event, GE’s Greg Morris learned more from Wohlers and Caffrey about how the technology will continue to scale.

Greg Morris: 3D printing has emerged as a trend among hobbyists, entrepreneurs and industrial-scale manufacturers, like GE. How will additive manufacturing scale in the next decade? What will this mean for the manufacturing industry?

Wohlers Associates: Additive manufacturing (AM) will scale into new applications. Currently, production applications exist in the aerospace, medical, dental, jewelry and some consumer goods markets. We’ll see expansion in these current application niches as well as entirely new niche production applications in industry segments that don’t currently employ additive manufacturing for production.

Greg Morris: As additive manufacturing becomes more commonly used, what types of policy challenges might surface?

Wohlers Associates: Product liability and intellectual property issues will develop and require attention. Today there is no legal precedent concerning some of these issues. 3D content may be originally created by one individual, modified by a second person, sold and further modified by a third, and built by a fourth. When the product fails, who is legally liable?

Greg Morris:  Which industries will be most impacted or changed by additive manufacturing? How?

Wohlers Associates: This is difficult to accurately predict, but likely candidate industries in the foreseeable future are those that require low production volumes of high-value, highly complex parts. Of course, the aerospace and medical industries fall in this category. However, as system speeds increase, equipment and material costs decline, and more materials become available, new applications will emerge in a range of industries. One example is the automotive industry, which has used AM for two decades for prototyping but is not currently using it for most production applications.

Greg Morris: What are some facts about 3D printing that many people might not know? What about common misconceptions?

Wohlers Associates: The technology has been available for 25 years. Many differences exist between industrial-grade systems and the sub-$5,000 “3D printers” that the mainstream media has discovered. Also, AM is relatively slow, and economies of scale apply to AM, but not in the same way as conventional methods of manufacturing. AM processes are generally more energy-intensive than conventional processes. AM is not a “push-button” technology; a lot of pre- and post-build work is required. AM is not inherently superior to subtractive or formative manufacturing, although it depends on the types of parts being built. Most parts need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Greg Morris: Will additive manufacturing revitalize the U.S. manufacturing industry? Why?

Wohlers Associates: Not entirely, and not all by itself. The U.S. is not the only nation that is applying this technology, so stiff global competition is present. Also, AM will not displace many existing methods of manufacturing. AM is but one of many advanced manufacturing technologies that the country’s manufacturing industry can embrace to grow and compete successfully.

Greg Morris: How will additive manufacturing affect the supply chain? What hurdles will manufacturers, both small and large, face using additive manufacturing?

Wohlers Associates: Supply chains will be digital, and manufacturing will often occur on-demand in smaller production volumes. Physical inventories will either not exist or will be reduced considerably. Distribution networks and shipping distances may become shorter, regional and local rather than international.

Greg Morris: Where are the gaps and areas for growth in the industry to ensure that additive takes off? Education, etc.?

Wohlers Associates: Today, there are many. Computer-aided design (CAD), which is an enabler to AM, is a bottleneck. Easier-to-use and less expensive software is needed, including web-based software. Education in “design for AM” is needed to take advantage of AM’s inherent capabilities and flexibility. Standards for processes and materials need to be created so that design engineers can specify AM with confidence. Systems need to include real-time process monitoring and control. System speed, maximum part size and costs must improve. Today, machines and materials are much too expensive even for the largest companies in the world. More materials need to be developed for AM processes.

Our concept of manufacturing and distribution will evolve, too. AM may create a manufacturing landscape where many small manufacturers operate on a local and regional basis. Large multinational companies that make thousands or millions of products in one location may not be the standard way many products are made in the future.

 

Terry Wohlers is the principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc., and Tim Caffrey is an associate consultant for the company. Wohlers Associates provides technical and strategic consulting on new developments in rapid product development and additive manufacturing.

Greg Morris leads additive strategy and business development for GE Aviation.