UpFront: Additive Manufacturing: The Genie in the Bottle?
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
With every passing year, additive manufacturing grows by leaps and bounds. In innovation. In sales. And in capturing the imagination of makers of things, both new and old. There’s no denying the coolness factor of AM.
But when will AM reach its tipping point where it becomes a big dog in the world of manufacturing? What is holding this exciting, efficient technology back?
AM continues to march beyond early-stage prototypes all the time, and direct part production is now the second most popular application of AM, according to Terry Wohlers, principal consultant & president, Wohler Associates Inc. As he writes in his article in this month’s issue, part production is now the fastest growing segment of the industry and it now represents more than 20% of the AM market.
Despite rapid year-over-year growth, however, AM’s share of the global manufacturing market remains small, less than 1%. Traditional, subtractive manufacturing remains king.
The potential of AM, it seems, remains trapped like a genie in a bottle, continually growing in innovation and strength, just waiting to be unleashed to revolutionize, and perhaps disrupt, the manufacturing sector.
Folks in the AM community—as well as every day innovation lovers—have been effervescent with the possibilities of AM for years, decades even. In that respect, they are similar to the champions of electric cars. Bubbling over with the possibilities—but unable to get the masses to quickly adopt, despite the benefits.
As AM has moved to conquer metals, the subject of Wohler’s article in this issue of ME, the power of the genie in the bottle has grown. Many large manufacturers are exploring the possibilities, of course, qualifying AM processes and materials for use. But more innovation is needed, to expand the breadth of metals available on AM systems and to solve other issues raised in Wohlers' article.
The most important way to unleash the genie in the bottle, however, is likely a change in mindset. The manufacturing industry, as a whole, is heavily invested in established processes and materials. So it’s no surprise AM has slowly been adopted by mainstream manufacturers. But as young manufacturers embrace AM and all the exciting design and production possibilities it has to offer—there’s a raft of popular YouTube videos on AM—they will likely bring this new mindset, and a new type of manufacturing, along with them.
This article was first published in the April 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.