thumbnail group

Connect With Us:

ME Channels / SME Speaks

SME Speaks: From a Miracle to Just Another Tool

 Kevin L. Ayers






By Kevin L. Ayers
Industry Manager
Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing
Member Since 2009

I remember the day I saw my first stereolithography machine in action in 1987. We all gathered around to witness this new technology, and I was overwhelmed to see the part rise up out of the machine, almost as if it had been transported in the Star Trek “replicator.” I knew then that this was a going to be a huge and revolutionary part of the future of manufacturing. All around the world, there were many who felt the same. At that time, there weren’t many of us in this field, but now the number of people involved in additive manufacturing, especially through their involvement with SME, has grown and continues to evolve. In those days, we worked ardently to push the technology, vendors and applications. Maybe it was our shared “Gene Roddenberry” vision of how manufacturing could be that helped explain why we’d put our careers and reputations on the line for this innovative technology. 

Many companies around the world designated employees to develop these technologies to try and understand where these processes could be advantageous to their specific applications. In the early 1990s, which is when most people became involved in this field, the limitations of the systems and material properties meant that most of the applications were based around form, fit and function parts; mockups; design verification models; and casting patterns. At that time, there were plenty of success stories, along with some spectacular failures. This resulted in a learning process that allowed users to push the system manufacturers and material developers into understanding what the industry needed to develop the applications further. The overall result is a shared vision of finally being able to manufacture parts directly from a system that could be used as serial production components. One of the outcomes within the industry was the tight network of end-users who banded together to help each other. They shared everything they learned, as well as their angst about where the industry needed to go to achieve their ultimate goal—full-scale manufacturing. Even though these users were often seen as competitors, the development of the technologies had no effect on opposing industries. This is still the case as it has developed into what is now a great and exciting industry.  

Initially, what management in industries around the world first thought of as a “miracle,” ultimately became standard business practice. Now that the technology is becoming more widely adopted and implemented, there are great expectations for technology development and advancement at a more rapid pace. As this “miracle” becomes standard business practice, all of the usual questions are asked. How long until we meet the deadline? What will be the cost per part? Does that include labor, capital depreciation, overhead and so on? At what number does it make sense to go to a hard tool? Is the current part designed for both AM and conventional manufacturing? How can the cost of AM be determined? When you’re buying material (like metal powders) by the pound, how impactful is a 40% weight savings?

As additive manufacturing became an accepted process in many organizations, it became just another tool in their arsenal. In a solution to a problem, an assembly was required of different parts with different requirements. Team meetings decided that some parts were manufactured in different processes. Some were in AM plastics, some in AM direct metal, while others were through conventional CNC machining, water jetting, EDM and so on. Somewhere along the way, the miracle became a tool. That is what the paradigm pioneers strived for. Times, technologies and viewpoints continue to evolve.

Does acceptance of additive manufacturing into mainstream manufacturing mean we’ll lose its intangible, wondrous elements? As the industry has evolved from plastics to metals, ceramics, edible organics and even living tissue, do we feel less awestruck? Not really, because the next big thing is always around the corner, which keeps us guessing and excited about the prospects. When nobody is looking, I still like to turn off the lights in the lab and watch the photopolymer fluoresce from the laser. And yes, it’s still very cool. ME  


2014 Composites Manufacturing Awards

In an effort to recognize the valuable contributions made within the composites manufacturing industry, SME‘s Composites Manufacturing Tech Group recently presented its annual awards during Composites Manufacturing 2014, held April 8–10 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, KY.

The J.H. “Jud” Hall Composites Manufacturing Award, created in 1986, is presented annually to an individual who has contributed to composites manufacturing or tooling technology through leadership, technical developments, patents or educational activities. The award celebrates innovation in solving issues related to production and applications development. This year’s recipient is SME member Mamidala Ramulu, PhD, FSME, Boeing-Pennell professor of engineering and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington (Seattle). Ramulu, an educator since 1982, has contributed to composites manufacturing in the fields of traditional machining. He has guided dozens of students through master’s and doctoral programs in composite manufacturing.

The 2014 Excellence in Composites Manufacturing Award, launched in 2011, recognizes companies that have excelled in manufacturing products made from advanced composite materials, by either developing an innovative manufacturing process technique or providing superior service, quality or cost-reduction initiatives that have helped advance the composite manufacturing industry. ATK Aerospace Structures (Clearfield, UT) was recognized with this award for the work it has contributed in composites application and technology development for more than 50 years. ATK is an industry leader in tooling and automated manufacturing techniques used in manufacturing advanced composite structures.

Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineers

Six Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineers, age 35 or younger, are being recognized this year by SME for their exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry.

  • Karl R. Haapala, PhD, Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR)
  • Chandra Nath, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, IL)
  • Ibrahim Tarik Ozbolat, PhD, The University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)
  • Jason Viers, Mclean Fogg Component Solutions (Royal Oak, MI)
  • Cong Wang, PhD, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
  • Hui Ying Yang, PhD, Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore)

Each year, the award is named in honor of a specific individual who has made lifelong contributions to manufacturing and SME. The 2014 award is named after 1985–86 SME Past President Marvin F. DeVries, PhD, FSME, CMfgE, PE, professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, WI). To learn more about the recipients, visit


This article was first published in the June 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.  

Published Date : 6/1/2014

Editor's Picks

Advanced Manufacturing Media - SME
U.S. Office  |  One SME Drive, Dearborn, MI 48128  |  Customer Care: 800.733.4763  |  313.425.3000
Canadian Office  |  7100 Woodbine Avenue, Suite 312, Markham, ON, L3R 5J2  888.322.7333
Tooling U  |   3615 Superior Avenue East, Building 44, 6th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114  |  866.706.8665