Additive manufacturing is progressing but faces challenges before it is widely implemented, an executive of HP Inc. said in an interview.
“We’ve come a really long way,” said Paul Benning, chief technologist for HP 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing. “But there’s still a longer way to go. It’s not a linear process.”
HP is among the large manufacturers who’ve committed to 3D printing. Others include General Electric Co., Boeing Co., and Airbus. Some automakers, including Ford Motor Co., also are moving into 3D printing.
“There’s the understanding what 3D printing can bring,” Benning said.
“Are we at a critical mass yet? No, I think it’s the wedge of the spear,” the executive added. “There’s an important collection of people who understand it and advocate for it. There’s still work to do with the entire supply chain organization.”
The aerospace industry was an early adopter of 3D printing. Additive manufacturing utilizes digital designs to print parts layer by layer. The technology enables new shapes that weren’t possible with traditional manufacturing methods.
GE utilizes the technology to make fuel nozzles and some engines.
For aerospace, 3D printing is a way to reduce the “buy to fly ratio” so expensive materials such as titanium can be used more efficiently. The auto industry is looking to additive to produce tools with new shapes.
In manufacturing, Benning said, “a vanguard” of engineers is promoting more 3D printing. Those engineers are “making important progress.”
He said the attitude among those engineers is: “’In another three to five years, we’ll pull the rest of the organization along.’”
Over the past decade, 3D printing has added new materials, including metals. Initially, additive manufacturing was mostly plastics.
‘It’s an attractive business proposition,” Benning said of the new materials now available.
“I’m pretty bullish on 2020,” he added. “Design tools” and 3D printers have improved and, he said, “increased awareness is going to pull us into 10 times more manufacturing applications. This is an exciting time.”