The adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) as a tool for end-part production is at a tipping point in 2023. At Materialise, we recently commissioned a survey of more than 300 manufacturers across the United States, Germany, and Japan that showed end-use parts now account for 47% of AM production. We’ve come a long way since AM was considered solely a tool for prototyping and small-scale production.
It’s clear that manufacturers see the potential and value of AM in large-scale, end-part production. More than 45% of the manufacturers surveyed that already use AM say they plan to double their use of AM over the next 12 months. However, the industry still faces barriers to widespread adoption and integration within the larger manufacturing ecosystem.
The question is no longer “Why should I adopt AM?” Instead, today’s manufacturers are asking something more complex but ultimately just as important to AM’s success: “How can I adopt AM to take advantage of its benefits?”
The AM industry has a responsibility to support adopters with the hardware and software needed to integrate the technology with their existing traditional manufacturing operations. For end-part manufacturing, the most common challenges companies face in AM adoption are quality and certification issues, efficiency challenges, and data security in a digital workflow. The good news is that the AM industry has seen these issues and has begun to address them through end-to-end software platforms that are already breaking down barriers to widespread adoption.
There has been a concerted effort in AM software development to create platform-based technologies that address the entire AM workflow. From order intake to integration and communication with other manufacturing technologies to post processing and delivery, a platform-based approach has the potential to ease integration and bring new levels of efficiency and traceability to AM. Through these platforms, which include varying degrees of automation throughout the workflow, manufacturers have an opportunity to not only implement AM but implement it in a way that is efficient, repeatable, and connected.
At Materialise, we’ve built our CO-AM platform around these core needs with flexibility, data security, and integrity at the heart of the technology. With so many tools already in the manufacturing toolbox, AM adopters need our industry to collaborate and offer flexible solutions that allow them to connect with their existing operations and software.
Beyond the technology, another barrier to adoption lies in the AM talent gap. One of the key benefits of AM is its near endless opportunity for customization in design as well as process. The initial steps to implement and optimize AM workflows that best fit a manufacturer’s needs require specialized skills.
While manufacturers often struggle with a lack of in-house AM expertise or an inability to provide the necessary training for successful operations, the AM industry is rich with knowledge. Manufacturers should lean on their AM partners’ expertise to make the most of AM’s opportunities for customization and integrate the technology in a meaningful way.
For AM to truly realize its full potential, the industry needs to shift its thinking. It’s no longer about why AM should be part of the manufacturing toolbox. At the tipping point of widespread adoption, it’s now about how to make it a reality.
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