Additive manufacturing (AM) is growing. The non-traditional process can add a competitive edge not just to prototyping, but to the manufacturing process. Engineers can know everything they like about AM, but unless the executives understand how it will transform a company’s business plan, the process’s adoption will fail to realize its full potential.
John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and director of the Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (ADAPT) at MIT, has started a new course to address this. The virtual learning session is most relevant to C-level executives, manufacturing engineers, and operations leads. However, the class will be taught online for free to anyone that wants to join.
The class, “Additive Manufacturing: From Prototyping to Production,” is a free virtual classroom session on 3D Printing offered through MIT Professional Education. It takes place Tues., Dec. 5, 2017, at 2PM EST. The 90-minute online learning session offers a quick, effective way to learn from MIT faculty experts in additive and digital manufacturing about the cutting-edge of industrial 3D printing—from new materials and processes to the latest applications and technology trends. Hart is excited about this new class, and sat down to tell us a little more about it. The following is an amalgam taken from that conversation.
New Trends/Issues in AM
According to Hart, “The fact is that 3D printing is shifting from primarily a rapid prototyping process to a production method. We can now point to examples where AM is influencing every stage of the product life cycle: from first concept, to production, to post-production service. That's the thrust of the virtual class. On one level, we describe the macroscopic trends that have structured AM’s use across the past 30 years. But, then we dive deep into trends on a microscopic level and look at the changes in 2017 that validate our current understanding of AM as a production method.
“Most exciting to me are the new ways industry is using AM to live up to its projected value propositions. For example, Mercedes-Benz printed spare thermostat covers out of aluminum. This may not be the most exciting development in 3D, but it demonstrates how AM is already being used to reduce costs—in this case, the cost of inventory. Mercedes is also digitizing their entire library of drawings for parts. They will no longer need to have these drawings on file in paper form, instead they are turning them into digital 3D models.
“This may seem trivial, but part digitization in tandem with AM capacity opens up new possibilities. When folks need a part for their 30-year-old truck that’s broken down in a rural environment, Mercedes won't have to worry about having the inventory in stock and shipping it around the world. Instead, they might download a file from their digital library, and print the replacement part, fully bespoke, at a location proximate to its final use. It should save them money in warehousing costs, but also get needed parts into the hands of consumers faster, and, depending on the application, perhaps at better quality.
“All that said, we are still at the early stages of defining the true impact of AM, and as a result, many of the long-term implications of AM are beyond our current imagination. In terms of where things are heading, the industry of AM materials, machines, and associated products/services will continue to grow rapidly. There will be mergers and consolidations as well as an increasingly diverse spectrum of AM-driven startups. As the cost and performance of AM continue to advance, the wider availability of the digital infrastructure of AM (design tools and production services) will amplify its demand, and push AM to enable distributed, on-demand production. However, we must also keep in mind that AM is just one key component of digitally-driven advanced manufacturing.”
Hart continues, “This is just an example of why we [MIT] feel this new class on AM will be important. It focuses on how additive manufacturing is being used to transform business models and revolutionize manufacturing at scale. This is what makes it unique: we are looking to educate the industry at an executive level to help them understand that AM has advanced to the point where it can now compete as a qualified production process with other conventional methods, such as machining, casting, injection molding, etc. Rapid prototyping will always be an advantage of 3D printing, but it has now moved beyond that limited scope. In some cases, additive is not only more affordable, but can also produce better quality parts because of the inherent geometrical freedoms that AM allows. It may also dovetail with conventional methods to enhance productivity. Our goal is to articulate the vision for what AM has become, where it is heading in the near term, and where the greatest opportunities lie in the future.
“To communicate this vision, we’ll take a brief look back at the history of additive manufacturing and then quickly move forward to examine the status of AM processes today. We’ll describe the industrial and scientific innovations that’ve propelled AM to industrial and consumer relevance today, and describe advancements in technology, materials, machines, and applications that are driving these trends. We also anticipate November will be a big month for AM, with exciting and high-impact announcements expected at formnext in Frankfurt, which we will discuss in the course as well.”
The Challenges and Benefits of a Virtual Course
Hart says, “The nature of the American worker is changing, and so is how we educate throughout the continuum of a person’s lifetime. The reality is that the typical profile of a ‘learner’ is now variable: there is no single archetype. We need to design educational delivery mechanisms that can make an immediate impact for machinists of 30 years as well as aspiring young students across the globe. Moreover, we must present information in way that is not only immediately understandable and relatable, but quick and information dense. In other words, we need to address modern audiences by providing curricula that are fast-paced yet flexible, and abbreviated yet highly relevant. It’s truly a 21st-century challenge, yet one we see as surmountable, in part through tightly focused webinars such as this.
“One of the advantages about teaching AM electronically is that AM’s deployment necessitates learners acquire a digital skill set: digital design (CAD and CAE programs) as well as automation and information management converge in factory settings using AM already. Machine operation is largely done through a digital interface. In that sense, AM is much easier to teach electronically than, say, turning or machining.
“There is, however, one major drawback of the webinar, which is true of all digital courses: you, the instructor, are not face-to-face with learners. You can’t read the room or interact with them in the same personalized, attentive ways you might in a traditional lecture hall. In a 3,000-person e-classroom, you can’t learn all the names. In some cases, communities that build on the strengths of their members, rather than act as vessels receiving knowledge from the outside, can serve as proxies for the one-to-one advantages of an in-person experience. We hope to plant the seeds that will grow these communities of practice around AM.”
“Those working in the AM industry will be very familiar with the free webinar. In part, we hoped to emulate a successful model that many commercial 3D printing companies, professional associations, and publications already use to great effect.
“On the other hand, we also feel that, as educators, we are obligated to find ways to educate simply for the sake of educating. When teaching Fundamentals of Manufacturing Processes, a manufacturing MOOC which launched last year, I was struck by how eager the world is to learn about modern manufacturing techniques—many of our learners were from developing nations, and their motivations and stories were inspiring. However, a good portion of those learners were only able to take the course because it was free. I feel strongly that AM can be used in resource-limited environments to make tangible quality of life improvements, in part due to its ability to print nearly limitless geometries on the same machine, but only if the people behind the projects have the required skills and knowledge.”