Materialise Manufacturing
3D printing facility

Moment of Opportunity: Additive Manufacturing’s Scalability and Industrialization

Aug. 31, 2020
A step away from competition means a step closer to a standard machine language, resulting in improved efficiency and expanded adoption.

Additive manufacturing (AM) has experienced a new surge of interest as a manufacturing tool following its role in efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. When supplies of critical equipment were limited, hospitals, businesses and other organizations turned to the 3D printing community for its rapid product development and localized production benefits to fill gaps and create new innovations to reduce the pandemic’s spread and, in some cases, develop new medical devices as alternative treatments.

However, after this initial time of great demand, traditional manufacturers began stepping in to fill the ongoing need for mass production of medical and preventative equipment. As we look to the future of 3D printing, our community must ask ourselves two questions:

  • Did 3D printing truly reach its potential during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic?
  • Can 3D printing fill the role that other manufacturing techniques have traditionally played in the past for mass production?

Unlocking AM’s Full Potential

While our industry’s efforts during this crisis did take advantage of two of the key benefits of 3D printing, the full potential for the technology has yet to be seen. The key to this will lie in the industrialization of 3D printing through its ability to not only produce existing parts in a rapid, local manner, but to offer improvements on existing designs in terms of light-weighting, strength and customization over their traditionally manufactured predecessors. This is achieved by engineers and designers developing parts specifically intended for additive manufacturing.

Time constraints due to immediate demand during the height of the pandemic did not allow engineers to fully consider and design parts with specific additive benefits in mind. However, as we look to the future, these events have helped increase awareness of 3D printing’s benefits and have sparked interest in the technology. We now have an excellent opportunity to expand 3D printing adoption and showcase the value it can bring to manufacturers across industries.

AM’s Role in Mass Production

There will always be parts and production lines where traditional manufacturing provides the best, most effective method. However, in cases where not only mass production is desired, but also mass customization, additive manufacturing can provide a unique advantage. The keys to driving this technology forward are industrialization, scalability and ensuring we continue to move forward in a sustainable manner.

Collaboration with customers, partners and within our own industry is the first step toward industrialization. With customers and partners, this will come through analysis and discussion of the types of products that are the best candidates to truly benefit from 3D printing’s advantages.

Standardization & Industrialization

Materialise’s Mindware consultation services allows for the collaboration with companies interested in 3D printing to develop a plan that best fits their strategic objectives. This can be an educational process to help those less familiar with the unique considerations required for 3D printing to identify the applications where 3D printing can add value, as well as the technology and processes that best fit their needs. This educational, collaborative method is one way that we are working to help move our industry closer to industrialization.

Within the 3D printing community, another step toward effective industrialization will be to standardize machine languages to allow software and hardware to interact more efficiently. This is one answer to our industry’s ongoing question of “how can we do this better?” Each OEM currently has its own machine language, so in order to reveal real-time printer data, we need to translate that language into one we can easily understand.

With industry standardization and a common language for 3D printing, this step would be eliminated, allowing for increased efficiency and scalability in additive manufacturing operations. This feature is especially valuable in more complex production lines where multiple printers, software developers and designers are working together to create the best possible product.

A shift to a standard machine language would enable a range of benefits, including bridging the gap between software and hardware, improved efficiency through common workflows, enhanced machine monitoring and improved quality of build parameters. This is not an initiative that any single company can complete on its own, and will require collaboration between industry leaders to make a real impact.

As we navigate these steps, our industry is at an exciting point in its slow revolution where we have an opportunity to achieve more rapid adoption and industrialization. This is especially relevant as companies seek localized solutions to potential vulnerabilities in their global supply chains. Additive manufacturing has proven that it can be an effective, efficient and valuable tool.

Our challenge now is to grasp this opportunity, work with our industry and manufacturing partners and help 3D printing reach its full potential.

Jurgen Laudus is vice president of Materialise Manufacturing.

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