Industrial Realities of Additive Manufacturing: 3D Printing without the Hype

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This week in Nottingham, great minds in additive manufacturing are converging at the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing. The event, now in its twelfth year, is always highly anticipated as the speaker lineup promises a look into the depths of the 3D printing business — without the hype. Among the well-regarded lineup this year are experts in academia and industry.

The main conference will take place Wednesday and Thursday, with a special pre-conference event held Tuesday presenting a look at the Industrial Realities of Additive Manufacturing. Over the course of eight hours, seventeen speakers held the attention of 194 attendees, discussing topics ranging from metrology to government funding to education and training to IP protection — a fairly high-level agenda geared toward those ready to dive into the business ins and outs of additive manufacturing.

On Tuesday’s agenda were:

  • Introduction to the day: Phill Dickens – Added Scientific Ltd
  • Morning Session – Industrial Realities Additive Manufacturing
  • Phil Reeves – Stratasys Expert Services
  • Dave Brackett – The MTC
  • John Williams – Materialise
  • Ian Halliday – 3T RPD
  • Ed Attenborough – Attenborough Dental
  • Paul Holt – Photocentric Ltd
  • Ben Farmer – HiETA Technologies Ltd
  • Sophie Jones – Added Scientific Ltd
  • Afternoon Session – Update for the UK National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing
  • Introduction to Industrial Strategy: Robin Wilson – Innovate UK
  • Overview of Issues and Challenges with AM across Industry Sectors Session 1
    • Materials and Processes: Rob Scudamore – TWI
    • Design: Ben Griffin – Innovate UK
    • Measurement/Inspection/Testing: Richard Leach – University of Nottingham
  • Overview of Issues and Challenges with AM across Industry Sectors Session 2
    • Skills/Education: Frank Cooper – Birmingham City University
    • Cost/ Investment/Financing: Richard Hill – NatWest
    • Standards/Regulation: Alex Price – BSI
    • IP/Protection/Secrecy: Susan Reiblein – Susan Reiblein Consultancy
  • Panel discussion
  • Wrap Up: Ken Young (Opportunities for engagement/Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund)

We’ll be delving more in-depth into several of these presentations in coming days — Tuesday alone, I took down 25 pages of typed notes, so there’s definitely a good deal of detail to sift through and dig into — but throughout the discussions, several themes appeared and reappeared. For many involved in industrial additive manufacturing, few of these will come as a surprise; what was especially refreshing was the honesty onstage, as this isn’t a commercially-geared event. While we heard from several companies that have products to sell, representatives were quick to note that they weren’t here as salespeople, but as industry participants.

The presentations included some familiar information, but packaged in an innovative way: straightforwardly.There were no strobe lights to be found, no sequins, no pizzazz. Yes, a few of the slides had some gifs and some movie references, but those were largely to remain relatable to the gathered crowd.

With the focus on being so relatable and on remaining realistic, case studies are making up a good deal of the content at hand. Usage of advanced manufacturing technologies for applications with clear human benefit, such as medical case studies, as well as demonstrable proofs of concept were at the core of many of the presentations. As several speakers pointed out, additive manufacturing does not, and can not, exist in a vacuum unto itself; not only does AM need to work alongside other manufacturing technologies as part of an ecosystem solution to have the most benefit, but the human element is critical to any ultimate hopes of success in adoption.

Among key takeaways from a few of the presenters were that additive manufacturing is a reality today — and that there are challenges to be faced and significant barriers to be overcome before wider adoption can take place; pitfalls and challenges remained in focus, headlining several of the presentations. The barriers laid out varied based on the speaker, involving issues from consistency in material properties to a skills gap and the need for training across the board to funding from the government. As this conference is taking place in the UK, a good deal of time was spent in discussing this country’s role as a potential leader in the additive manufacturing industry.

As the week continues, the speaker lineup for the full conference event these next two days promises more grounded looks into the realities of additive manufacturing today and a pragmatic exploration of the future of these technologies.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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