What has additive manufacturing (AM) taught us in the last decade? Will supply chains become more digital? Can the software revolution create intelligent AM machines? These are just a few questions that were answered during the last panel of this year’s Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) event in New York. During the special presentation of “The Future of AM” executive panel, four high level executives shared insights and discussed the industry’s highlights.
Ivan Madera, Glynn Fletcher, Richard Garrity, and Mohsen Seifi from Morf3D, EOS, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS), and ASTM International, respectively, participated in what felt like the perfect farewell to a week packed with more than 120 speakers, hundreds of attendees, and sponsors. In an auditorium filled with 3D printing enthusiasts, Stifel Managing Director Stephen Butkow moderated a discussion where the special guests found time to talk about the latest advances, challenges, and opportunities in 3D printing.
Heating the conversation
Fletcher, who serves as the president of EOS North America, discussed various issues but insisted that to look forward, the industry needs to reflect on the last ten years. With a rich background in CNC machining, Fletcher described how he switched from the subtractive manufacturing sector to the blue ocean of additive manufacturing in 2011 with plenty of hope. However, today, he says he feels disappointed in this industry’s progress over the last eight years.
However, he pointed out, “We are now looking at a tipping point where we can rely on some really exciting things to happen.” Furthermore, Fletcher believes the industry’s future lies in commercialization, making the technology accessible to a broader audience.
While Fletcher saw the glass half empty, Seifi, Vice President of Global Advanced Manufacturing Programs at ASTM, thinks quite the opposite about the industry’s past: “I think we came a long way over the past 40 years. This industry has evolved quite a bit, and there were several turning points that happened during this period.”
In the past, interest in additive came from three key sectors, medical, aerospace, and defense, but today “almost every industry is looking at AM,” points out Seifi. Even when looking at the technology, the hardware segment usually saw the most progress. However, with the recent explosion of AI and ML, leveraging software tools to advance the technology will be crucial to AM, highlights Seifi.
Three drivers are moving the industry to be part of the broader “manufacturing sector,” says Seifi. These are: accepting that AM is becoming a manufacturing route for many companies, industry maturity thanks to a wider number of standards available, and trusting the technology.
Like Seifi, Madera believes adoption and maturity will drive the technology forward. As founder and CEO of end-to-end AM solutions provider Morf3D, Madera has witnessed plenty of growth in the last few years, including a majority ownership acquisition by Japanese giant Nikon and a fivefold customer increase in just one year. But even though the volume of AM production is increasing, Madera stated that the “maturity of the customer level is really low.”
“Someone has to take AM technology and stabilize it in a process that’s repeatable over and over. It may be more complex to solve that problem than it is to make the part itself, but if we can do that, then we can launch the market. And I think we have the ingredients in place. Even more so, as adoption increases, so does maturity. And I think that is what’s gonna be exciting in the future,” stated Madera.
Following this panel’s line of thought, it appears the industry is moving towards broader commercialization, as well as more standardization and having a greater role in the manufacturing industry as a whole, with many more businesses seeking AM technology to realize their vision. However, one of the broadest hurdles to work around is moving beyond the “low volume, high mix type applications,” considered Garrity. Instead, pushing for more significant quantities and even more applications are among the biggest challenges, according to Stratasys’ Chief Industrial Business Officer.
“When I interact with customers, what I’m hearing is ‘we need more materials to print, to open up more applications.’ And you have to get the cost per part way down in order to win your way onto more applications. Just because additive is interesting and novel, at the end of the day, it comes down to economics. (…) So our focus is to automate on the front end and back end as much as possible to really reduce the total amount of cost that goes into making additive parts today,” explained Garrity.
Fletcher agreed, stating that the AM industry has gone “from wow to now.” The executive said that the only thing stopping this industry from fulfilling its potential is “our inability to execute. We need to be good at execution in the future, doing it in a way that allows us to give cost-effective, compelling value propositions to our customers.”
Seifi also believes there are many challenges from the cost and economic perspective, but added more issues that the industry needs to work through, including few job candidates due to a skills gap and supplier qualifications, especially when dealing with major OEMs relying on contract manufacturers.
As the panel drew to an end, Butkow, who has over 15 years of investment banking experience covering such technologies as 3D printing, summarized the finance side of 3D printing, stating that as AM production technologies become more broadly accepted, it will be easier to get financing, but “right now the industry is not at a place where you see a big pool of capital.”
The Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) event will return February 6-8, 2024, for its seventh edition as the only 3D printing summit in New York City.
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