The additive manufacturing landscape has changed dramatically since its introduction to the world in 1984 when the first 3D printer was created.

In recent years, the buzz around 3D printing and its range of possibilities has exploded. With the technology’s giant leap to mainstream, there’s no denying that additive manufacturing is here to stay. SME, a professional society for manufacturers, takes a look at where additive manufacturing is now and what can become of this exciting technology.

Accessible, Affordable, Efficient
Additive’s move to mainstream manufacturing has impacted a number of different industries including aerospace, automotive, medical, fashion and even art.

With additive’s leap to mainstream, it has become even more accessible to manufacturers who want to utilize additive technologies. What makes this technology so accessible is its affordability. Companies interested in purchasing 3D printers today could find them for prices as low as $500, a reasonable price to bring this futuristic technology to mainstream manufacturing.

Additive technology is also enhancing the way companies manufacture by increasing efficiency. The technology enables manufactures to save weeks, if not months of valuable design, prototyping and manufacturing time. It can also help companies avoid costly errors and improve product quality.

Additive Processes in Action
Companies are turning to additive processes to help shorten lead times, reduce material waste and lower energy use. Additive processes also allow companies to be creative, using more complex shapes to produce a better quality product. Additive manufacturing is quickly evolving into existing manufacturing methodologies in on-demand and lean manufacturing. Additionally, it is producing parts that cannot be made any other way—such as in complex internal hollows, non-manufacturable features and parts that require variable material properties.

The Boeing Co., for example, has integrated 3D printing into some of its aircrafts, having produced more than 20,000 parts through 2013. Polymer-based air ducts created through additive manufacturing are already on board the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Today, companies are using 3D printing as well as other additive processes for various plastic and metal applications such as Stereolithography and Laser sintering. These processes among others are used to create rocket engine parts, fuel injector assemblies, eyeglass frames, soles for football shoes and even contemporary art. These applications as well as many others will be showcased at RAPID in Detroit from June 9 to June 12. Attendees will be given case studies to understand the implications of using these technologies and be allowed to touch real parts made for these very applications. RAPID also deals with current issues and addressing questions on how to get the most of these technologies, optimizing the supply chain and how to automatically post-finish additive manufacturing parts to improve the bottom line.

Additive processes for organic applications are continuing to revolutionize the medical manufacturing industry with the creation of skin, bone, organs, and other human tissue both hard and soft. This method of additive manufacturing, called bioprinting, has the potential to not only improve lives, but save them.

“Technology always goes where there is a great need. Nowhere is it so obvious as in the need for replacement of organs, damaged bones, burned skin, and other tissues.” said Kevin Ayers, Industry Manager over Additive Manufacturing and 3D Technology, SME, “This is really going to change people’s lives for the better.”

Regenerative medicine is made possible by printing and growing bio materials, stem cells and human cells. Layer by layer, flesh, bones and even organs can be created or regenerated with the help of 3D printers. This process has the potential to treat burn wounds, arthritis conditions, birth defects and traumatic injuries. In the future, this 3D printing process could even solve the organ donation shortage for patients in need of transplants.

What’s Next?
Additive Technology is a game-changer for many manufacturers. It’s giving them new ways to become more competitive on a global scale. In fact, additive manufacturing sales are expected to more than quadruple in the next 10 years, as the associated costs continue to fall. By 2017, the global market for additive manufacturing is predicted to be worth $3.5 billion. One thing is for sure: there is a lot to be excited about.

An Opportunity to Learn
This May, industry professionals will gather together at the Mfg4 – Manufacturing 4 the Future event, sponsored by SME, to gain knowledge, network, collaborate and share solutions. The event, held at Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn., will feature an Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing Resource Center. Attendees will learn about major additive technologies and how they can lower production expenses, speed product development, enable new designs, and improve how companies manufacture. Attendees will also have the opportunity to listen to tactical and strategic presentations by Todd Grimm, a 22-year veteran of the additive manufacturing field.

For more information about registering, attending or exhibiting at Mfg4, please visit mfg4event.com or call 800.733.4763. To register please visit https://www.xpressreg.net/register/mfgf054/start.asp. For the most up-to-date details, follow us on Twitter visit @mfg4event.

As a nonprofit organization, SME has served practitioners, companies, educators, government and communities across the manufacturing spectrum for more than 80 years. Through its strategic areas of events, media, membership, training and development, and the SME Education Foundation, SME is uniquely dedicated to advancing manufacturing by addressing both knowledge and skill needs for industry.


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