Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

Think Additive Manufacturing Has the Wow Factor Now? Just Wait

August 5, 2016

This fall, when Mattel rolls out ThingMaker, a $300 use-at-home 3D printer for kids, the world will take one step closer to developing a generation that fully grasps the concept of additive manufacturing (AM). Today, we’re scratching the surface of AM’s potential, and material and design technology, not to mention the technology of the process itself, continuously is evolving. But only when we’ve developed the capacity to fully grasp AM and the products it can create will we realize how innovative the process is, and maximize its capabilities.

The problem today is that we are a product of our environment and experiences. We know how to create based on what we use to create. We know how to design for manufacturability. But AM sets our current understanding of manufacturability on its ear. As a collective, we have yet to develop the mindset to design parts and products strictly for use, manufacturability always enters into the equation. But what if a process comes along that removes so many barriers to strict design-for-use? It’s something that we cannot fully grasp, an impediment known as design fixation.

“(Design fixation) restricts the creative mind to making use of designs it has seen,” explains Carolyn Conner Seepersad, associate professor of mechanical engineering, University of Texas at Austin, in an article she authored at www.theconversation.com. “At present, nearly every design has been made with conventional (non-3D printing) routes. As a result, it can be difficult for an experienced designer to think of ways to truly make use of the freedoms afforded by 3D printing. That in turn helps explain why there are very few examples of 3D printed parts that are truly designed for 3D printing; most are parts that could be fabricated in another way.”

Not only does AM require a whole new way of thinking, it creates the need for a new type of engineer.

As Chris Krampitz, innovation and strategy director, additive manufacturing for UL tells Andrew Wheeler at www.lineshapespace.com, an Autodesk-sponsored website, “(AM) really shifts the whole engineering and production process up to the design stages significantly, front-loading the process. And what we’re seeing is that the design engineer and the manufacturing engineer are becoming one and the same with additive. A design engineer and a process engineer have completely different skill sets, and now we’re trying to put those two together—and that’s a superengineer that currently doesn’t exist.”

Creating these ‘superengineers,’ unencumbered by design fixation, will be the job of learning institutions and interested industry parties. They will work together to develop curricula and training to mold a new generation of minds that think outside of the box that we currently inhabit. But we don’t have to wait 10, 20 or 30 years to get there. Take a look at Terry Wholers’ article beginning on page 10 of this issue for an example of the new AM thinking. We have talented innovators who are quickly adapting to the new design paradigm. Projects such as these highlight what is possible with AM.

Imagine joint replacements that heal within weeks rather than months. Imagine aerospace parts that provide double the strength and performance at half the weight and cost. These are not tomorrow’s hopes, but today’s realities. The AM industry is delivering such ‘impossibilities’ right now.

The future, and potential, of AM rests with the young people—teenagers and those even younger who have only known our current high-tech world. They don’t know what they don’t know, and will learn quickly through the assistance of ever-increasing educational programs how to design and build via AM, minus preconceived notions that can limit their creativity. So just picture what 3D printing will accomplish when the new generation, armed with new thinking and solid education, comes online. Indeed, exciting times await for AM.

Industry-Related Terms: Manufacturability, Surface
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms



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