With this piece, I will highlight some of the key misconceptions repeated ad nauseum around additive manufacturing (AM). This developed from conversations with industry insiders. My intent is not to ruffle feathers, but to point out pitfalls which might be avoided for the sake of the health of the industry.
Pitfall 1: Beware of 3D Printed Panaceas
Nothing can replace any/every manufacturing process in use today. Every method has its merits when properly scoped for the application at hand, and each method has its limitations and drawbacks, 3D printing is no exception. Several processing steps are required to improve any part in manufacture. The idea that you can have a 3D printer producing fully finished, functional, production grade components without additional work is a noble goal but far from current realities.
If the Starship Enterprise suddenly showed up and dropped off a functioning, replicator making anything from a cup of tea to an airplane engine - we would not use the products of such a device without several years (decades?) and tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in testing. Maybe.
Re-read that, and let me say that in another way: if a 3D printed panacea of perfect production appeared, we wouldn’t trust it without some serious scrutiny.
Avoiding the Pitfall: Might we stop asking for perfect 3D printer, or suggesting that we are on the verge of producing one?
Pitfall 2: AM ⊆ M
AM is a subset of manufacturing, full stop. Emphasizing adoption of AM to replace or disrupt any or all current production methods is naive and misplaced at best, downright ignorant or obstinate at worst.
Framing AM in opposition to the broader suite of manufacturing tools is doomed to failure as this vision cannot presently deliver. If it could deliver this ‘disruptively’ we would not automatically trust it (see Pitfall 1 above)!
Where AM can deliver a competitive solution, it will be accepted. When unsuitable, you’re trying to bang a square peg into a round hole - while charging a premium.
Best to avoid this pitfall by not threatening to undermine the rest of manufacturing; AM is here to enhance manufacturing, not to ‘disrupt’ it.
Pitfall 3: Solutions in Search of Problems
Having problems to solve is often unavoidable, but being a solution in search of a problem is a trainwreck in the making.