An Outlook for Additive in 2014: A Participant's Perspective
By Tim Shinbara, Technology Director, AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology tshinbara@AMTonline.org
Looking back at 2013, it should be known as the Year of the Printer. Advancements and accelerations in both funding and media exposure broadened the audience from boutique fabrication firms and defense special programs to garage hobbyists, universities, Fortune 50 companies and small-to-medium enterprises. What does this mean for 2014? Is there critical mass to further accelerate or sustain these efforts?
By following America Makers (the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute [NAMII]), financial markets (from initial public offerings to quarterly earnings) and industrial leaders like General Electric, the answer to the first question may entail tangible data points, such as increases in supply chain partners, approvals of new standards and qualifications, and exposure to advancements in novel materials and additive processes.
It may be a bit too early to evaluate critical mass for two main reasons. First, 2013 included such an explosion of activities that such efforts may still be in forming stages, whereas 2014 may be the realization stage. Second, while additive manufacturing provides many non-traditional benefits, most of these are held captive to very traditional ways of thinking. In other words the industrial world may not be pervasively ready yet.
For 2014, there will be continued basic research in our national and university laboratories to explore the potential viability of new functional materials, process monitoring and equipment integration. Expect another round of funding for America Makes projects. which fill technical and transition gap activities, and, more than likely, additional mergers and acquisitions within the industrial sector.
There are firms that continue to increase brick-and-mortar resources, technical capability and know-how in order to better meet dynamic customer requirements. It will be interesting to see how the startups in this industry define their differentiation. An area of increasing interest seems to be in catering to localities and affinity groups - exploiting the low-volume, customization enablers of additive manufacturing.
While many government programs, and the private sector for that matter, have historically performed in silos, there seems to be an interesting phenomenon lately to share data publically. Whether it is a private-public partnership, such as America Makes, or an effort funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), like the Open Manufacturing program, there are more public forums to present and share outcomes than ever before.
This better enables the diligent to connect strategic dots, create value to advance the state of the art and not reinvent the wheel, as well as brings more diversified backgrounds to the productivity table. Advancements will continue in additive manufacturing in the arena of optimization for material selection for product requirements, process parameter mapping to as-designed properties, and improved equipment calibration and reliabilty.
Should the "maker" community - Maker Faire, DIY and educational outlets - continue their entrepreneurial march forward, look to find more local manufacturing and creativity incubators manifesting organically, as they have at MIT's Fab Lab network and Ideaspace. Common attributes for success include agility and latitude in creativity, and, quite frankly, those who realize ideas seem more adept than most.
To that end, the maker movement is a compliment, if not a necessary element, in advancing the state of additive manufacturing, not only in the United States but in the global market as well. When this is coupled with mentorship resources found in competitive programs like thr FIRST Robotics Competition, a new innovation landscape beings to emerge.
The additive manufacturing perspective looks continuously challenging and promising for 2014, where the world may be literally what you make of it!