Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Key Points from the Additive Manufacturers Users Group Conference

Joe Allison - AMUG 2015

 By Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, Proudly operating in Australia as Objective3D Parts

2015 was a big year for the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference. There were over 700 attendees—a true testament to the growth of the industry and sophisticated users over the last few years. The AMUG mission is to educate and advance the uses and applications of additive manufacturing technologies. So why would a manufacturing services company attend a machine-owner’s conference? Well not only can we learn more about the systems we use to build parts, there is also a growing number of users who don’t own machines, but attend the conference to strengthen their technology and application knowledge. Which leads us to our first takeaway:

The industry is shifting focus from technology to applications

The shift from being technology-focused to applications-focused was evident in the overall session and workshop topics. For example, Dr. William Cohn from the Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center presented on 3D printing’s evolving role in the development of complex and fascinating artificial hearts. And then there was Andy Martin of GE’s presentation on the intersection of additive manufacturing and jet engines. During the additive manufacturing panel discussion, David Leigh, Vice President of Emerging Technologies at Stratasys, described this shift by comparing additive manufacturing to Apple. He explained Apple started as a one device company and as the market developed they discovered how users were applying the device to consume media and now offers multiple devices all centered on the applications. We are seeing a similar technology-agnostic trend in our industry in which users are more concerned about a part meeting project requirements rather than the tools it takes to get there.

3D printing hype is waning

In his opening keynote, Todd Grimm, additive manufacturing consultant and industry expert, assessed the present and future of the industry. He presented an overwhelming amount of new processes and machines, observing the market getting to a saturation point that will lead to a contraction in 5+ years. He said market proliferation is due to hitting the tip of the hype cycle and sees the additive manufacturing market beginning to mimic the traditional machining market in which each supplier excels in certain processes and materials. He also noted the hype decline is ultimately a good thing for the industry and will lead to better education and a more sophisticated user base.

Large OEMs are finding a balance between in-house and outsourcing additive manufacturing

If you were at AMUG and didn’t attend the State of the Industry Expert Panel discussion, you missed out! It consisted of Tim Gornet, of the University of Louisville; David Leigh, of Stratasys; Dr. Lonnie Love of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Harold Sears, at the Ford Motor Company. Each panelist brought a unique perspective and experience to the discussion. But one question they all seemed to agree upon was the equal benefits of having machines in-house and outsourcing projects to service organizations. Dr. Lonnie Love said having machines in-house helps your engineers really get to know the technology and understand the nuances of designing for additive manufacturing. Harold Sears from Ford expanded, stating that creating an additive factory in-house isn’t feasible or efficient for most OEMs. It makes more sense to do prototyping in-house and outsource low volume production orders to a service organization with a greater capacity.

We must “unlearn what we have learned”

Our CEO Joe Allison gave an energetic keynote presentation showcasing world-changing applications from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing customers, including:
He talked about how 3D printing equipment means nothing without the creativity and brains that put it to work. And the challenge in widespread adoption is the disruption the technology causes. Engineers are accustomed to doing things the way they always have and it’s easier to use familiar manufacturing technologies and materials that have been qualified over the years. So in the wise words of Yoda, Joe challenged the audience to “unlearn what you have learned” and to rethink the way they design and build parts.
Engineers need to embrace new ways of thinking about design and create parts solely for desired form, fit and function, and universal innovation will follow.