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08 May 2012

Disruptive Technologies: Additive Manufacturing


Tech Time…

By Tim Shinbara, Technical Director

I’m Tim Shinbara and I have joined AMT to help everyone better understand technology developments occurring around the world. I will be introducing these technologies here in AMT News and by other means. This is the start of a series of topics I will be discussing.


Over the past 36 years technology’s basic definition has not significantly changed. (Personally, I like Webster’s 1976 3rd edition: the totality of the means employed by a people to provide itself with the objects of material culture.) What has changed is the increasing number of applications that are now associated with “technology.” In fact, some of these new areas of application are so novel that such technologies have been described as disruptive to the current way of doing business; this time disruptive is a good thing!
Few technologies are truly disruptive. So, how can we identify disruptive technologies? Complete due diligence may require something on the order of a cost-benefit analysis of the current baseline processes to be compared against other candidate options. This business case exercise will give you a quantitative data point to make a decision — does the value of any candidate option outweigh the cost of disrupting how you typically do business? However, a quick litmus test is to categorize and then count the number of industries and levels that potentially could be affected by said technology. It is on this premise that I introduce Additive Manufacturing as a disruptive technology. From aerospace to zippers, from up in outer space to down within our oceans, additive technologies have begun their genesis into production manufacturing. The level of disruption is unprecedented with respect to the manufacturing of end products. Additive’s disruption is appropriately second only to IT (computing, networking) in consideration of the entire life cycle of all manufacturing elements.
Additive manufacturing literally builds upon itself to realize geometries that were either previously cost-prohibitive or impossible to fabricate using traditional subtractive methods (material removed from work piece). Referred to as “additive” due to the layer-by-layer build process whereby a 3-D model can be digitally sliced (think X-Y planar slices of an object starting at the bottom and moving its way, in Z, to the top), this manufacturing method better enables the designer to design for intended functionality, not for manufacturability.
There are many additive methods and materials available and it is suggested that you consider a strategy that marries the right technology to your business needs. Currently, I do not perceive additive as a competitor or substitute for current manufacturing in all cases, but as a complement to better enable competitiveness for American manufacturers in the global market. What the future may hold is a different story.
AMT is committed to raising awareness and visibility into such manufacturing technologies as additive.
For more information about this series, contact me at tshinbara@AMTonline.org or at 703-827-5243.


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