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A New Way of Thinking: Sizing up the Shift in Additive Manufacturing

At a time when additive manufacturing (AM) could be propelling manufacturers to new production horizons and unprecedented levels of efficiency, a shift has been gaining momentum as some big corporations continue to struggle to see returns on their AM...
by Bill Herman
Feb 10, 2021

At a time when additive manufacturing (AM) could be propelling manufacturers to new production horizons and unprecedented levels of efficiency, a shift has been gaining momentum as some big corporations continue to struggle to see returns on their AM investments.

While the incredibly appealing future promised by AM decades ago has not been achieved by the wide-ranging industries once projected to benefit most, it has not been due to a lack of technology – or even access to expert insights. On the contrary, technology and insights are abundant and quite impressive.

What has plagued the implementation of AM is based more on inflexible corporate cultures, a lack of inclination to pivot from established processes, and a reluctance to adopt a new way of thinking when it comes to effective AM application.

The shift

The shift happening today across the manufacturing industry involves some of the industry’s largest players. Based on available resources, these notable giants should be enjoying the benefits offered by AM, but due to internal vertical structures and cultural indifference, they have been stymied time and again.

Up until now, the entities who have been prospering from the promises offered by an incredibly powerful AM technology have been the additive machine and software manufacturers instead of those who purchase the technology and try to implement it into an existing, conventional approach.

Faced with owning a powerful “round peg” – representing the potential of AM – companies continually try to force it into their existing conventions – a “square hole.” After repeated attempts, many companies grow weary of expending countless resources to change the round peg to fit into their comfortable square hole.

In the past, larger OEM manufacturing companies might decide to absorb smaller AM outfits in order to quickly assimilate the technology into their process, only to realize that the technology is only as good as the insights, experience, and people who run it. You can purchase the technology, or the entire company, and still miss the boat by not investing, or not keeping employees who understand the culture and how to effectively apply AM.

As I see it, there are two factors for companies who desire to reach the potential production opportunities offered by AM:

  • Earn the technology through hard work, research, testing, and constant adjustments to improve quality and the overall process.

  • Turn to the experts who can navigate the technology, and tap into their experience and insights to facilitate the immediate pivot needed to create the innovation required to achieve ROI.

Navigating the path to production

When I get called in to assess an AM process, my primary challenge begins with ensuring that leadership is willing to adopt a potentially new way of thinking. If those leaders are not prepared to reevaluate everything they think they know about AM, it can become a very rough road to finding a truly effective solution.

Many of our partners have earned the technology through decades of development and implementation of AM. There are no limits to what we see when faced with a new application. In fact, any limits encountered can be rooted in a client’s existing culture or an inflexible conventional process.

With the varied selection of quality AM machines available, most requiring millions of dollars to simply power up, there’s no reason to not acquire the insights and the brain trust to ensure the perfect machine has the perfect path laid out for production. Manufacturers who are willing to let our team show them how they can adopt a successful AM manufacturing process will have access to the experience necessary to meet their specific needs and business goals. Our role to navigate, educate, and collaborate with our clients allows us to be partners on their path to production.

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Author
Bill Herman
President
Bill Herman is the president of Cincinnati-based New Era Assessments LLC. In addition to a quality and test engineering background in traditional manu ...
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