Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

Recent Developments Reveal a Coming of Age

August 17, 2018

The Summer issue of 3D Metal Printing provides a rundown of some innovative technologies and applications we spied at the 2018 editions of the AMUG Conference and RAPID + TCT show. The first half of this year also took us to numerous other additive-manufacturing (AM) events, conferences, and R&D and production centers. You’ll see these technologies and applications in this and future issues of 3DMP, but all of our visits exhibit a common characteristic: change.

I’ve covered metal-related industries for nearly 25 years, mature industries such as primary metal production, forging, casting, stamping and fabricating. The 3D-printing industry in general, and metal AM in particular, is comparatively young, and still sorting itself out. Metal-printing technologies continue being developed, with multiple processes introduced in the past year alone. In coming years, if the development timelines of mature industries are an indication, the processes will sort themselves out, with the industry coalescing around a handful of technologies.

Already, we can see streamlining, as various facets of metal AM, once radiating in all directions, are beginning to travel a narrower, more forward path. Consider standards and regulations for medical applications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in only the past three years, has acquired a formidable knowledge base and quickly is moving forward to provide guidance and approval strategies that enable more medical devices and implants to enter the market, at a rapid rate. One supplier to the AM-medical-device industry told me that the FDA has increased its R&D efforts in order to better advise and regulate on these items, and that there’s been a noticeable improvement in the approval process. Such developments promise to improve the results of medical procedures, save money across the medical spectrum, improve healing times and provide better options for patients.

More and more learning centers offer training and education programs for metal-AM technologies, delivering the knowledge needed by today’s—and tomorrow’s—industry providers and suppliers. We continue to receive word of new curriculums, courses and programs designed to prepare students for designing and building metal-AM parts.

Moreover, the industry has worked to improve material and process validation and, along with that, build effectiveness and part quality. Recent shows and conferences tout new offerings to provide in situ process monitoring that better tracks part production and eliminates costly and time-consuming bad builds. Technology now provides improved methods to prepare and qualify powders even as the roster of available powder formulations increases. And, testing and inspection technology can determine if completed builds meet required densities and other parameters. Production-machinery producers themselves offer increased capabilities that allow users to better set machine parameters to produce desired parts.

No longer the Wild West, metal AM is growing up, with big-name players involved in producing life- and safety-critical parts in higher volumes, and greater numbers of applications. Where aerospace and medical led the way as early adopters, recent conference presentations reveal that automotive and other industries are developing their own applications. Start-ups, too, are finding their footing, often refining processes and propelling the entire metal-AM industry forward.

We at 3DMP detail evolution of metal AM in every issue, and we have more to report now and in the issues ahead. 3D metal printing is rounding into shape rapidly and convincingly, and we’re excited to help chart the journey.

Technologies: Applications, Management


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