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Posted by: 5. August 2013

After the Hype, the Promise Remains

 

I had assumed that writing about manufacturing technology would always mean writing about topics that few people appreciate. Then came additive manufacturing. To see the amount of coverage given to this topic in the last year or two in the general media, just type “3D printing” into the search box of any major news website. For those of us in industry who know of additive manufacturing and know what it can do, the amount of media attention to this topic can seem surreal. It can also be disconcerting, because it’s not hard to see where this is likely to go. Enthusiasm is fickle. Waves crash. Will the crest of attention to additive manufacturing be followed by a trough of disillusionment?

Maybe.

However, those who work in manufacturing will not be much affected by this change. That is because few of them—maybe none of them—got swept up in the inflated expectations.

Instead, real-world additive manufacturing is and has always described a class of technology that faces certain limitations and offers certain promise. The limitations (partly summarized here) relate to materials, accuracy, finish, process understanding and the work envelopes of the machines.

Meanwhile, the promise of additive manufacturing includes:

Design freedom

Cost and weight savings

Inventory reduction

Assembly reduction

Batch size reduction

For manufacturers, it has always been a question of whether the promise of this technology is valuable enough to justify the cost of adopting it and facing its limitations. Many have decided the answer is yes. As the advance of the technology heightens its promise while continuing to curb back its limitations, the number saying yes will grow. What’s more, this will continue to be the case even if the attention to additive manufacturing one day fades to the point that it once again becomes a topic that few people apart from manufacturers appreciate.

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