Where the Puck is Going

The aim of the new "Additive Manufacturing" supplement is to help you understand a method of making parts that will soon be used more extensively.

Columns From: 1/19/2012 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

It might seem strange that on the cover of the first issue of the new Additive Manufacturing supplement, we feature an injection molder. Certainly it seems strange to me.

Additive Manufacturing is a new quarterly publication that focuses on the technology of building plastic or metal parts layer by layer, using machines that add one precise layer upon another. The publication is a supplement because it’s being distributed with two established magazines: Modern Machine Shop and MoldMaking Technology. While the first of these magazines is for the leaders of CNC machining facilities, the other magazine is for moldmakers. Neither speaks to injection molders directly.

However, injection molder Thogus is no longer solely focused on traditional molding. The company used to rely on machining for all of its molds, but no longer. Some molds now are made without machining. The company also used to rely on machining to make robotic tooling for its molding machines, but not now. Both changes result from the company’s embrace of additive part-making, and both changes alter the company’s relationships with machining and moldmaking suppliers. Most significantly of all, Thogus has moved the line that defines a molder’s business. Typically, injection molders take large-volume jobs (such as hundreds of thousands of pieces), while machine shops take small volumes (such as hundreds of pieces). But this molder now pursues all volumes. If you want a quantity too small for molding, Thogus will print your parts on its additive machines.

Hockey’s Wayne Gretsky said his secret was to skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been. That principle captures the reason for creating an Additive Manufacturing supplement. Skating “where the puck is going” is not an exercise in guessing an unknowable future, but instead involves seeing the motion of the game and forecasting where it will lead. In manufacturing, the motion looks like this: Engineers will demand increasingly complex parts in quantities smaller than mass production. Meanwhile, material costs will keep rising so that “subtracted” material (i.e., chips), as well as having more mass in the part than its function requires, will increasingly be seen as an expense. All these trends favor additive manufacturing and suggest that additive processes are set to start seeing wider use.

What these trends do not suggest is that additive manufacturing ought to be regarded as a competitor. To hold this view is to see your business as tied to a particular process. It is not. Machine shops and moldmakers are in the business of delivering certain parts, and the best processes for making those parts will always be subject to change. To see where the puck is going in your market, keep watching the needs of your customers and prospects. Keep asking: Am I using the best processes to meet those needs? If not, additive manufacturing might be the next new capability you add. 

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