} The Additive Manufacturing Conference in Austin Emphasizes Production. Join Me. | Modern Machine Shop

The Additive Manufacturing Conference in Austin Emphasizes Production. Join Me.

Additive manufacturing both competes with and complements conventional processes. AM’s increasing viability for scale production is reflected in our plans for the AM Conference.


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At the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in 2012, I remember overhearing a comment about a 3D printer on display; One show attendee pointed to it and said, “That is going to take the place of CNC machining.” The comment seemed to crystalize the general attitude about 3D printing during that time. Manufacturers that were invested in traditional processes were fearful of additive manufacturing (AM) taking over.

The fear was largely groundless. CNC machining is both precise and productive in ways additive processes effectively are not. For the vast majority of parts made today through machining, machining will continue to be the process, and my sense is manufacturers in greater numbers today perceive the matter this way.

But here is the thing: The fear from back then was not all wrong. Its validity has increased. In additive manufacturing today, the most important ongoing development is the extent to which this capability is succeeding in production—making end-use parts in production quantities. In some cases, these are parts that otherwise would be made through a conventional process. Newer AM machines (some available now and some coming) pass over 3D printing’s established roles in prototyping, tooling and tiny batches in favor of machine designs and machine capabilities conceived with production in mind.

Additive Manufacturing, sister brand and publication to Modern Machine Shop (I am a part of both), has been reporting on this. AM’s latest issue profiles manufacturers now making production parts additively, including a medical device maker 3D printing plastic parts instead of molding them (so no mold is needed) and an aerospace supplier additively producing an aircraft structural part that used to be made entirely through machining.

But a companion story to theseoffers perhaps the most telling portrayal of the relationship between production AM and conventional processes. Incodema3D, a company that has been making end-use parts additively for years, recently won its first major, full-scale production contract relying on AM to print a part made from Inconel 625. Rather than replacing machining, this job brought it along. The contract commands metal AM capacity as well as that of various CNC machine tools now dedicated to completing these parts.

I use the word “fear” to describe one response to this, but obviously, that’s not the productive response. A better one is to stay informed, prepared to adapt if needed.

If that is your response to AM—if you see promise for it within the future of your shop, whether you have begun with it or are considering it—then here is a resource I recommend: our Additive Manufacturing Conference, August 27-29 in Austin, Texas. This will be the sixth year for the annual conference and the first time in Austin, and this year production will be the theme. The majority of speakers will address some aspect of what is almost certain to be AM’s future: its application to production. Some speakers are involved in production AM today. Some are at work on technology aimed to realize this. Learn more and register for the event, and if I see you there, please introduce yourself as a reader of Modern Machine Shop.