At a media summit this week in Austin, TX, executives of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (DM) presented strong evidence that current and near-term prospective additive manufacturing (AM) users are expanding into production parts and materials. The company, formed in 2014, combines the strengths and capabilities of Stratasys Red Eye, Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies manufacturing services, which include a wide range of complementary AM options.
For more than a decade, parent company Stratasys has been championing the use of AM for production parts. Stratasys DM was the perfect group to commission a survey of engineers, designers, executives and project managers, examining their view of AM’s evolving impact on their business, including a look at prototyping versus production. More than three-quarters of the 700 individuals who completed a 36-question survey listed more complex design capabilities and reduced lead times as key benefits of AM. In addition, 73% of the respondents value having access to advanced systems (at minimal risk) through service-bureau options.
Much of the users’ viewpoints in this field still revolve around benefits and challenges related to the operation of specific AM approaches. Challenges listed include cost of equipment, cost of materials available materials, and slow equipment. In response, Joe Allison, CEO, of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, believes that industry must change the conversation. “3D printing’s greatest value is not as a technology, but as an enabler to drive real business value,” he says. For example, if a multi-part assembly can be redesigned and 3D printed as a single part, cost savings are realized by reducing the need for assembly time, reducing part inventory, simplifying inspection and avoiding scrapping assemblies due to faulty assembly procedures.
More companies are choosing to outsource AM projects not because they have to but because they want to. Survey respondents noted that they were particularly attracted to service bureaus that can provide the full range of post-processing capabilities, especially for working with production parts and AM metals. The report states, “Augmented support helps those who are new to end-use AM production navigate uncharted territory.” End-use part production in the aerospace and automotive industries is expected to see a 24% outsource increase by 2018, versus a 3% in-house increase.
Expertise that goes beyond AM is a critical aspect of customer support, says Jim Bartel, senior vice president of Strategy, Marketing and Business Development. He says their project engineers always ask, “What is the story of that part,” to identify the wider use and the workflow that is involved. Combining that knowledge with their own expertise, he says, “We could take them all the way into production,” instead of just fulfilling one step of a manufacturing process.
Across all end-use industries, metals are the most highly (84%) desired build material and a subject of increasing activity. Survey results indicate AM metal use is expected to nearly double over the next three years, with the greatest interest from the medical, aerospace and oil and gas industries. Phillip Conner, manager of Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) Services at one of Stratasys DM’s former Solid Concepts facilities, brings decades of experience to building, programming and operating DMLS equipment and offers another good argument for out-sourced support with metal applications. “With our number of machines, we can run each one mostly with a dedicated material, and we have all the support equipment for safe handling and post-processing,” he says. Conner says the “next big wave is coming” where a wider range of customers will be working with metals for the first time, and all of them will need to evaluate and qualify their parts.
The complete Stratasys DM Trend Forecast report on 3D printing’s imminent impact on manufacturing can be downloaded here.