Additive Manufacturing gathering update

Louise Smyth

Trying to analyse the state of Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology might feel like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are being set. Each player in this fast-moving arena presents a piece of the puzzle, and potential and current adopters have questions that range from as basic as choosing a material to as advanced as how to accurately confer properties on a molecular level.

“To obtain a true sense of what is possible today and, in the future, IMTS 2018 – The International Manufacturing Technology Show, offers an unprecedented concentration of Additive Manufacturing resources,” said Peter R. Eelman, Vice President at AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS. “In such a short time, the history of IMTS has become synonymous with AM technology breakthroughs.” At IMTS 2018, Eelman predicts that one of the hottest AM topics of discussion will be how to extend the digital thread from design through processing to final part.

Held from September 10-15 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the AM resources at IMTS include the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion and a second AMT’s Emerging Technology Centre focused strictly on Additive Manufacturing, both located at the entrance to the West Building in an expanded exhibit space. The AM Pavilion now boasts 56 exhibitors, up from 21 two years ago, plus several exhibitors in other Pavilions who will showcase additive-related technology. 

During show years, IMTS hosts the Additive Manufacturing Conference presented by Gardner Business Media on September 11-12 and the Applied AM – Where Additive Minds Meet symposium presented by EOS North America on September 12. In addition, at least six of the technical sessions presented as part of the IMTS Conference will focus on AM technology. 

“IMTS is valuable for any company that wants to stay competitive,” said Glynn Fletcher, President of EOS North America. “Moving into production with additive manufacturing is a new experience for everybody. That’s why we bring a large team of experts who know the technology and equipment, from engineers to service techs. There’s no other place where you can have access to so many experts at one time. It’s a truly unique experience.”

The theme for EOS’s IMTS 2018 exhibit is an 'Additive Mile' that takes visitors through the progressive steps of a journey in additive manufacturing: prototype, looking at material options, selecting and optimising part design, scaling up, production, integration into a facility and ongoing service and upgrades.

“Additive manufacturing is about solving the problem of high-cost, low-volume manufacturing,” says Ed Israel, President and co-founder of Plural Additive Manufacturing. “There’s been a huge void in the marketplace for companies that couldn’t afford the technology but would benefit from producing good prototype parts and serial manufactured parts using 3D printing. IMTS 2018 is the best place to learn how.”

Software for Additive Manufacturing

In a snapshot, the industry has gone from using AM for prototyping, to building jigs and fixtures and finally to serial manufacture of end parts. It’s a recommended path of technology adoption, as it helps companies become familiar in digestible increments. As companies move forward, however, they need to invest in AM-specific software.

“Originally, machines, materials and CAD/CAM software were made for prototyping. Now we need tools that are more robust to produce desirable, repeatable parts,” says Duann Scott Business Development & Strategy, Additive for Autodesk. Scott explains that AM is an umbrella term for many different technologies and each technology has its own problems to solve. 

“With our Nebfabb suite of additive manufacturing software, we can streamline workflow from design and optimisation, preparation and simulation and then processing,” Scott says. 

One of the issues that many users of AM grapple with is that they don’t understand what happens during the build process, and that induces more trial and error time.

“What we're seeing in metal printing is that there’s a lot of thermal distortion in the parts from the energy directed to the powder,” says Scott. “Autodesk software can simulate the build process and look for distortion, compensate and create successful prints for those parts.”

While Doug Dingus, Plural’s Director of Service, has more than 20 years of CAD and related software experience, he will attend IMTS for the first time this year. 

“Jumping into the additive manufacturing scene feels to me a lot like CAD did in the 90s,” he said. “If you look back at solid modelling and how it changed so many industries, this looks exactly the same way. AM is on the cusp of a big explosion. I think IMTS is the place to go, because that’s where all the industry players will meet.”

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