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What’s Next In Additive Manufacturing

The exciting thing about “What’s Next” in additive manufacturing is that there is no shortage of exciting perspectives, big opportunities, or growth in AM, of new products, new advances, and new research. In a recent ASME trends-oriented, insight-packed Executive Panel on “What’s Next for AM?” Christine Reilley, one of ASME’s veterans on Strategy and Innovation, led a discussion with Amber Andreaco, Section Manager Materials & Process at GE Additive, and Kevin McAlea, COO, Nexa3D.

Both panelists agree we are seeing important advances in dental, medical, consumer (think footwear), and materials science, to name just a few.

The materials aspect of AM is a big part of what’s next, according to the panel: “The beauty of metal is, or at least powder bed fusion is we have worked with traditional alloys, so that you can show we’ve achieved certain properties. On the plastic side, I mean, that there's been a pretty remarkable evolution… Now suddenly, we have materials that are extremely interesting,” Kevin said. 

Amber expanded on materials to explain that as we move from prototyping and tooling to production, “it is critical to understand pedigree, traceability, to enhance the development process for these new materials or new modalities... Collecting that data upfront and having the traceability to the feedstock, the processing parameters, the post processing. What are the influencing factors that can drive the end production case... so you can have that repeatability day in, day out, to make production profitable.”

Materials advances will likely drive most business use cases because if the material cannot meet the end product, end part requirement, then the AM process can only take you so far. Kevin echoed that print speeds, driving down costs, having the right material are sort of gating factors for growth in AM. “Where 3D printing is today, a strong focus still has to be, as I said earlier, on speed, cost and expansion of materials capability,” he said.

The panel also hosted a lively, insightful question and answer session where participants asked a wide variety of questions. Toward the end, a participant asked: “What about expanding the marketplace, the traditional manufacturing marketplace is based on the early Industrial Revolution, and has not advanced much since then today's market is based on the interactive dynamics of the internet?.

This question provided a terrific way for the panelists to summarize and explore how two important areas would impact the future: Sustainability and Artificial Intelligence (both prior panel discussions covered this).

In the AM Tech Forum Sustainability panel, the “Circular Economy'' was discussed. The What’s Next panel also found this important topic to be paramount in the path to AM’s future. Both panelists explored how sustainability is part of the “Industry 4.0” model of manufacturing that considers the full lifecycle of production (including recycling / reuse / smarter use of materials, sustainable issues) as part of the AM process, relevant to what’s coming next in the field.

In addition, the first AM Tech Forum panel on Innovation highlighted how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) would dramatically impact how the AM process gets improved and optimized. The combined AI/ML technology would continue to be an opportunity to improve all aspects of additive manufacturing.

As readers can see above, all three executive panels spent considerable time glancing back and looking forward to how AM has and can ultimately continue to find success. The wide range of issues and questions identified by panelists and participants illustrated how industry professionals are exploring how to best guide AM and the ASME discussions spurred continued curiosity and commitment to big and small challenges ahead. To keep up with the latest trends, this excellent ASME Additive Manufacturing Collection of resources.