This week in Cleveland, the Advanced Design & Manufacturing Expo (ADM Expo) showcased the technologies and companies behind production as industry moves forward. Cleveland, at the heart of the Tech Belt, played host to organizations across five distinct expo zones as more than 2,600 profesisonals came together to explore and discuss in the Design and Manufacturing, Automation Technology, Medical Design and Manufacturing, PLASTEC, and Pack Expos. The two-day event drew crowds to an intriguing agenda of speakers, including a new focus this year on 3D printing and smart manufacturing.
“3D printing innovations and the smart manufacturing revolution are driving the industry’s future, delivering faster prototyping, smarter factories, and lower manufacturing costs. ADM Expo in Cleveland is making these game-changing developments an event focus in 2018,” the conference site notes.
During my day at ADM Expo Cleveland, I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with familiar companies, meet new suppliers, and hear from an interesting variety of speakers sharing thoughts on additive manufacturing in aerospace, business dynamics, next-generation materials, and when and why 3D printing is and is not appropriate for given applications.
A panel called “Capitalizing on the Changing Dynamics of 3D Printing,” moderated by Jack Heslin, President of 3D Tech Talks and VP of Business Development at Lazarus 3D, touched on the business aspects of additive manufacturing as it impacts manufacturing. Dr. Tracy Albers, President and CTO of rp+m; Mark Horner, VP of Business Development, The Technology House; and Dave Pierson, Senior Design Engineer, MAGNET, shared their insights into the applicability of additive manufacturing.
“You have to think about the physics,” Dr. Albers noted during the session. “You can do a lot with these machines, but you can’t change physics.”
This pragmatic take on 3D printing echoed throughout the session, as all three panelists focused on what can be made possible through design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) — as well as what simply isn’t feasible with this technology. As Heslin noted:
“3D printing doesn’t apply to everything. The economics don’t always make sense — sometimes they’re a disaster.”
Horner and Pierson added their perspectives as well, touching on the importance of training; the kids growing up today with this technology in their middle school will be the engineers of tomorrow operating this equipment. This focus on experience and learning carried on throughout the day. The second session, “Additive Manufacturing for High Reliability Aerospace Applications,” presented by Dr. James P. Nokes, Prinicpal Director of the Space Materials Lab at The Aerospace Corporation, introduced another important theme in adoption: regulations. There are, he pointed out, still gaps in defect knowledge that are critical blanks to fill when looking at exacting applications in aerospace. The work will be well worth it, as this industry is an especially good fit for additive manufacturing.
“When we talk about benefits of 3D printing for aerospace, for the space industry, these are huge. We make tens of parts, not thousands, which fits right in with AM. The fact is, AM is here,” he explained.
“The future of AM is — it’s here. It’s in parts orbiting Juno now, it’s with SpaceX, with Launch Alliance. AM is very detail-oriented, and there is a growing understanding of real requirements. We are focused on developing a fundamental understanding of the specific AM processes, and have an emphasis on using different machines with agnostic builds. It’s the R&D that’s going to be the key.”
A big part of that research will always come back to understanding when 3D printing is the best-suited technology for a particular application. Taking on this issue was a session from Protolabs, which last year at ADM Expo Cleveland introduced PolyJet 3D printing to its portfolio. This year, the company was looking toward metal with Applications Engineer Thomas Davis and Enginering Manager Jim Worth answering the quesion “Is 3D printing the right process for your metal parts? It depends.”
Davis laid out a look at direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology as applied to design considerations. While DMLS may be ideal for lightweighting, it is not alone in its ability to create complex organic features, where machining, sheet metal, and casting are also potentially applicable technologies. DMLS also performs well in creation of inte