In a meeting filled with plenty of takeaways, one moment in one session really stuck with me at The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit in Nashville, Tenn., March 5-7. If you aren’t
thinking about additive manufacturing, you really need to change your mindset.
Jim Rogowski, vice president, technical services, and Stefan Fickenscher, sales director,
TRUMPF Inc., were making a presentation on
disruptive trends that could a;ect metal fabricators in the near future. One of the major disrupters discussed was additive manufacturing.
Now that’s not news to most in the metal fabricating world. In fact, many shops are using 3D
printers to create welding fixtures, quality tools,
and prototypes for sales purposes. We’ve covered some of their stories in The FABRICATOR’s
sister publication The Additive Report. Admittedly, the parts are made of plastic. They also are
one-o; items in many instances. But metal fabricators are all about meeting customer demands,
and they should think about how additive manufacturing can help them do just that.
During his presentation, Rogowski showed a
picture of three metal parts, one of which looked
to be an early, traditionally made sheet metal version and two 3D-printed cousins. The 3D-printed
parts were much more intricate and had features
that would have been di;cult and laborious to
create in traditional sheet metal design.
Then it hit me: No welding is needed for that
part. After hearing from other metal fabricators
in attendance about how hard it is to find weld-
ers for their job openings, I guess I had welding
on the mind. The best way to eliminate a bottle-
neck in a plant, like welding, is to eliminate the
process that’s at the heart of the bottleneck.
Understandably, 3D printing is not about to do
that—yet. Additive manufacturing holds great
promise today for on-demand expectations,
such as when a customer needs a spare part for
a machine, and low-volume production orders in
some settings. The pace of technology advancements for additive manufacturing is not going to
slow, which means new production possibilities
await in the not-so-distant future.
“The rate of the progression of speed with 3D
printing is astonishing,” Rogowski told the as-
sembled metal fabricators in this hotel meeting
room. “Two years ago we were using the laser
metal deposition nozzle technology and the con-
ventional deposition heads. We were trying to
do a lot with that.”
The heads in question were large, like weld-
ing heads. The laser beam came down from the
center and melted the powdered metal supplied
through attached orifices, established the layer,
and then repeated the layering until the part
was created. The printer heads were not really
conducive to complex rapid manufacturing be-
cause of the much larger beam diameter and the
limitations of the motion system. They also were
messy because the powder was not contained
in an enclosed chamber, even though the actual
melt area can be controlled quite well.
In the latest iteration of the laser metal fusion
process, manufacturers are using a build table
that has the powdered metal on it and a laser de-
livery method that relies on mirrors, instead of a
large printer head and a gantry motion system.
“The mirror can move that beam in microsec-
onds instead of seconds,” Rogowski said.
Things get really interesting when multiple lasers are used to expedite the build process. Parts
are being made much faster than they were just
two years ago.
So that led to a question that Rogowski asked
the audience to think about: How fast will the 3D
printing process be in five years?
“Faster” may not be an exact answer, but it’s
the correct answer. That’s why everyone is bullish on the industry.
McKinsey & Co., a business intelligence firm,
issued a report in 2017 stating that the direct
market for additive manufacturing will reach
$100 billion to $250 billion by 2025 if adoption
rates continue at the same pace of recent years.
That’s much larger than the figure tossed out by
other industry observers only several years before—roughly $20 billion by 2020.
Additive manufacturing is a nice-to-have for
any metal fabricator today. It might be a need-to-have in the coming years. Fabricators should
do themselves a favor and get to know the technology before their competitors do.
Read more from Dan Davis at
The rapid pace of technology
advancements speeds up
Right now additive manufacturing is a curiosity for many fabricators,
but could it be a major manufacturing process in a few short years?
FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Chairman of the Board
William “Je;” Je;ery
First Vice Chairman
Ohio Laser LLC
Second Vice Chairman
MC Machinery Systems/
Industrias Selbor SA de CV
Chairman of the Board
The Tube Group Inc.
James R. (Rob) Bohn Jr.
Fox Valley Technical College
Lapham-Hickey Steel Corp.
Alliance Steel LLC
Kawasaki Motors Mfg. Corp. USA
Amada America Inc.
Valley Iron Inc.
Jones Metal Inc.
Wyoming Machine Inc.
Superior Tube Products
President & CEO
Fabricators & Manufacturers
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