How is the fastest growing technological innovation changing the face of contract manufacturing everywhere?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is the process of making three-dimensional, solid objects from a digital model. Sometimes referred to as 3D printing, AM is a cutting-edge technology that promises to put the US at the forefront of manufacturing for years to come.
Already in use in art, architecture, and medicine, AM opens up new, “easy” ways to design and manufacture, with implications for industries including defense, aerospace, automotive, and metals manufacturing. In fact, consumer goods manufacturers Nike and New Balance are already making specialty shoes using AM components. However, the AM process is far from simple, and requires higher-level thinking and skills in order to turn ideas into reality.
While additive manufacturing is still an immature market — with technologies that are still slow and expensive to run — the demand for AM will continue to accelerate as:
- Conventional components are redesigned to realize the value of additive manufacturing
- More people are trained in the process
- Software tools are developed and made a standard part of CAD packages
- Conventional distribution and business models are adapted to avoid unwelcome disruption
- International standards and practices are developed
Moving forward, the AM field will increase the demand for engineers of all types — design, materials, electronics, optics, software, hardware, and so on — as well as skilled technicians. Even as the manufacturing operations become more automated, technicians will be necessary to ensure that the machines — whether robots or 3D printers — are functioning as needed.