The future of additive manufacturing, now…

Posted by Preeta Banerjee

The future of additive manufacturing

Imagine a world where metal objects could be flawlessly printed on a machine, rather than cut, soldered, or molded. More interesting, imagine a world where objects embedded with electronics such as smart sensors could be printed into objects by machines that could mix different “inks” such as metals, plastics, and glass. These smart sensors could easily make learning opportunities in the physical environmenti as well as create opportunities for connected devicesii that assist us in our work and play. That future is not too far away as metal printing reaches into the future.

I recently had the chance to catch up with one of my Deloitte colleagues who attended the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, was one of the highlights of the show. In particular, new direct metal printing (DMP) machines were showcased, designed for high-volume industrial applications in the medical, aerospace and automotive industries, among others. These and other advancements in 3D printers capable of handling high-volume printing are expected to reduce manufacturing time and costs while producing precise, high-quality, complex parts. This display of new materials capabilities – in this case titanium or stainless steel and nickel alloy – resonates with our recent exploration on the need for Additive Manufacturing solution providers to turn to innovation to improve the adoption and use of AM in our recent research, “3D opportunity for technology, media, and telecommunications” (as well as Deloitte’s 2016 TMT Prediction related discussion held at CES.) In both instances, we explore the development of new materials paving the way for greater AM adoption, as well as making new products and capabilities possible. These materials developments include not only the materials mentioned above, but also other new materials still being explored, such as grapheneiii and other substances.

As we highlight in “3D opportunity for technology, media, and telecommunications,” technology companies can provide an array of options to help manufacturers explore broader use beyond rapid prototyping and invest in the next generation of AM technologies, such as hybrid printing, multi-material, multicolored fabrication techniques and touch based user interfaces. Options range from the scanning of physical objects to modeling, designing and slicing software to the materials and printers themselves, i.e. content, services, software, materials and fabrication techniques and systems. A look at patent applications in these areas (figure 1) gives us a hint of developments we might expect to see for AM in the very near future.

Figure 1. Profile of patents issued in the AM Space (2011-15)

As CES 2016 highlighted, exploring and using new materials and fabrication techniques can address challenges of current material limitations; cost and speed of printing; and finish quality.  Other TMT companies can similarly address the challenges or can support interoperability of content to cater to the need for interchangeable formats. Alternately, they can develop interactive and collaborative software to address complex design and model verification, or can manage digital rights and data traffic to address security IP and data management issues.  Where do you see the next wave of innovation in Additive Manufacturing that can fuel adoption in the future?

i Digital education 2.0: From content to connections
ii The Internet of Things ecosystem:  Unlocking the business value of connected devices
iii Graphene: Research Now, Reap Next Decade, Video and Article

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