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What The World Economic Forum Has to Say About Additive Manufacturing

Overcoming the Challenges and Reaping the Rewards

By Mark K. Ruport, CEO – Sigma Labs, Inc.
Last month, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published a highly impactful report titled, An Additive Manufacturing Breakthrough: A How to Guide for Scaling and Overcoming Challenges. There were many great data points and action steps listed in the report, and I will give you a quick overview and provide my thoughts.

First, the good news. As the report indicates, “The findings highlight a potential steady growth in the market over the next five years, fueled by aspiring AM value creation and business models. They could increase market volume and have the potential to bring the AM ecosystem towards industrialized serial production.”

However, as the report notes, the growth is not without challenge to widespread AM adoption. This is something we deal with every day at Sigma Labs and our primary mission is to be a catalyst for change in this area. On the technology side, challenges include issues like limited process predictability and repeatability; material availability still limited; and a need for expensive post-processing costs. As for organization and ecosystem-based challenges, the report mentions issues like an inability to identify value-adding applications; lack of accurate cost-calculation models; lack of an integrated digital process chain from designer to machine; and lack of standards and qualification procedures for regulated industries.

That’s a long list of just some of the challenges and the below chart shows the breakdown of the relative importance of the major challenges to AM practitioners.

As the report states, “Today and in the foreseeable future, the production costs of AM parts are a principal obstacle to adopting AM. Some experts point out that this refers not only to machine and material costs, but that perceived lack of robustness and quality also have a significant impact on costs. Both factors lead to high quality-assurance costs after the AM process. Complex geometries of AM parts, small lot sizes and other particularities of AM make it challenging to post-process and automate the production. As a result, post-processing accounts for a significant share of the overall part costs.” 

The issues of cost and quality are inexorability tied together. Low quality and inconsistent parts consume valuable material, machine time, operator time, and probably the most important, lost opportunity time, which the end user never gets back. 

And to quote one other key challenge area, “Lack of defined standards in regulated areas such as aerospace, rail, automotive or the medical industries is slowing the growth of the AM market. Standardization is a bottleneck, as AM implementation requires companies to clarify uncertainties, ensure liability and pass approval processes. In this context, the certification of AM parts and the qualification of production is seen as a key challenge for the next 10 years by the vast majority of surveyed industry experts.” O

Our experience with customers has shown that it takes an average of four months once a part is redesigned to get it qualified. Often, innovation is sacrificed for expediency and the new part, though stronger, lighter or more durable, never sees the light of day. .

At this point, you may be thinking: Thanks for telling us about the inhibitors. So, what are you and your team at Sigma Labs going to do about overcoming these challenges and getting additive manufacturing on long-promised fast growth track? I’m glad you brought this up. The WEF report addresses this directly with a section titled, Seven Steps to Advance AM. This chart summarizes the seven steps.

At Sigma Labs, we not only agree with these steps – we’ve built our company around helping our customers and OEM partners implement them. We are actively helping to set standards by participating in key consortiums, and partnering with key institutions like the ASTM Committee on non-destructive testing, the NIST temperature monitoring calibration standard, and the Auburn University National Center for Additive Manufacturing. Our PrintRite3D® IPQA (In-process Quality Assurance) solution is a critical catalyst to crossing the chasm from prototyping to industrialization. And there is no company more dedicated to raising the AM quality assurance banner, and more important, creating agnostic, vendor-neutral solutions to make it a reality.  

We do realize that we can’t achieve these objectives alone, which is why our Sigma Labs team maintains a strong focus on collaboration. As I said in my Metal AM Magazine article, Building a case for radical collaboration: Across this broad spectrum of end-users and industry suppliers, we are in a singular position to collect a tremendous amount of data that can help improve the digital process from design to simulation, to AM process and post-process steps. We are laying the foundation for our company – plus working with other industry leaders – to leverage our collective learning and create a win-win scenario for individual companies and the entire Additive Manufacturing industry.

The full World Economic Report can be downloaded here. We are happy to answer any questions related to our perceptions of the report findings, and especially, what we can do to assist you achieve your additive manufacturing quality, economic or production objectives. Please reach out by sending an email to info@sigmalabsinc.com or by visiting our Contact Us page. 

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