Motor City Madness… okay, not quite madness, but stints of craziness! I recently made a trip with a coworker to Detroit to attend the Rapid+TCT show held at the COBO Center in Detroit, Michigan. The Rapid+TCT show seeks to drive growth in the additive manufacturing industry.
It was four days of vendor booths and discussions with some of the top experts in the field. While not as large as ConExpo or Bauma, Rapid+TCT is capable to easily fill 3-4 days for visitors. The first day featured talks by experts in the field – everything from photo scanning software and CT scanning machines to additive hybrid molding techniques.
Here are some of my takeaways from the conference: many of the world’s top fabrication companies have invested a lot of resources in developing additive manufacturing machines. This is a far cry from the geeky maker-fair type conventions many might think this is. Additive manufacturing may well be the single largest technological disruptor in our lifetime. Thus, poignant questions begin to bubble up: How is it going to affect the average consumer? Will additive manufacturing find its way into the fluid power industry? Is there any advantage of additive manufacturing that can be realized today?
The early adopters to additive manufacturing are the aerospace, communications, and prototype industries. These industries can handle some of the downsides to additive manufacturing like high costs while allowing the advantages to shine through like reduction of part count, dramatic weight reduction, and complex geometries not possible with subtractive manufacturing. The advantages are already starting to slip into the automotive industry. Both Ford and GM have current production parts that are made using additive manufacturing. Will the construction/forestry and heavy equipment sectors be next to see some parts being converted to additive manufacturing? Only time will tell.
The other side of additive manufacturing is the engineering aspect of designing for additive. This requires an incredible reduction of material usage to make it more economical. The cost of powdered metal will not allow classic subtractive manufacturing parts to be converted to additive without unacceptable costs. There are new types of software beginning to emerge that allows engineers to dramatically reduce material usage while optimizing the shape based on loading inputs. I like this aspect of additive because it reduces waste. Someday we may be driving in cars that are 20 times lighter than current vehicles because of this new method of reducing weight.
So where will additive show up within the construction/forestry/heavy equipment? What will the casualties be of this transformative technology? Maybe these answers will be obvious in a year or maybe 5 or even 10 years from now. If you do, comment on our Facebook or LinkedIn page!
Hydraulic Engineering Supervisor