As the Editor of the TCT Magazine I was a 100% advocate of additive layer technology. Partly because it was my remit and partly because I caught the bug. Now, it is wholly through choice, although often more tempered by cynicism. I have been wondering of late where this cynicism has come from.
By nature I am an optimist, so can I be optimistic and cynical at the same time? The answer is yes I can. I am cynical about some of the predictions and claims about 3D Printing (3DP) and Additive Manufacturing (AM), these days. I now have a tendency to reserve judgement until I see proof, or establish a strong belief system, before I start waxing lyrical. That said, I am very optimistic about the future of additive technology.
A couple of posts back I positioned myself on middle ground, with a good view. That has brought with it an accusation of sitting on the proverbial fence and acquiring splinters in uncomfortable places. In view of this coming close on the heels of a very exciting meeting I had recently, I am going to vocalise some of my optimism and go on the record with a couple of predictions of my own.
I am not at liberty to disclose any of the contents of my meeting — yet — suffice to say, it prompted this post.
The current additive technology field will diversify, it's already started and it will become much more defined. It will go in two directions with two clearly identified markets — prototyping (3DP) and production (AM). I am not quite so bold as to put a precise date on this, but within the next 5 years. Sooner if Stratasys/HP make good on their promises and the price of concept modellers goes into freefall with the other 3DP vendors scrabbling to compete with RapMan, Solido and Makerbot and regain some of the market share that they will surely lose in the short term.
Things are going to change, and they are going to change in a big way, for AM; and the changes are going to come from left of field. Currently AM activities are viewed as a fringe activity, a process for OEM's with deep pockets or artistic types to 'play' with. As of today, this is a misguided perception, with a host of real applications that one can point to and say, "No, the capabilities of AM technologies are real and they make a real difference." The one that stands out for me is the use of titanium human implants built using the DMLS process from EOS, but there are many more. The problem is, there is no one application that makes enough people sit up and take notice. The applications do not make a 'big enough' difference. Volumes and infrastructure are key limitations.
However, this WILL be turned on its head in the mid-term. I am absolutely, positively convinced of it. Around the year 2013 I fully expect to point people back to this post and say I believed!
All optimistic and cynical comments welcome ....