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Additive Manufacturing: Areas of Industrial Impacts

December 16, 2014 | Category: Industry Insights

AMT–The Association For Manufacturing Technology fields many industrial questions from our membership. Regardless of the type, one area that is critically discussed is about the industrial maturity of any given technology.

Additive Manufacturing: Areas of Industrial Impacts

AMT–The Association For Manufacturing Technology fields many industrial questions from our membership. Regardless of the type, one area that is critically discussed is about the industrial maturity of any given technology. No one technology has been criticized or otherwise questioned more recently than additive manufacturing (AM) when it comes to its industrial prowess and potential for production acceptance. This is a natural and justified question in any technology’s maturity cycle, and so it is for AM.

Technologies tend to have varying influence on the final discrete product delivery (e.g. sub-component, assembly or final product itself) depending upon its place in the value chain. Technologies seem to attract more attention, and subsequent rigor, for transition acceptance and approval, either the closer the insertion point is to final product or the criticality of the work being done. With this in mind, it has been remarkable as of late to observe the industrial attention paid to AM in terms of obtaining industrial acceptance. Observations have been made within three impact areas: 1) standards, 2) manufacturing readiness levels (MRLs) and 3) industrial exhibitions.


As part of many industrial supply chain qualifications, appropriate standards are investigated and then are suggested, if not required. Standards provide a means to manage risk, support consistency, and ultimately are leveraged to enable reliability and quality assurance. ASTM F42 is the U.S. standards body for additive manufacturing and has an unprecedented cooperative agreement with the international additive standards group, ISO/TC 261. Both groups are providing a fast-track approval process to accept each body’s standard developments. Next year looks to be the time horizon for the first co-developed standard between the two bodies.

What is the industrial impact? Having a standard for manufacturing techniques provides a starting point for industrial supply chain personnel to vet and accept production from their industrial base. Without a vetted industrial base, it is in many times cost-prohibitive or risk-prohibitive to undertake step-function acceptance for a major program. Why are major programs or high-demand products necessary? Without a significant demand, the supply base is less likely to invest in affordability or new development, or otherwise reinvest in the technology to provide reliable, quality manufactured goods.

Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRLs)

MRLs are used to help quantify the lifecycle of manufacturing technology development from concept through to production insertion and sustainability. These are different from technology readiness levels (TRLs) and, though it may seem an exercise in semantics, the difference between a TRL and an MRL is not only quite discriminatory, it is necessary. Industrial acceptance of the technologies utilized within the manufacturing space requires understanding and proving more than just the discrete technology itself. MRL-based acceptance additionally requires proof of maturation from lab-scale to production-scale integration and insertion.

America Makes has taken on the industrial challenge of developing AM/3D printing (3DP) through the middle maturation stages of manufacturing technology MRLs (explicitly collaborating from MRL 4 to 7). What has now become more tangible and quantifiable is the industrial readiness of AM in terms of process control, material system knowledge and design parameters. The latest program management review (PMR) which took place in Youngstown, Ohio, in late September, provided its members a review of currently funded projects’ progress and deliverables. Within deliverables of earlier funded projects are critical mechanical property findings (e.g., “B”- and “S”-basis test results yielding multiple mechanical property data with statistical sampling and averages). Such data results guide designers as to the parameters in which to apply as they complete the design for manufacturing process. As a side note, while the traditional databases for design are necessary today, AM is also an enabler to move from such a static design for manufacturing (relying strictly on one-dimensional properties) and toward design for functionality (levering the custom, sometimes anisotropic potential of AM-based products).

Industrial Exhibitions

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is the premier exhibition venue for market participants in the manufacturing technology space. For several years, AM was showcased in AMT’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC). However, many of the previous “emerging” AM technologies were showcased on the exhibitions floor this year, as they have garnered significant consideration as a technology capability for today—not something only for future consideration.

But having more AM on the “industrial” exhibitions floor was not the only remarkable impact on AM’s industrial readiness. The other impact was demonstrated by Jay Rogers, CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, and Doug Woods, AMT president, who drove the 3D-printed car off the ETC floor and around McCormick Place. Partnerships between Local Motors, Oak Ridge National Laboratories and Cincinnati Inc. produced one of the quickest technology developments demonstrated, arguably only possible with additive techniques.

The industrial impact has become explicitly evident in the enormous amount of industrial participation, development and procurement of seemingly all-things additive. With public-private partnerships like America Makes bringing to the table the developers, suppliers and end users, many pre-competitive challenges are now being overcome (with many more potential solutions in the pipeline). However, many industrial questions remain and are highly focused on process control, quality assurance and more industrial material systems. It is suggested to keep an open mind of the possible and not ignore what value is available today. Providing a solid foundation to America Makes and other cooperative efforts is the continued progress within the standard organizations—the guiding light to additive stakeholders. It is such compelling evidence that creates the buzz and encouragement within the manufacturing world which continues its due diligence on enabling technologies such as additive.

Special thanks to Shane Collins, director program management for Incodema 3D, for his contribution to the Standards section of this article, and Ed Morris, executive director for America Makes, and Rob Gorham, director of operations for America Makes, for their contributions to the MRL section.

For more information about additive technologies, contact Tim Shinbara at or 703-827-5243.