Terry Wohlers, President of Wohlers Associates and author of the authoritative Wohlers Report on 3D printing, is my guest on this episode of the Digital Factory Podcast. We talk about 3D printing at scale, the emergence of metal 3D printing, and the inflection points he’s watching for.
Wohlers spoke at the Digital Factory Conference in May, and the video of his panel is now available, along with videos of every other presentation.
The real value in 3D printing is in the way that it opens new design possibilities, argues Wohlers. Parts can be consolidated, weight can be reduced, performance can be improved in a wide variety of ways. But those advantages are only available through a solid understanding of design for additive manufacturing.
Design for additive manufacturing is “perhaps the single biggest obstacle to the broader adoption of the technologies,” he says. Companies “may first get into it not even knowing that it’s important, and then they understand that to really make this cost-effective they need to rethink their designs. For example it may not be cost-effective to do a part the same way they’ve molded it, but if they consolidate two parts or many parts into one, then suddenly it can make sense to do it. But to make that determination requires some design talent and some experimentation to go through an exercise and try it. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing: they don’t have the design skills or even tools to do it, but they have to do it to know whether it makes economic sense.”
Nevertheless, design for AM is still an informal, empirical discipline, an area of “tribal knowledge” based on experimentation.
When will we see a breakthrough in 3D printing as a production technology? When costs come down, says Wohlers, pushing the break-even point between additive and traditional manufacturing to higher unit volumes. That requires continued progress in machines, in materials, and in labor and processes. “In the future what will really matter from a competitive standpoint will be the design and the ability to really drive costs out of post-processing.”
Terry Wohlers’ favorite tools