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The Times They are A-Changin' - The Implications of Additive Manufacturing

When Bob Dylan wrote the ballad named above it was an anthem of change—a call to move forward.  In the world of manufacturing, Dylan’s lyrics can now be seen as prophetic.  A decade ago people began talking about 3-D printing or “rapid prototyping.”  The technology has progressed to include “rapid manufacturing,” more recently called “additive manufacturing.”  This manufacturing process creates parts using successive layers of material (3D printing) instead of the traditional method of cutting and drilling away material (subtractive process).

Within the next ten years we will see a wide-spread dramatic shift in the way we manufacture things.  No longer will we cut away metal from a solid block to create the pinions for a transmission; soon we will create that pinion from a digital image. 

What does this mean?

There will be less need for skilled machinists, less need for large CNC machines and less need for raw materials’ transport.  Costs that are part of the price of things we buy will be reduced.  Labor costs, delivery time, material waste and energy use will all be substantially less.  This all sounds fantastic--almost too fantastic.  These manufacturing methods will be in wide-spread use sooner than we will be ready. 

The future is already here! 

Companies are already producing fully-functional products for the machining and manufacturing industry using additive technology.  For instance, since 2003 GE Aviation has been using additive manufacturing technology. 

            GE Aviation

            Paramount-3D Systems

What needs to happen now?

Company training will need to change; college degree programs will need to change; and high-school classes, especially math and sciences will need to change.  For their own survival and long-term success, companies using traditional manufacturing methods need to incorporate these new approaches to manufacturing and begin hiring and training skilled employees for the new technology.

Don’t walk.  Run!

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

            --Bob Dylan

Want to learn more?  See links below!

Print Me A Jet Engine, The Economist, November 2012

Going Mainstream:  Additive Manufacturing, U.S. Department of Energy, June 2013

Additive Manufacturing: Pursing The Promise, U.S. Department of Energy, August 2012

National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute


Stewart Chason

Coordinator, Workforce Training