The future for 3-D printing is “not so rosy,” according to prototyping consultant Todd Grimm, president of T.A. Grimm & Associates Inc. of Edgewood, Ky.
“Additive manufacturing and 3-D printing are a poor substitute for conventional manufacturing,” Grimm said. “Stop looking at it as a direct substitute for injection molding or die casting.”
In a provocative keynote address at the recent TCT conference for additive manufacturing and industrial 3-D printing in Birmingham, Grimm urged the industry to adopt a more pragmatic approach toward additive manufacturing.
There is a gulf that exists between the reality of what is practical today in additive manufacturing and what is promised — and unreasonably expected — in the short-term future, he said. He blamed the distortion on media hype.
As an example of such hype, Grimm cited Airbus' announcement at this year's Farnborough International Airshow that the firm is going to 3-D print aircraft.
“What the media failed to tell you is that Airbus' statement said ‘by the year 2050,' “ he said.
He claimed that not a single component on an Airbus aircraft flying today is made with additive manufacturing.
A second example, he said, is the hype over the use of 3-D printing in the recently released stop-motion animated film ParaNorman to create facial expressions for the characters.
Grimm pointed out that although the film's use of 3-D was interesting and new from a creative angle, “producers did not save a single dollar or a single second” in using it.
The trend of 3-D printing is now reaching the “peak of inflated expectations,” Grimm said, citing the “2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” report from information technology research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. The hype and inflated expectations, he said, have been fueled by the introduction of consumer-level 3-D printers.
“At any time soon, the 3-D printer will not become a staple in the household,” he predicted.
He lambasted the low-cost consumer machines because, he said, their manufacturers have not invested in development or user interfaces, instead relying on open source code.
“Anyone could make one,” Grimm said. “What they are not doing is putting in the stability, the usability, the things that will actually make them work.”
For industry, he said, opportunities for additive manufacturing are in unique niches.
“The opportunity lies when you change the game,” Grimm said.
The TCT conference and exhibition ran Sept. 25-26.