Detroit — Product cost is no longer the sole driver when it comes to making a business case for using additive manufacturing, according to panelists at the Rapid + TCT trade show.
But additive manufacturing still has to add value for companies to choose the technology over traditional manufacturing processes.
"What does value actually mean?" asked Markus Seibold, vice president of additive manufacturing for Siemens AG's power and gas division.
"I guess the initial assumption has really been … that value at the beginning was associated with reduced product cost. And then the adoption rate just didn't come through as you expected because every single part you looked at — if you associate value with product cost — basically you're not getting enough good business cases," he said.
Siemens uses 3D printing to produce gas turbine components in addition to rapid prototyping, spare part replacement and repair applications. But it took the company "quite some time" to introduce metrics beyond product cost to make a good business case for additive, Seibold said.
At Ford Motor Co., the total value of using additive manufacturing is part of a larger equation that includes no hard tooling, less time in the development cycle, a consolidation of parts and a reduction in various ancillary costs like shipping from supplier to supplier.
"That total value can really make a big impact when you're making that value equation," said Cynthia Flanigan, chief engineer of vehicle research and technologies within Ford's research and advanced engineering unit.
When it comes to defining value, the panelists all agreed that it's difficult to justify additive manufacturing if you're doing a part-to-part comparison or one-to-one replacement. You have to consider more than product cost, they said.
"It's really difficult to do a one-on-one comparison on an injection molded part to an additive part if you're going to use the same design and think about the same type of materials," Flanigan said. "But when you look at how you can add value to it and what that might mean, that opens the door for possibilities for additive manufacturing."
John Dulchinos, vice president of 3D printing and digital manufacturing at Jabil Inc., said design is at the center of the value proposition for additive manufacturing. Most of the applications he sees at Jabil have to go through "a level of refinement" in terms of design for the process to deliver more value.
"Most of the time, the part — on a part-to-part basis — is going to be more expensive, so if there isn't a quantitative value proposition around performance advantages or [part] consolidation or time to market or working capital, then it generally doesn't justify."
Despite the challenges of taking additive manufacturing beyond low-volume production applications, Dulchinos said he and his team at Jabil "firmly believe additive manufacturing is going to fundamentally change our business and change the parts we make."
It's just going to take time for the technology to progress and mature, as injection molding has, and for the industry to develop a set of design rules and tools that facilitate that growth, he explained.
"Additive is just a new manufacturing process that doesn't have that level of maturity yet. And those tools and those skills and those resources need to be developed to make that possible," Dulchinos said. "It's just the evolution of doing it."
Rapid + TCT was held May 20-23 in Detroit.