Product Development in Additive is like Playing PACMAN at Expert Level.
Updated: Jun 9
In Additive Manufacturing, everything has to fit the customer's requirement for an AM process to be the manufacturing strategy of choice, and because AM is still cost intensive, there are so many challenges to overcome before you get the chance to fully convince the customer of their intended application. Multiple conversations about technical feasibility, as well as product-specific process development, are part of the development phase.
Design: There is a gap between the customer's opinion and what is technically feasible, which requires an iterative process to move step by step towards a compromise. However, as OEM's increasingly work with AM and have their own design departments, the gap can be closed faster than in the past. Design is key to an AM application, and if you don't generate an "AM-only advantage," there is a high chance that you will lose the use case before you start your product-specific process development.
Printing: All eyes are on process engineering. Before we even start to think about process robustness and reliability, we need to address successful printing of the desired customer geometry. AM offers so many possibilities in terms of design that process strategies play a critical role, especially in laser powder bed fusion. The scan area and energy input are quickly modified through a design of experiment, the support strategies are modified according to the required surfaces, and the first parts can be handed over to the product development department. Unfortunately, if these parts fit the intended application, it is a completely different story, and in many cases you start your print twice.
Post-Processing: This is where the real challenge begins! Surface quality, additional coating, milling of functional surfaces are just a small selection of the huge pool of post-processing strategies that are either not yet qualified for AM materials or require specific expertise from the operator. Multiple iterations to qualify the intended part must be performed before you can show the demo part of your choice to your customer. In some cases, post-processing can be the bottleneck and the killer of your AM application. From my point of view, robust post processing is key to your AM use case and is still completely underestimated because in many cases printing is the focus of the business.
Target Costs: Last but not least, target costs. After you have done all your research and testing to qualify the requested part, the cost is discussed for the last time and here you have to be a magician to convince your customer that AM is still the manufacturing strategy of choice after their patience during the development phase required due to failed builds and insufficient part quality. Everything is taken into account - supply chain, part cost, AM use case - and must be defended against the cost potential of conventional manufacturing strategies - one of the hardest jobs for a product development engineer in communicating with the customer.
Today, it is not just about riding the AM wave and showing that parts can be printed - it is like playing PACMAN at expert level because you can fail so quickly at the different stages and lose your AM use case without realizing that it is at risk.
That's why I love this technology, it has yet to prove its worth and that's what makes this manufacturing strategy exciting and why it needs young curious engineers.