Question: What can be done to support the uptake of 3D printing?
Answer: Education and industry standards. We need well-founded education, both at university-level, and for experienced engineers who want to stay up-to-date. But there is more: additive manufacturing is not economically efficient yet; partly because post-processing work still causes up to a third of the final product’s cost. This needs to be reduced. But, of course, the more the technology is applied, the more accessible and cost efficient it will become. And we need to ensure its professionalism as well.
Question: Can you explain what you mean by professionalism?
Answer: Take quality control, for example. There are few standards for the use of additive manufacturing. German railway Deutsche Bahn and TÜV Süd, a technical inspection authority, have initiated first steps to establish a set process for the incorporation of 3D printed parts into a product; Airbus is also using additive manufacturing but by and large, standards and regulations around the production process are still undefined. This needs to improve quickly.
Question: Even though Germans have a reputation for being timely and orderly – how come?
Answer: Additive manufacturing in Germany has largely been introduced by small entrepreneurial companies who can see the advantages of additive manufacturing and want to work in an agile way, so sometimes standards and regulation are not their highest priority.
Question: What can the industry and governing bodies do to ensure quality and safety?
Answer: It is perfectly reasonable for corporations to gradually incorporate a new technology such as additive manufacturing into their processes. In conjunction with the start-up culture I just described this ensures the technology is developed to its full extent. Carl Fruth’s Fit AG is a great example. And now, as the technology develops and the industries that can use it grow, we are seeing more structural parts being made; hence, we need to ensure that standards are in place going forward, so the process can truly reach its potential.