In my role with Additive Minds, I consult early-stage organizations from introduction into production. While many industries are diving into additive manufacturing (AM) successfully and launching products, some just dip a toe in and then push pause. So why are some companies struggling to get deeper into AM? What challenges should they anticipate?
Tapping into my engineering background in consumer goods, my efforts often spill into helping a customer replace foam or light weighting a design. Eventually, the design conversation turns to “we want to just put a lattice on it.” As if it’s as easy as the parody Put a Bird On It from the TV show Portlandia, where a folksy couple tries to drive sales by putting trendy bird cutouts on otherwise mundane items in a store.
For a variety of reasons (driving sales, impressing consumers), organizations are under pressure to develop and release innovative products. Regardless if a lattice adds value to the part function, this design can make a big marketing splash and is a good visual cue of added technological effort.
I have found that many customers, as well as AM Providers, do not anticipate the array of challenges of “just” putting a lattice on a part. There are responsibilities for both teams, and it takes a close partnership and sometimes an uncomfortable level of shared transparency to find success.
To build empathy for all parties, let’s acknowledge the responsibilities in Figure 1. AM Providers recognize these challenges and are continuing to lower barriers for entry into AM by streamlining CAD-to-printed part workflows, expanding material performance characteristics, and increasing educational tools critical to successful adoption of AM technology.
Specific to lattice designs, the array of software solutions is difficult for users to navigate. Some AM Providers offer a turn-key lattice engine while others establish a multi-software partnership network that can add extra hurdles. Either way, ownership of design data and IP can also muddy the water.
And glamorous lattice marketing stories about accelerated time-to-market are undoubtedly great successes for the industry. While promoting this AM fast-track creates our much-needed marketing pull, setting the right timeline expectations upfront is critical to establishing the path for success.
The future of AM looks very promising. The pandemic has made the shared responsibilities of collaborative product development more challenging and sometimes an unavoidable reason to ‘push pause’. And many of us are now juggling additional responsibilities such as singing ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ one minute to our toddler and pitching a project proposal to key stakeholders the next. Let’s keep innovating and on the horizon we may be able to just put a lattice on it and call it production-ready.