Blog Menu

Distributed Manufacturing

May 31, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,event,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:08

Most mass manufacturing is done at centralized locations. Many produce millions of products annually. Envision a future where this capacity occurs in many more locations much closer to the customer. Deliveries occur faster and less expensively. Relatively small quantities of products are tailored to the needs of the geographic area. Inventories are smaller, with true just-in-time delivery closer to reality for a greater number of companies and products. Functionality, quality, and value improve.

This development is slowly and quietly underway. It is being made possible from the flexibility and responsiveness of companies running additive manufacturing systems and ancillary processes. The diffusion of this approach is still small compared to the opportunity. Even so, it is real and exciting to watch develop. Most large manufacturing sites are not breaking up into smaller ones. Instead, entirely new products and businesses, such as custom eyewear, footwear, jewelry, spare parts, and after-market products are developing. Production runs are a small fraction of what a large factory produces.

How AM Addresses Supply Chain Gaps and Distributed Manufacturing is the subject of the second in our Virtual Game Day Series brought to you by America Makes and Wohlers Associates. This 90-minute panel session is on June 18 and is free of charge. Four experts will answer questions and address important issues associated with supply chain challenges and how distributed manufacturing and other factors can help address them. I have the pleasure of moderating the session. Virtual networking opportunities will occur before and after the 12:00 Noon ET panel.

Plan to be a part of shaping the future of our supply chains and distribution manufacturing by attending this event. Your questions and participation are welcomed. I hope to see you there.

Response to Pandemic

May 16, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 16:27

On Monday of this week, an important event occurred. It was the first in the recently announced Virtual Game Day Series with Wohlers Associates. Monday’s virtual event, titled America Makes COVID-19 Response, attracted about 250 people. The panelists included:

  • Matthew Di Prima, PhD, Materials Scientist, FDA
  • Meghan McCarthy, PhD, Program Lead, 3D Printing Biovisualization, NIH/NIAID/OD/OSMO/OCICB
  • Beth Ripley, MD, PhD, Chair, VHA 3D Printing Advisory Committee, Veterans Affairs Health Administration, Innovation Ecosystem
  • John Wilczynski, Executive Director, America Makes
  • Moderator: Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant and President, Wohlers Associates, Inc.

Additive manufacturing (AM) is playing an important role in the pandemic, especially where supply chains are disrupted. Thousands of AM systems are operating across the U.S., so local responses to the need for personal protection equipment (PPE) are occurring where traditional manufacturing is more involved. “We’ve seen it play a significant role in face shields and it’s filling a gap in the conventional supply chain for them,” Wilczynski said. Not all of it is for healthcare providers. Some has gone to the broader community, such as those working at grocery stores, restaurants, municipalities, and in shipping. Riply said that tapping into this manufacturing capacity is big, especially at a time when traditional manufacturers are pressed to deliver products. Distributed manufacturing models could become increasingly interesting in the future as local and regional disasters occur, Di Prima explained.

As of Monday, more than 523 PPE designs were submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange, a repository of designs hosted by NIH. Eighteen designs have been reviewed for clinical use and 14 have been optimized for community use, McCarthy said. She went on to say the site has seen more than 200,000 page views and a lot of interaction among users. This capability is central to the response and has had an impact.

America Makes brought together the FDA, NIH, and VA and launched the initiative just eight weeks ago. It has come a long way in a short time. The group, made up of the four panelists, have talked every day since the beginning.

The initiative is helping manufacturers understand where they can help. The group is providing clarification around complex questions on how to make products that can be used safely. A lot is based on a risk-benefit analysis, especially where few alternatives are available, Riply explained. The biggest thing to come out of this response is a trusted resource, explained Wilczynski. Di Prima has found that hospitals are showing increased interest in 3D printing parts because of the pandemic.

Will this response to COVID-19 create a change in the adoption of AM in the medical industry? For years, the industry has adopted AM in a substantial way for surgical planning models, drill and cutting guides, orthopedic implants, hearing aids, and dental parts. The medical industry has already been a large adopter of AM, Di Prima clarified. Even so, the work and learning surrounding the response to the coronavirus will help both the AM and medical industries better and more quickly respond to supply chain gaps when widespread emergencies occur in the future, McCarthy stated.

Will we look at this time as a turning point in the AM industry? Wilczynski said, “Yes.” It will open the eyes to the capabilities of the technology, he said. This experience is teaching us how to mobilize quickly in response to emergencies, with people ready to do the work, McCarthy explained. This initiative could not have happened without these four organization coming together. One of the groups on its own could not have done it, she said.

Following the panel was an interesting opportunity for virtual networking, which worked exceptionally well. Up to six people could “sit down” to a theme-based table or join a virtual lounge to discuss specific topics related to the pandemic and AM. Among the labeled tables were face shields, face masks, swabs, ventilators, designers, manufacturers, health care community, medical devices, maker community, and member mobilization. The networking on these and other topics was about as close as you can get to actual in-person meetings. Link3D supported the event by sharing its experience with Remo, an online platform for conferencing, meetings, and other activities.

Groundhog Day

May 3, 2020

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 06:22

This a rough time for many. A big part is keeping our heads up and staying positive. With so much uncertainty, it is easier said than done. I am not an expert in psychology or pandemics, but I will do my best to offer some ideas.

As best you can, mix things up each day. If you do not, it will feel like the movie Groundhog Day where weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, repeatedly relives the same day. He needed to adjust to maintain his sanity and so do we.

My wife and I go for one or more long walks every day. While this sounds repetitious, we try to take different routes. The fresh air, sky, trees, and birds are calming and invigorating. We also go for long bike rides, although less often. We do our best to maintain our distance from others and wear a mask, as necessary.

When working from a home office, it may be helpful to take frequent breaks and mix in some personal “business” as time allows. I may take out the trash, do some lawn care, or work on a small household task. I never let these things prevent me from completing important office work, but these diversions help to add variety to the day. I especially look forward to regular Zoom meetings with family and friends.

Do what you can to mix things up while staying productive in your home office. Take short, frequent breaks and do not feel guilty for working on a personal task or two as time allows. You will make up for it. Get outside if you can but practice social distancing. We will get through it, but it may require some imagination and safe adventure to maintain a healthy level of sanity.

Working from Home

April 18, 2020

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 15:53

Prior to COVID-19, 5.2% of working Americans (8 million) called home their place of work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home by the end of 2021. That is 38–46 million Americans. I believe many will like it a lot, but others may have a difficult time adjusting to it. I have had many years of practice, so I will try to pass along some suggestions. Depending on your specific situation, such as the number of people and rooms in your home, my words may or may not be helpful.

Many years ago, we had a new home built with a reasonably large garden-level office dedicated to Wohlers Associates. I remember designing the space using 3D CAD so that I could see how the custom desks, chairs, and work tables would fit with the windows, lighting, and other surroundings. With adjacent storage and work rooms, good music, and an abundance of outlets and power, the space has worked very well for up to four people. At this point in my life, I cannot imagine working anywhere else, except for airports, planes, and hotel rooms.

I especially like the extreme flexibility that comes with working from home. I can start at 4:30 or 7:30 in the morning. The commute is short. I pass by the Keurig coffee maker for a rich cup of java, and two minutes later, I am in the office getting things done. It is important to have good computers, large screens, reliable internet, and solid phone services. Professional IT support and security are also vital. A quality webcam is worth its weight in gold, especially now. If possible, find a place that is private and quiet, and make it your office “away from home.”

One of the best investments I made years ago was a sit-stand workstation from Ergotron. Previously, I viewed a quality chair as being the most critical, but I rarely use it now because I stand most of the day. Fitness experts claim it is good for the body, and it burns calories. Some days, my legs become a little tired, so I can sit in literally seconds. A few seconds later, I can be standing and working. Moving up and down is incredibly fast and simple. If you buy one, get a work tray, which is positioned just below the monitor and above the keyboard. It is where my mobile phone, coffee cup, and other odds ‘n ends rest.

Our daughter, Heather, is a PA and now working from home. She sees 12-20 patients daily using Zoom. Many have COVID-19. She likes wearing more comfortable clothing and having extra time in the day without a commute. At lunch time, she can walk, work, or nap. She said the Zoom appointments with patients are focused and some people are more open and candid. The downside, she said, is that she moves less and misses the in-office interaction.

If you are working from home, do your best to make the most of it and enjoy the perks it offers. If you can, find a place that is mostly off limits to others. Take frequent breaks and take full advantage of the freedom. I could not imagine driving to work. I can get so much done working from our home office, and I am sure you can too with the right setup.

Remarkable Struggles

April 5, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 06:58

Our nation’s healthcare providers are doing extraordinary work. They are risking their lives to help many of us. We cannot provide too much support to them. I’m hopeful they receive the personal protection equipment (PPE) they deserve. To date, many have not, and that’s unbelievably sad, especially given the sacrifices they are making.

Several organizations have stepped up to try to fill this void. One of hundreds of efforts underway stands out. America Makes, also referred to as the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, is a public-private partnership launched in 2012 by the White House. The organization, based in Youngstown, Ohio, is focused on the nation’s development and adoption of additive manufacturing (AM), more popularly known as 3D printing. The organization is largely supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, other government agencies, and 180 members. In the interest of full disclosure, Wohlers Associates has been involved with it from the very beginning, so I will admit some bias.

On or around March 19, John Wilczynski, executive director and others at America Makes made the decision to launch a nation-wide initiative to help healthcare providers with desperately needed PPE and other equipment, such as ventilators. The effort, fully described here, is fighting COVID-19 with 3D printing. It is bringing together designers, manufacturers, and healthcare providers in close collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and, and National Institutes of Health. An online repository is connecting the needs of healthcare providers with the capabilities of some of our nation’s best designers and manufacturers.

Many individuals and small companies are also doing great work. One example is Avid Product Development of Loveland, Colorado. The 18-person service provider has designed and manufactured 1,500–2,000 parts for face shields in its effort to fight the deadly virus. The company expects to produce tens of thousands. Separately, Olaf Diegel, an associate consultant at our company, has designed a face shield that can be laser cut and assembled in less than three minutes. His latest development is a ventilator, which uses MIT’s E-Vent design as the starting point. Olaf believes it could be manufactured for about $150, including the 3D-printed parts, a motor, electronics, and ventilator bladder.

Many of the hundreds of initiatives are nothing short of remarkable. They are are bringing out some of the very best in people and organizations. I urge you to do what you can to help support them so that our precious front-line healthcare professionals are protected and receive the support they deserve.

Extraordinary Times

March 21, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 13:21

Countless organizations have shut down indefinitely. The economy is tanking while the stock market declines to unthinkable levels. United Airlines cut 95% of its international flights and most business travel has halted. Meeting with others, even close friends and relatives, is discouraged. Except for getting out to pick up food and medicine, we are mostly trapped in our homes. Most of the world is in various levels of chaos, with no end in sight.

I cannot remember a time when life was so uncertain. So much has changed in a few short days. As a nation, we were slow to recognize the threat, so we may pay a very high price. My wife and I consider ourselves lucky because we have a warm home and enough supplies. I cannot imagine the fear among those who are less fortunate. All of us need to see some light—and hope—at the other end.

The crisis did not slow us down in the last few days of developing Wohlers Report 2020, a project that began to ramp up in December 2019. We published it on Wednesday—a week earlier than the past two years. I owe tremendous gratitude to our core team of nine consultants and authors, and our 79 co-authors and contributors in 33 countries. So many great people pulled together to make it happen.

Now, we need to pull together for other reasons. In today’s edition of The New York Times, I read about a group of volunteers who are working day and night to develop an open-source ventilator to help save lives. A crisis will sometimes bring out the best and worst in people, and this is an example of the best. Others in the U.S. and abroad are 3D printing masks and other devices to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

If you have ideas on how we can work together to combat the virus and support our healthcare providers, please contact me. We stand ready to help.

Ray Huff

March 6, 2020

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:05

Ray Huff is an extraordinary person and employee. He began work at Wohlers Associates in August 2017 as an intern while completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Colorado State University. This came after a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics at the University of California, Los Angles. Interestingly, Ray and I met in Africa at an annual conference conducted by the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. We later met in Fort Collins, home to both CSU and our company.

One big reason Ray initially made a favorable impression was his hands-on experience. He grew up designing and making products in his father’s machine shop. He started a business at age 13. Collectively, this set him apart from many others. He also came to the company with CAD skills, software and coding experience, and a strong interest in additive manufacturing. While at CSU, he managed the Idea2Product lab, a facility with 3D printing and scanning capabilities for students and faculty.

Ray has exceeded my expectations in almost every way. He completes tasks and projects with incredible speed and accuracy. If I show him how to do something, he will later show me how it can be done better. He knows how to tackle multiple projects at once and initiates new systems and business processes that improve our company. I wish I could use a copy machine to make more people and employees like him.

Ray turned a year older today, so best wishes to him for a very happy birthday!

Investment

February 23, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,event,future,money — Terry Wohlers @ 10:03

In the recent past, we have tracked investments totaling nearly $1.5 billion in additive manufacturing (AM) products and services worldwide. These dollars are critical to the future of AM and its developing ecosystem. Without it, countess companies offering machines, materials, software, and services would not survive. Investment dollars do not ensure success, but it gives companies, especially startups, a fighting chance.

We believe it is important, even critical, for AM-related companies to have a strong understanding of the latest developments and trends in this industry. Likewise, it is vital for investors to have accurate information on AM at their fingertips. Without it, they cannot make the best possible decisions. That’s why we are conducting the Wohlers Associates Investor’s Dinner Sponsored by RAPID + TCT.

The April 20 event coincides with RAPID + TCT 2020, the largest and most successful gathering on AM in North America. The evening program is designed for institutional, private equity, venture capital, angel, and individual investors. If you or your company is investing in AM, consider this special opportunity. It promises to set you in the right direction. Space is limited, so register now.

World’s Largest Firework

February 9, 2020

Filed under: event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 07:49

Last night in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Tim Borden and three others broke the world’s record for the largest ever firework. A Guinness World Records official attended the event and said the 157-cm (62-inch) diameter shell was indeed the largest. The shell of nearly 1,270 kg (2,800 lbs) launched out of the mountain at 483 kph (300 mph). Mortar weighing seven tons and buried nearly 8 meters (26 feet) in the ground at Howelsen Hill near downtown Steamboat served as the propellent that hurled the shell out of the ground.

Seeing it live was spectacular! It lit the sky in a bright orange that I had never seen before. The event was part of Steamboat Springs 107th Winter Carnival. The firework came after a failed attempt in 2019 when it exploded prematurely in the ground. It resulted in a fountain of fireworks at the surface of the mountain that was seen for miles.

Attending the carnival was my first. The record-setting firework was the grand finale, but everything leading up to it was also impressive. People from age 5 to adults, lit up in colorful lights, performed skiing maneuvers and stunts on the mountain. It was really extraordinary to see.

Recycling with AM

January 26, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:50

Note: Ray Huff, associate engineer at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

No one is surprised to hear that people produce copious amounts of waste every day. A 2017 study found that over 300 million tons of waste plastic is generated annually. The question of how to reuse this material, rather than leaving it to degrade over millions of years, may be tiresome. Fortunately, AM is bringing new options much closer to home in a variety of ways.

Companies are looking at methods of using some of this waste material for AM. GreenGate3D produces and sells plastic filament from 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG). I recently bought a spool and I am making useful home goods with it. Filamentive, NefilaTek, Refil, RePLAy 3D, and others have produced fully or partially recycled filaments. Research shows that recycled filament is slightly weaker than virgin plastic, but this is predictable, which means that it can be accounted for in design. As proof of this, the U.S. military has used recycled plastics to build bridges that supported Abrams tanks in at least two cases.

In a recent article, 30,000 water bottles were recycled to 3D print a public structure in Dubai. The pavilion, called Deciduous, showcases how AM can be applied to creative structures using materials that would otherwise be waste. An advantage to using AM is the option of repurposing locally produced materials. With cleaning, grinding, and extruding technologies, such as those advocated by Netherland-based Precious Plastic, nearly anyone can recycle plastics in their hometown.

Recycling initiatives are not restricted to polymers. Newly renamed 6K (formerly Amastan Technologies) of North Andover, Massachusetts has developed a method of grinding and melting recycled metals into spherical powder particles for AM. The company is expected to commercially launch its materials soon. Similar techniques can be applied to produce wires and sheet materials for metal AM. The AM supply chain has not developed sufficiently for recycled materials to economically replace virgin materials. Growing interest, investment, and global conscience is sure to tip the scale, hopefully within a few years.

Next Page »