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The U.S. Has Fallen Behind

September 29, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:26

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many organizations and conferences on additive fabrication (AF) over the past few years. Something that may be alarming to some has presented itself. The U.S. has fallen behind Europe. Case in point: I attended a first-year AF conference this month in Ptuj, Slovenia. The topics and discussions were more interesting and advanced than those at a major U.S. conference held earlier this year. With the exception of some academic research, much of the thinking in the U.S. has become out of date, out of touch, and just plain dull.

The U.S. of the past was proactive in creating new ideas and programs and were on the forefront of AF technology. Excitement levels were high and it was contagious among Americans. The U.S. was the envy of the world. Much of this has shifted to Europe, even to less central places such as Slovenia. If you want to see the most comprehensive and interesting products and companies on the subject, you need to travel to Frankfurt, Germany for the annual EuroMold trade fair.

Another important point: Most of the AF systems that build metal parts are from Europe. They include Direct Metal Laser Sintering from EOS (Germany), Electron Beam Melting from Arcam (Sweden), LaserCUSING from Concept Laser (Germany), laser melting from Phenix Systems (France), and Selective Laser Melting from MTT (UK/Germany).

It’s not too late for the U.S. to recapture the excitement of the past. For it to do so, the U.S. must look beyond its borders for fresh ideas, applications, and technologies, just as the Europeans relied on the U.S. in the past. Our country will not advance the industry to the next level with an inward focus and complacent attitude. It must consider developments in other countries and participate in educational events in Europe and other parts of the world.

The U.S. has an opportunity to play a lead role in organizing an industry that currently needs direction. We have no “map” to the future. Ten years ago, the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences and several other organizations and individuals led the development of a roadmap for the AF industry. It is time for the U.S. to once again take a leadership position in shaping the future of this important industry. The alternative is to flounder down an uncertain path while Europe, and eventually Asia and other parts of the world, seize the opportunity.