Industry Briefing

March 2009

Direct Digital

Direct digital manufacturing (DDM), also referred to as rapid manufacturing, is the production of end-use parts using additive fabrication (AF) processes. Recent advances in AF technologies and materials allow the manufacture of parts for a variety of production applications. Among them are custom products, replacement parts, special edition products, short-run production, and series production. DDM is also applied to the production of fixture and assembly tools that are used to manufacture products.

Historically, most DDM applications have been based on the manipulation of polymeric materials, though metals for DDM have grown in significance in recent years. This is mainly because of a relatively new generation of metallic powder-based systems that are able to process more metal materials such as stainless steel, titanium, and cobalt–chrome.

Direct digital manufacturing has enormous potential. Many see it as one of the most important emerging approaches that will drive the future manufacturing economy. Because DDM uses layer-wise manufacturing, traditional design for manufacture (DFM) principles no longer need apply. DDM parts can be manufactured with undercuts and highly complex internal and re-entrant features—complexities that are unheard of in conventional manufacturing. DDM also allows for significant part consolidation, which reduces tooling, manufacturing, inventory, assembly, maintenance, and inspection costs.

The adoption of DDM can lead to many business benefits. Among them is the reduction or elimination of fixed assets such as tooling and assembly aids, which reduces capital investment. DDM also has the potential to greatly reduce or eliminate many stages of the traditional supply chain, reducing lead times, inventory, and supply chain transaction and logistics.

Note: The previous information was taken from Wohlers Report 2008, a 240-page global study that focuses on the advances in additive fabrication worldwide. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at Wohlers Associates recognizes the team at Loughborough University for contributing to the previous excerpt.

Wohlers Talk: 3D Printing at SolidWorks World

Three weeks ago, I attended SolidWorks World 2009 in Orlando, Florida. If the event had a theme, it would have been 3D printing. You didn’t have to look far or listen long to see or hear about it.

In his keynote presentation, Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks, discussed a start-up company that had designed a wind turbine for homes. The model that Ray showed was produced on a PolyJet 3D printer from Objet Geometries. Ray gave the model to special guest speaker Sir Richard Branson, the English industrialist best known for his Virgin brand of more than 350 companies.

Jon Hirschtick is a founder of SolidWorks, was the company’s first CEO, and continues to serve as group executive. In his keynote, Hirschtick named 3D printing as one of four key trends that will impact the future of CAD. The other trends were touch/motion user interfaces, on-line applications, and video game technology.

Two SolidWorks customers—New Balance and Sony Ericsson—presented after Hirschtick’s keynote. Both talked about the value of 3D printing and showed example after example of its importance. And then, an individual from toy manufacturer MEGA was recognized and this recognition showed MEGA’s work with 3D printing. I was beginning to think that I was at a 3D printing event. The Partner Pavilion (i.e., exposition) included machines and parts from Envisiontec, Dimension/Stratasys, Objet Geometries, 3D Systems, and Z Corp. And, a few service providers were also on hand.

And, when I thought I saw it all, two engineers/entertainers from Discovery channel’s Prototype This appeared on stage. Mike North, a mechanical engineer, and Joe Grand, an electrical engineer, showed and demonstrated some of their inventions from the television show. What else did they discuss? You guessed it: 3D printing. When the producers of the show discovered the power of 3D printing technology, they wanted to build everything with it.

I walked away with the distinct feeling that CAD companies are finally “getting it.” Hirschtick stated that 3D printing will become a key part of the CAD designer’s daily experience. “If you haven’t seen 3D printing lately, you haven’t seen it,” he said.

Note: Wohlers Talk is a blog that offers views, perspective, and commentary related to rapid product development and a wide range of other topics. More than 160 commentaries have been published since February 2003. To view them, visit


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