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Predicting the Future of Additive Fabrication

August 4, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 12:45

There is more than one way to anticipate the future. In the area of additive fabrication, one can study trend lines to gauge the interest in machines, materials, applications, and industries. Another way is to review the most interesting developments among the leading academic researchers from around the world. Not all ideas come from academia, but a respectable share does. I recall Geoff Smith-Moritz, former editor of the Rapid Prototyping Report newsletter, saying that he attended the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium in Austin, Texas to gain a sense of what might develop in the future.

Geoff was right. When I attended the symposium the first time, I was impressed by the quality and quantity of research that was presented. Many of those in attendance know that a high percentage—maybe 98%—of what is shared will never develop or lead to anything more than a technical paper or thesis. However, if you can locate the 2% that has good potential for developing into something that is commercially viable, the time spent at the conference is unquestionably worthwhile.

The challenge is to recognize the 2% when it’s mixed in with the other 98%. What’s more, no one knows for certain what will lead to a successful product or service. However, if one considers the trends that are underway, and has some insight, it’s not impossible to gain some sense of the future. The symposium, organized each year by the University of Texas at Austin, provides this opportunity like no other. The 18th symposium begins on Monday and I’m hoping that it will provide the quality of research results that it has in the past. If it does, and I expect it will, it will be worth enduring the heat and humidity of Texas in August.