Additive technology will transform manufacturing and it will happen faster than people thought, one of the leading experts in the field told a rapt audience of more than 150 business leaders Wednesday at a manufacturing summit at Reading Area Community College.
Small to mid-sized manufacturers need to prepare for the impending changes which will happen in the next five to 10 years and be a major disruptor in their industries, cautioned Tim Simpson, a Penn State professor of engineering design and manufacturing, the event’s keynote speaker.
Large companies such as Lockheed Martin and General Electric Co. are investing heavily in additive technology, or the layering of materials from 3-D data, which is projected to be a $12 billion to $76 billion industry, Simpson said.
“This is coming,” he said.
Additive technology is just the tip of the iceberg of what Simpson called “the fourth industrial revolution.”
“It’s all about the digitization of manufacturing,” he said.
While 3-D printing and additive technology have been around for about 30 years, it is only in the last 10 years that they have been able to reliably print metal. Additive technology is creating more efficient designs that use fewer and lighter parts.
Simpson showed images of cars and bicycles and in some cases metal parts made with additive technology, such as a titanium hip replacement implant and a golf club head, which he passed around the audience.
Simpson held up his wrist to show his watch, a $2,000 titanium facsimile of a classic 1904 Waltham watch that was made with 3-D technology by Vortic Watch Co., a Colorado-based startup.
“They want to take on Rolex,” he said. “They are disrupting the watch industry.”
One of the advantages of additive technology is that it can be easily customized for perfect fits. Invisalign makes 40,000 custom-made teeth-straightening aligners a day through 3-D printing, he said.
Simpson described a metal nozzle, an advanced turbo prop that General Electric makes for use in helicopter engines. The piece used to be composed of 900 parts but through additive technology is now comprised of only 18 parts and is 25 percent lighter.
That some of the largest companies in the United States are investing heavily in additive technology is a signal, Simpson said.
“Hopefully, I have your attention now,” he said.
Simpson had Cathy Dignazio’s attention. The former engineer frequently murmured, “Wow,” during his talk.
Dignazio, who teaches engineering and robotics at the Technical College High School in Pennock’s Bridge, Chester County, said later, “This new revolution is coming and it is going to put companies out of business if they don’t wake up.”
Scot Case, a consultant with Springboard International Inc. in Sinking Spring, said he was “completely blown away” by Simpson’s presentation. The information about additive technology was a revelation to him.
“It is like being teleported into the future. I feel as if I’m living in a science fiction movie,” Case said.
Case said he has a deeper appreciation for how rapidly the changes are approaching. He said he felt a new urgency to inform his clients because it will affect their businesses.
“It requires people to talk about their businesses differently, their strategies and processes,” he said. “That’s overwhelming.”