Interview: How Additive Manufacturing Is Transforming Our World
For the May/June 2023 issue of Standardization News, I spoke about additive manufacturing (AM) with ASTM International's Mohsen Seifi, Ph.D., vice president of global advanced manufacturing AM programs. Dr. Seifi manages the AM Center of Excellence (AM CoE), a collaborative partnership between ASTM, its membership, and representatives from government, academia, and industry, which works to conduct strategic R&D to accelerate the growth and standardization of AM. During the conversation, Seifi spoke about the broad range of industries being transformed by AM. He also explained the revolutionary potential of AM technologies, which could usher in a new era of science and industry.
What is additive manufacturing?
AM is also known as 3D printing, and the two words are often used interchangeably. According to ISO/ASTM 52900, a terminology standard, AM is a process of building three-dimensional objects, layer by layer, from digital models. This is in contrast with traditional manufacturing techniques, which often involve subtractive processes like cutting, drilling, or carving away material to create a desired shape. There are many applications across a wide range of industries – anything from nanometer scales all the way to meter scales.
What are some examples of industries where AM is making a big difference?
Prototyping and product development is a key area, allowing designers and engineers to quickly create prototypes of new products or components. Aerospace and defense is another place where AM is used to create complex components and reduce weight, improve strength-to-weight ratios, and increase customization. Space applications are also key. In terms of acceptance rate, this industry sector has been one of the fastest to adopt AM. In March, Relativity Space, a start-up in Southern California, launched a rocket that was 85% 3D printed by mass. Although it failed to reach orbit, it was a huge success in demonstrating the possibilities of 3D-printed materials.
Read More: The Future of Additive Manufacturing
Medical and dental is another area where AM has been used for many years, where it can improve functionality and comfort. AM can also be used in jewelry and fashion, creating intricate and unique jewelry designs or customized fashion accessories. Another example is major oil and gas companies trying to adopt this technology to address supply-chain issues. Finally, construction and architecture can use AM to create detailed models as well as build custom components like wall panels and decorated features. Even homes can be made with this technology.
AM clearly has many applications. Beyond the examples you’ve already highlighted, what do you see as the value of AM processes for the present and the future?
There are several areas where AM brings value. Design freedom is a major area. AM enables the creation of complex structures that could be very difficult – or in some cases impossible – to produce with traditional manufacturing methods. Second, AM reduces waste. Instead of removing materials, you are adding materials, layer-by-layer. Another advantage is faster production. Often, if you want to build industrial parts, you need a tool. But with AM, you don’t need tooling or other time-consuming processes associated with traditional manufacturing. Another factor is lower cost. AM can be expensive upfront, but it can be more cost effective over time, especially for small production runs or highly customized products. The last thing I would like to mention here is an improved supply chain. AM can improve efficiency. It allows on-demand production of parts and products, reducing the need for warehousing and inventory management.
Overall, I think the value of AM lies in its ability to enable faster, more flexible, and more cost-effective production of highly customizable and complex products. We’re looking at high value-added products. The space industry is a great example. With rocket ships, how many are you making, and how many parts do you need? You’re not looking at thousands, at least now. As the technology evolves and becomes more widely adopted, AM has the potential to revolutionize the way we design and manufacture goods, creating new opportunities for innovation and growth.
Some people have said we are in a “fourth industrial revolution” or “Industry 4.0.” What is the role of AM in this phenomenon?
AM is a key component of this ongoing fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. It is transforming how we design, produce, manufacture, and distribute products. Recent advancements in AM processes have made it important in a couple of ways. One of them is improved materials. We see advances in material science that led to the development of new materials, such as high-strength polymers and metal alloys. These materials enable production of more durable and functional parts. Another driver is increased automation. AM machines are becoming more automated, with features like real-time monitoring and quality control. Of course, this reduces the need for manual intervention and improves accuracy and consistency with these machines.
But the real value comes from integration. We are seeing the integration of AM with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics in particular. That’s why we’ve focused so much on the technology here at ASTM – it’s really changing the paradigm. The true industrial revolution happens when integration happens. If you are only using AI or you’re only using robotics, you cannot claim that you are really there. But when we bring all of these technologies together, it’s quite exciting and gets us closer to the fourth industrial revolution.
Given some of what you’re saying, what do you see as challenges to confront and opportunities that can help us move forward?
What we see is that the AM industry is poised for significant growth in the coming years, but it also faces several challenges. The cost of the technology is one of the challenges. It has decreased significantly over the past decade, but it remains expensive compared to traditional manufacturing methods. Reducing the cost of AM machines and materials will be critical to expanding its adoption and making it more accessible to small- and medium-sized businesses. AM is still roughly 0.1% of the entire manufacturing domain roughly, according to the 2023 Wohlers Report, which will be published soon.
Another area is materials. While there has been significant progress in developing materials specifically for AM, there is still a need for advanced and specialized materials, especially ones that can withstand extreme temperatures, pressure, and other conditions.
A third area is standardization. ASTM and other societies, in particular ISO, have been working in this field for several years. We established the committee on additive manufacturing technologies (F42) in 2009. There still is a lack of standards for AM processes, materials, and other related areas. As of now, we have close to 50 standards that have been published and over a hundred standard work items that are being developed. We often measure the maturity of an industry sector by the availability of the standards that exist around them. If you look at legacy technologies or traditional industry sectors such as medical devices, oil, land, or gas, there are hundreds of standards, in some cases thousands. Additive industries by comparison are still evolving. Standards are enablers. They build trust in technology, ensuring quality and consistency across different machines, suppliers, and the like.
Read More: Additive Manufacturing Advances
In terms of opportunities, I can name three major areas. One is customization. The biggest opportunity for AM is the ability to enable highly customizable products and parts. We have not unlocked the potential of AM. New software is needed, new design paradigms are needed, to get to the point where we have truly personalized products, better outcomes, and increased efficiency. Another opportunity is sustainability. Sustainability is a buzzword that everyone is talking about, but AM really has the potential to be more sustainable than traditional manufacturing methods. According to recent research, over 30% of carbonization happens in manufacturing across the world. AM can be a manufacturing tool that reduces energy consumption, weight, and the carbon footprint. AM can be increasingly attractive for businesses as the demand for environmentally-friendly products continues to grow.
The last opportunity is around automation. As machines become more automated, they have the potential to significantly increase productivity and reduce labor costs. This could lead to a new era of highly efficient autonomous manufacturing processes. Overall, I think the future of the AM industry will depend on its ability to address some of these challenges and capitalize on these opportunities.
How does the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE) contribute to the field of AM?
One of the major reasons we created the AM CoE was to enable additional adoption of AM technologies. I mentioned one of the challenges is the lack of a standards. Faster standardization is one of the core pillars of the AM CoE. It is playing a pivotal role in confronting some of these challenges. We built a mechanism for research to standardization. Working with various committees at ASTM to fill standardization gaps, we’ve been able to conduct close to 40 projects that are connected to over 40 standards.
The second area is research and development. We’ve partnered with industry, academia, and government organizations. With the technical expertise that we have built within our team, we’ve become part of many projects that are contributing to the adoption of technology.
Education and workforce development is another area. For any new technology, education and having a skilled workforce is a key enabler. The AM CoE has helped to advance the use of AM technology by providing education and training programs for businesses, educators, and practitioners. This has helped build necessary skills and knowledge needed to design and produce AM parts, and ultimately, qualify, certify, and put them into real applications.
Finally, the AM CoE has served as a powerful advocate for the AM industry by promoting its benefits. We have created an ecosystem around this technology, from standardization to training, in market intelligence through Wohlers Associates, the Consortia for Materials Data and Standardization (CMDS), and our events such as the International Conference on Advanced Manufacturing (ICAM). We’re really closing the loop.
Mohsen Seifi, Ph.D., is vice president of global advanced manufacturing (AM) programs at ASTM International where he is responsible for the ASTM AM Center of Excellence (AM CoE), Wohlers Associates, and various AM-related programs while leading a team of technical experts in the field. He also holds an adjunct faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University. He has co-authored 40+ peer-reviewed publications with more than 3,800 citations and has presented 100+ invited and keynote lectures. He serves on several advisory board positions supporting major AM programs.