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Manufacturing Blog: Diligence is Required When on the Hunt for Good AM Solutions

Manufacturing Blog: Diligence is Required When on the Hunt for Good AM Solutions

Avoid paralysis or ignorance and instead fully evaluate your additive manufacturing options.
There is a palpable surge of interest in additive manufacturing (AM) and a common belief that it will play a pivotal role in the future of manufacturing. These forces yield strong motivations to expand AM efforts to achieve better results, do more with products and processes, and resolve issues.

With so many potential AM options, this should be easy, right? Well, no: Evaluation, selection, and implementation require hard work when done well. Unlike a mature technology that has coalesced around performance and operational standards, AM continues to expand divergently in the quest to deliver the best processes. The AM landscape is a quagmire of hundreds of companies attempting to carve out a significant piece of the AM market.

While alternatives are good to have, too many options can be problematic. With dozens of potential paths to get to success, those who are leading the quest to find a robust AM solution for their companies face a choice: paralysis, ignorance, and diligence. Only the last option is the sound, sane course of action.

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Paralysis is natural given the enormous set of AM options. When early questions may be, “Where do I start?” or “What don't I know?” being overwhelmed is understandable. But it is also unwise.

AM ignorance happens when perceptions and assumptions drive decision making. While this ignorance takes many forms, the two most prevalent are haphazardly following the pack (all other AM stakeholders) and assuming that there is commonality (parity) between competitive solutions.

The pack mentality occurs when pundits, influencers, marketers, contacts, and personal conversations lead to the perception that if there are so many people talking about a particular AM solution, there must be something to it. (An extreme, laughable example is when The Boss forwards an article on an AM solution and requests it be investigated for no reason other than it is in the limelight.) Without thoughtful pushback, you could find yourself saddled with something that has no chance of meeting your needs.

Ignorance also occurs when past experiences, good or bad, are directly applied to new solutions. Transference of AM knowledge is something to build upon, not something to act on. Since AM has yet to coalesce around best practices, you cannot assume parity between AM solutions, no matter how similar they appear. Every claim needs to be validated.

Which is where diligence comes in.

Diligence begins with a thorough situational analysis and ends with a complete assessment against the defined requirements. Start with an appreciation for success conditions, spanning output quality, workflow, process, controls, and finances. Then survey the AM landscape to reveal all candidates that could meet those needs. Next, dig in and investigate. Conclude by testing the remaining candidates using your designs to make AM parts in the desired materials.

A challenge when being diligent, one that perfectionists know all too well, is knowing when enough is enough. Investigate, research, and test until you are satisfied that the AM solution will work as prescribed. When you reach that point, stop, and then begin the implementation process. Resist the urge to investigate further or to wait for the next great thing.

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Evaluating AM has a cost, and it does not deliver much benefit when done in excess. Instead, seek a workable, good-enough solution. Make your goal one of finding something that solves your problems or facilitates progress. Avoid paralysis by analysis.

Diligence requires perseverance and determination. But it is a worthwhile pursuit. AM is the future, and it unlocks potential, when the right solution is applied.

For many companies today, the marching orders are loud and clear: Find the AM solution that will get the job done. Paralysis will keep you from experiencing that potential, and ignorance may lead you down the wrong path. Diligence, on the other hand, will provide the vehicle that gets you to your intended destination.
Todd Grimm is president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, an additive manufacturing consulting and communications company, and a 30-year industry veteran.

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