Back in 1989, Doc Brown and Marty McFly promised me that in 2015 we wouldn’t need roads where we were going—we would have flying cars. By using this same concept today in the additive manufacturing community, I should still be driving my 1987 Chevy Celebrity until flying cars become available. As you can guess, I’ve purchased new cars since 1987. Think of all the advancements in automotive technology since then; sure it may not be as advanced as flying cars, but in 1989 had Hollywood been able to sell us on heated seats, GPS, park assist, and autonomous vehicles I think we may have been just as excited.
So what does this have to do with additive manufacturing? Like Hollywood, large 3D printing companies are making big promises as to what their technologies may be capable of in the future… but not today. This futuristic “what if” is leading to more and more companies holding on to their 1987 Celebrities and barely getting by, hoping to buy that flying car when it becomes available rather than trading it in for current technology that is readily available and industry leading today. Companies such as HP and Rize Inc are constantly making promises on what their systems can do some day... but not today, or tomorrow, or the next year, or the year after that. So why would I buy their technology today?
I believe it is time to close the lid on what is next and focus on what is available today. For instance, the latest Polyjet technology from Stratasys, the J750, is capable of blending six materials at the “voxel” level to create new materials with varying color and mechanical properties. This technology has likely been around since the first Connex was sold over ten years ago. If it is possible to mix two materials out of six heads, why can’t six materials be done? Stratasys didn’t focus on what the J750 could do “some day” but instead offered the best technology available “that day” and advertised it as cutting edge (which it was). There is no doubt that customers who purchased Polyjet systems in the past ten years may have waited until the J750 was finally available if it was talked about during the Connex release.
Nobody wants to be the last person to buy the last non-flying car off the assembly line. So what can the industry do to overcome that fear? As customers, we need to demand better from manufacturers in two ways. First, let’s silence their promises. If the machines they are selling us today cannot do what they are promising tomorrow, let’s end the conversation instead of getting caught up in the hype. Promises of “tomorrow” could be years or even decades away. Secondly, let’s demand better upgrade paths to current technology. Manufacturers are using money from purchases on promises of advancement to fund research on developments that aren’t yet available on those systems.
New isn’t always better, and new doesn’t always solve your application problems better than what currently exists. As a user, we need to solve today’s problems with today’s technology or we’ll be stuck in the past and waiting on the future.
About the Author
Nick Licari has been with Fisher Unitech since 2006. Since that time, he has installed over 300 professional-grade machines into facilities across the Midwest. Consulting with companies to find new applications for additive manufacturing to help them achieve their production goals drives his day-to-day activities.