Every year, RAPID brings together additive manufacturing (AM) professionals, businesses, and 3D printing support services from around the world to a single location. The conference offers a number of seminars and workshops, with one of the most anticipated events each year being Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates offering a State of the Industry keynote address.
This year, Wohlers’ keynote fell on the final day of the conference and was preceded by the annual RAPID Awards. This year’s winners for Design for Direct Digital were Darren Walker and Scottie Waldhaus from Western Illinois University. The Innovation Award went to Cincinnati, Inc. and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for work on Big Area Additive Manufacturing, and the Best in Show Award went to EnvisionTEC.
Wohlers’ keynote began by noting that AM continues to grow by leaps and bounds, raking in $3.07 billion in the last year. According to Wohlers, the industry reached a “tipping point” in the third quarter of 2012. The “tipping point” is a phrase borrowed from the book of the same title by Malcolm Gladwell.
“He [Gladwell] defines the tipping point as the moment when an idea or trend crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire,” said Wohlers.
According to Wohlers, the tipping point came as a result of a number of factors all working together to nudge AM into the limelight. One factor was increased mainstream news coverage by respected publications such as The Economist. Another factor was the boom in home 3D printers brought about by the end of patents on Fused Deposition Modeling. Wohlers said that home systems raised awareness of the potential offered by AM, along with giving people a firsthand look at how 3D printers build objects.
A third factor, to be filed under the category of “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” was the furor caused by 3D printed guns. The hue and cry raised by the potential may have, according to Wohlers, done more to raise awareness about AM than any other single factor.
Wohlers also covered current events in AM, touching on hybrid AM/subtractive systems as the next big thing, and specifically mentioning DMG Mori as an example of what can be accomplished. He also opined that for AM to advance even further it needs to move away from horizontal object production to a more freeform approach that allows, to paraphrase him, “3D parts built in all three dimensions.”
Near the end of the keynote, Wohlers reminded the audience that another key patent would soon be expiring. As of June 17, 2014, the patents protecting selective laser sintering will expire, opening up the chance for new businesses to produce, refine and perhaps redefine systems using the SLS process. He said it was unlikely the end of the SLS patents would bring on the kind of boom in products that came with the end of FDM patents, but was willing to concede it was hard to predict where the future of SLS might be found.
You can find our other RAPID coverage here, here, and here, and you might also be interested in a Rapid Ready conversation with Terry Wohlers. Below you’ll find a video featuring RAPID’s final keynote speaker.