Rapid Ready Roundup: FIRST, Aerodef, Firearms, and Hershey’s

In the course of my diligent efforts to keep you good people up to date on the state of additive manufacturing (AM), I come across many interesting news items. I’ll gather them up every so often and present them in a Rapid Ready Roundup (like this one). You can find the last Roundup here.

We’ll start today’s Roundup with news from FIRST. If you haven’t previously heard of the organization, FIRST promotes STEM education with a number of different programs, the most popular of which is probably the robotics competition. Continue reading

BAE Systems Flies High With Additive Manufacturing

It wasn’t even all that long ago that various analysts were dismissive of the ability for additive manufacturing (AM) to disrupt traditional manufacturing methods. They claimed the process was too slow for most uses beyond rapid prototyping or one-off parts production. GE Aviation was the first aerospace company to prove that idea false and other companies have followed suite, finding ways in which AM trumps traditional manufacturing.

BAE Systems has joined the AM fold with its first test run of 3D printed parts. In December, A RAF Tornado GR4 had a successful flight and landing after taking off from the company’s airstrip in Warton, Lancashire. Among the 3D printed parts fitted to the plane were protective covers for cockpit radios, support struts on air intake doors, and guards for power take-off shafts. Continue reading

Picatinny Arsenal Develops Additive Manufacturing for US Armed Forces

Additive manufacturing (AM) has been embraced by experts in nearly every field for its flexibility and speed in producing complex design. This includes research and development teams working for the US military. Entire UAV wings can be built in a single print, the Navy is interested in the potential for on-the-spot spare part and tool production, and the Army has brought 3D printing to the front lines for similar reasons.

Picatinny Arsenal, the Joint Center of Excellence for Armaments and Munitions, located in northern New Jersey, is a research, education and training facility for all the branches of the US military. A team of 5,000 works on improving the combat effectiveness of the US military in a number of fields, including IED defeat technologies, precision-guided munitions, fire control systems, small-arms weapon systems, and gunner protection armor. Continue reading

Lockheed Martin Steps Up Digital Manufacturing

Manufacturing is a rapidly evolving beast, driven by a new era of digital manufacturing. 3D scanning and design, along with additive manufacturing (AM) and other high tech production processes, have the potential to significantly change the landscape of manufacturing. Final products can be built more quickly, at lower cost, and with less waste than at any other time in history.

Lockheed Martin wants to seize the digital manufacturing zeitgeist and squeeze it for all it’s worth. The company envisions a “digital tapestry” of production in which every step of the process of creating new goods is a single strand. Its tool of choice is called Model Based Engineering (MBE), an integrated toolset that updates and maintains digital data from start to finish. Continue reading

Optimism Abounds at RAPID 2013 Conference and Exhibition

In recent years, 3D printing has been hailed by many media outlets as a harbinger of a manufacturing revolution that will usher in a custom-built world.

While acknowledging that the news reports are a few decades late, the keynote speakers who opened RAPID 2013 on June 11 in Pittsburgh didn’t exactly disagree with those claims.

“It is truly vital to engage in advanced manufacturing opportunities,” said Brett Lambert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, U.S. Department of Defense. “The world has changed and is changing as we gather here today.”


Michael F. Molnar, chief manufacturing officer, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), agreed with Lambert, but said the country needs to focus on advanced manufacturing techniques, including 3D printing. The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) is one way to improve that focus. Molnar said NAMII and three new institutes for manufacturing innovation that will be founded this year, are trying to bridge the gap between research and commercialization.

Edward Morris, director of NAMII, said the institute envisions widespread adoption of additive manufacturing as increasing U.S. competitiveness, revealing new and better products and manufacturing techniques, and spinning off new companies with highly skilled workers. That’s a tall order, but even after more than 20 years, there’s a feeling at the show that additive manufacturing has just scratched the surface of its potential.

Initial attendance figures showed 2,700 people, including exhibitors from nearly 100 companies, traveled to the conference this year. That’s up from less than 1,500 attendees last year and about 1,300 in 2011.

Exhibitors Optimistic

The show floor backed up those early numbers, with crowded aisles and busy exhibitors. Conor and Deirdre MacCormack from Mcor Technologies said their business continues to expand, especially after launching a deal with Staples Printing Systems Division to launch a new 3D printing service called “Staples Easy 3D,” online via the office store.

The booths at Stratasys, 3D Systems, Envisiontec, EOS and others were likewise packed with attendees getting a close-up look at different additive manufacturing and scanning technologies. Surprisingly, there was no sign of MakerBot, which made a point of targeting the engineering industry with its MakerBot Replicator 2.

In any case, the increased media attention seems to have brought the benefits of rapid prototyping and custom manufacturing to light to many new people, but it’s still just getting started.

Read our coverage of day two of the RAPID 2013 Conference & Exhibition here.