5 Ways to Build Trust With Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM)

by | Mar 17, 2022 | Business Drivers

For all of the capabilities and capacity of additive manufacturing to transform core part design, production, and the organizational ramifications of a digital supply chain, it’s remarkable that only one or 2% of the total manufacturing market is derived from 3D printing.

Fortunately, as metal AM technology continues to evolve and stack up success stories, that percentage share is slowly but steadily rising.

When it comes down to it, these key manufacturing decisions are all about trust. And trust is twofold in these decisions: not only does there need to be trust in the business case, but in the technology as well.

For organizations to see metal AM as a viable alternative, they need to have trust and confidence that it will benefit their bottom line as well as deliver parts with the complexity and durability necessary to meet compliance standards. In a previous episode of our 3Din30 webinar series, Laura Ely, Programs Director for The Barnes Global Advisors, outlined five key ways to build trust in metal AM to promote wider adoption.

As more and more organizations trust and adopt metal AM in greater numbers, we felt it was a good time to revisit some of the more salient points Ely raised during the show.

“It’s not blind faith,” Ely says. “We don’t trust something without a whole lot of data and some rigor to it.”

There’s no light switch that can be turned on to suddenly disrupt centuries of conventional wisdom in manufacturing and regulatory orthodoxy.

There are, however, tactics and considerations that can and should be made to help build trust in metal AM.

When we fully embrace new and disruptive technologies, we decrease the burden on manufacturing sectors that are already stretched thin and enable industries across the board to explore innovative solutions that may help increase part quality and lower cost.

Here are five ways of building trust in metal AM.

#1 Building a Win-Win Business Case

Regardless of the industry, every organization has the same mandates: you want high quality parts at the lowest cost possible in the shortest time frame possible. Disrupting tried-and-tested manufacturing processes can be a big leap of faith for companies, particularly small and medium-sized businesses that see thinner margins than large multinational corporations.

Building trust in metal AM means developing a business case that transparently recognizes the reality of how an organization will benefit from integrating this technology into their supply chain.

There needs to be an open dialogue about how investment in metal AM can see utility and cost benefit over time. Metal AM can require a substantial up-front investment in some cases; but, over time, that investment can yield dividends in a more agile supply chain for core parts.

Pricing models are also foreign when it comes to metal AM. With traditional subtractive manufacturing there’s a relatively concrete calculation: “you take away layers, you make up your rates, you understand the labor and you price it out,” Ely says.

With AM, there needs to be more development of pricing models, so customers and suppliers fully understand the business case. With this level of openness, with a goal of creating a win-win scenario for all sides, trust begins to form in emerging technology.

#2 Be Honest and Direct About Capabilities

The foundation of trust is honesty. In the same way there needs to be honesty and transparency in how integrating metal AM relates to cost, there also needs to be honesty about the capabilities of the technology itself.

“If you’re not truthful with your capabilities, when you speak with a customer or an investor, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Ely says. “Because if you can’t meet those objectives, or those requirements that you’ve set, it ends poorly.”

Capabilities need to be taken in context. If a company’s leadership is sold on metal AM as a completely transformative technology and the early stages of the rollout prove unsuccessful, it permanently marks future deployment or engagement with the technology.

It’s best to take more of a crawl, walk, run approach to integrating metal AM. Starting smaller on less critical applications, understanding the capabilities, and then scaling efforts where they make the most sense will keep expectations realistic and work to build trust in the technology over time.

#3 Protect the Data

Another facet of building trust in a new technology is ensuring security. With traditional manufacturing methods it’s much easier managing data on both intellectual property and cybersecurity fronts. Typically, the evolution of a product is housed in a legacy system and limited to CAD files which can be easily stored off-network. Metal AM is, at its core, a digital enterprise. Not only is it more difficult to ensure the security of digital workflows and build files, but once files enter the iterative process, tracking serialization for IP purposes can be a major hurdle.

Delineating ownership of IP ahead of time and offering full transparency is a great way to build trust in metal AM where data is a concern. Additionally, there need to be more resources available to small and medium-sized manufacturers to help protect their data.

#4 Understand the Qualification Path

Building trust in metal AM requires transparency and expectation setting on multiple fronts; even after addressing the business case, the technology, and the data, however, there is still a matter of qualification. Having a successfully printed part to spec is a monumental achievement, but if that part doesn’t meet the standards of regulatory bodies, particularly in tightly controlled industries, trust in the AM process is shattered.

Oftentimes understanding the qualification path means first having a clear picture of what standards are, and then understanding each separate entity’s role in that qualification path. Material suppliers, equipment and software providers, and the manufacturers themselves all have a role in the qualification process. By entering the process with transparency and a meticulousness of documentation and data analysis, it can help ensure a smoother path to qualification which in turn builds trust in the entire AM process.

#5 It’s All About the Requirements

The truth is the parts we’re talking about building are highly complex and have to meet so many criteria for their manufacturing to be considered successful. While meeting qualification requirements is essential, it’s not the end all be all for building trust in metal AM. Building trust in metal AM demands meeting business requirements of time and cost, adding value to a product through enhanced performance through the AM process in addition to those qualification requirements.

In understanding all the necessary objectives of why metal AM makes sense for a business, it becomes easier to set expectations and benchmarks for implementation. In the end, trust in metal AM is built through honesty, transparency, and continually proving the value of the technology through mounting success stories. It’s never going to be a perfect process because no perfect process exists. But as the industry grows, it’s in a constant state of evolution and acceptance.

“When I go back to reflecting on trust,” Ely says, “building trust is does not mean never failing. I think AM is a great vehicle to fail fast and speed up the learning cycle.”

Are you interested in learning more about Velo3D’s advanced metal AM solution? Get in touch with one of our experts today to see how we’re revolutionizing manufacturing.

About the Author

Amir Iliaifar

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

Amir Iliaifar is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Velo3D where he oversees the production and distribution of Velo3D’s digital content marketing initiatives. Prior to joining the company, Amir worked for a leading professional drone manufacturer, several SaaS companies, and as a tech journalist.