A big picture perspective on additive manufacturing

A couple of trips away from the office in recent weeks have served to reiterate to me the position of the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry within a much broader context. It’s always a good thing when this happens I find, as it gives me a much wider perspective — both personally and in the way that I approach my work. Sometimes I am guilty of focusing too closely on the minutiae and forget to take a breath and look at the bigger picture within a much larger framework. Thus I am grateful when opportunities arise that allow me to take stock. And so even as 2016 heads towards its close, the bigger picture I speak of is worth considering from a couple of angles.

When I attended IMTS recently, I was wholly struck by the vast size of this trade show; four buildings at McCormick Place were filled, some on multiple levels, with swathes of companies (2,407 of them) offering every conceivable manufacturing product and service. It was immense! The Additive Manufacturing Pavilion was dwarfed by comparison, and did not cover even 1% of the floor space. It was by no means insignificant, and it drew considerable interest and visitor numbers, but it drew a poignant analogy. Moreover, even while appreciating where additive technology currently fits within the spectrum of manufacturing technology in terms of size and revenues ($5 billion versus multi-trillion) the considerable optimism for its current application and future potential is equally real.

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