Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is poised to transform the manufacturing sector. In its recent report, Just Press “Print”: Canada’s Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem, ICTC found that the global AM ecosystem is growing at a brisk 24% a year and is set to generate US $35.0 billion of revenue a year by 2024.
AM represents a diverse group of technologies and manufacturing processes which can be used with materials ranging from plastic filament to resins to metal powders. Use cases for AM range from rapid prototype, to customization, to the creation of highly complex manufactured goods that are cost-prohibitive or impossible to make with other technologies.
Following the release of the ICTC report, Just Press “Print”: Canada’s Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem, ICTC’s Chris Herron spoke with AM entrepreneur Zander Chamberlain about his work in AM and the state of AM in Canada.
Chris: To begin, why don’t you tell me a bit about your business, 3DAF, and what it does.
Zander: We are a manufacturing, design, and art products startup. We use a lot of cutting-edge technology like AM. AM is our core technology. We also do laser cutting, generative design, and we have skills in traditional techniques like machining.
Chris: What AM technologies and materials do you work with? And what AM-based services do you offer?
Zander: We do prototyping, design testing, and even produce finished products. In terms of technologies, we offer Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). Sometimes we work with partners who specialize in technologies and processes that we don’t have on site. In terms of materials, we mostly use plastics and metal, but we have done some work with wood as well.
Chris: What are some of the key challenges for AM entrepreneurs such as yourself?
Zander: It’s always challenging to be an entrepreneur, regardless of what industry you are in or how experienced you are. But there are definitely some challenges that are unique to AM.
The first is process validation. In the current market, there are no standards for process validation and regulation, and this has led to a general mistrust of AM within the international and domestic manufacturing community.
The second major hurdle is funding. AM entrepreneurs face serious obstacles when it comes to gaining access to funding. This is due to the large initial startup costs that are required in manufacturing along with the lack of clear market and process validation. This can make the return on investment difficult to calculate and validate with financial institutions and investors.
The third biggest challenge is finding talent. There are few marketable employees with skills in AM. This can limit the growth capacity of small enterprises in AM. Once successful, they can only grow at the pace at which they can train employees due to the complexity of AM. Of course, many industries have issues with talent, but it’s exaggerated in AM because AM is still a relatively new player in the labour market.
Finally, there is also the fact that AM is just not well-known as a technology. That kind of relates to the funding and the cost issue. Basically, there’s a lot of technical knowledge that is factored into the cost, and it’s not always easy to communicate.