In his latest book, Thank You for Being Late, An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize author Thomas Friedman brings forward the exponential wave of business innovation and computing technology that surrounds all of us today, what he terms as the “supernova” of forces.

The book has provided new revelations for this Editor, and I recommend that our readers read this book.

The book has also motivated us to renew our efforts to seek out additional evidence and reinforcement for our readers.

In prior Supply Chain Matters postings, we brought attention to the first 3D part certified for commercial aerospace use in 2015, a multi-color, multi-material series of 3D printing technology developed by Stratasys in 2016, and pilot efforts by contract manufacturer Jabil to prototype volume printing of component parts utilizing new HP 3D volume printers.

Thus, we bring Supply Chain Matters reader attention to a sampling of some new recent developments concerning acceleration in 3D printing and additive layer manufacturing capabilities.

A published Reuters report, South Africa in talks with Boeing and Airbus to print 3D prints, indicates that South African’s scientists and researchers are developing what is described as the world’s largest machine capable for producing titanium powder-based 3D printing of aircraft parts using lasers to melt the powdered titanium.

The termed Aeroswift research project has produced three demonstrator parts in its pilot phases and reportedly, talks are underway with Airbus as to how to best commercialize this process. Noted is that South Africa ranks fourth in world titanium reserves, implying local supply of raw metal material. The report notes: “During proof-of-concept trials, the machine achieved production speeds up to 10 times faster than currently available commercial laser melting machines.

CNET reported that Ford Motor Company and Stratasys are piloting what is termed as the Infinite Build 3D Printer. Unlike today’s conventional printers, that build layer by layer, in an upward fashion, the prototype Stratasys machine prints sideways, implying that it can build much larger objects. This new 3D printer employs a proprietary thermoplastic micro-pellet powder that appears like sand. The pelletized material is fed along a screw-drive, and heated to liquification before being shot out of a print head. A robotic arm refills the powdered material canisters as-needed, which implies the machine can produce various parts for many hours or days. While this new 3D printer is characterized as alpha stage, product design engineers are already working on ideas to print parts not only for prototyping needs, but volume production as-well. Stratasys has further explored applications with Boeing and members of the medical community to find other printing applications.

In his book, Freidman cites Antoine van Agtmael, the investor who coined the term “emerging markets,” who now argues that we are at the start of a paradigm shift in manufacturing. “The last twenty-five years was all about who can make things the cheapest, and the next twenty-five years will be about who can make them smartest.

Flexible manufacturing technologies will drive this era, and above are two additional examples of how quickly the wave is building.

Bob Ferrari

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