I went to the Chief Executive Network’s Smart Manufacturing Summit wondering what new things I would learn about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Additive Printing (3D Printing). In addition to a holistic overview from the 100 Manufacturing CEOs in attendance (check out eLogic’s The Voice of the Customer on the Industrial Internet of Things and CRM), a specific, intriguing area of interest was whether these two rapidly expanding technologies will intersect. Both IIoT and Additive Printing are skyrocketing as disruptive technologies in their respective spaces.

In other words, will future 3D printed parts be generated with the ability to integrate with attached, intelligent sensors? I discussed this with a participant from NORD Drivesystems, and we agreed with some panelists that in the future, parts could potentially be 3D-printed with sensors already embedded. This may not have a tremendous impact to start, but it would accelerate 3D printing’s role in the complex IIoT web.

Halfway through the first day, the answer came when Dr. William J. Brindley noted that Pratt & Whitney will have two 3D-printed metal parts available for engines by the end of 2015.

We have been working on making additive parts out of metal for the past seven years. It’s a big step. In additive printing, it’s easy to make a shape but not easy to make a part.  A part requires not only shape but mechanical properties, dimensional aspects, and more. (Dr. William J. Brindley, Fellow, Aftermarket Technology, Manager, Advanced Manufacturing and Aftermarket Technology, Pratt & Whitney)

What Metal Parts Mean for Post-Sales ServiceSS 3
3D-printed metal parts opens up the possibility that future parts may have sensors. And once they have sensors, they can be networked into mini-networks, paving the way for more complex networks in the future (See Could the Glue of the Internet of Things be Field Service?).

Possibilities then begin to explode because additive printing won’t necessarily limit sensors; additive printed parts may become a component of IIoT sensor networks. These networks are rapidly being established.

Ray Wang puts this in perspective in a recent interview:

There are tons of data. We can say 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years. We can say 90 percent of the world’s data will be created next year. By 2020, we can say 90 percent of the data was created a second ago. That’s how fast data is moving. (The Keys to Surviving Digital Disruption, Forbes, Ray Wang Interview by Kate Pavao, Oracle, May 5, 2015)

In Microsoft’s IoT blog, Taking IoT to Extreme Speeds highlighted at Microsoft Ignite, Jessi Combs and Ed Shadle offer a great example of how rapidly IIoT networks are being shaped today. She demonstrates this in her efforts to become the fastest woman on earth and he in his efforts to go faster than the speed of sound using intricate IoT sensor data dashboards.

The Best Use Cases for 3D Printing Today
Today, where do manufacturing executives see the best fits for additive printing?

  • For Pratt & Whitney, the most profitable areas discussed were newly designed parts or redesigned parts.
  • For Cummins, Tom Linebarger, Chairman & CEO says that additive manufacturing reduces the most cost in the rebuild area, and provides great recycling options. The idea is that with an old engine, you want to reuse as many viable parts as possible. For example, when expensive parts such as turbine wheels become chipped, they can be salvaged by using 3D printing to rebuild the chipped component. Once forged with the original part, the turbine wheel is as strong as new.
  • For Stanley Black & Decker, John Lundgren, Chairman & CEO says that 3D prototyping has dramatically improved the speed of design iterations. In some instances, Stanley Black & Decker has reduced its design cycle time from 18 months to 6 weeks.
  • Almost all manufacturing CEOs that use additive printing (and many have been using it for years) say the technology is ideal for prototyping, adding significant value in their time-to-market and creativity in product development.

What does this Mean for the Future of Additive Printing?
Rick Smith, President of The Additive Manufacturing Council, suggests that the future is twofold:

  • 3D printing will compress the supply chain, enabling 3D-printed parts anywhere, any time and at any quantity.
  • It will force a shift in product innovation from physical manufacturing to demand manufacturing with new objects and new materials.

Jordan Brandt, Technology Futurist at Autodesk, reiterated that the definition of additive printing is creating a part or component layer by layer. However, in the class he teaches at Stanford, the students began to focus more on the connections between the 3D-printed parts versus the parts themselves, which is beginning to sound more like the focus of IIoT. It’s a way to view the end goal at a more macro level.

Additive printing turns processes and standards on their head. He explains that it’s almost necessary to suspend your belief on what something should be because now the possibilities aren’t confined to how we think something should look.

Our Notion of How Things Should Look Will Change
For instance, in Rick Smith’s example, our notion of what an airplane should look like may be entirely different than we imagine simply because design software will be able to create hundreds of thousands of iterations. Brandt adds that once you change a design over and over again in a fast-paced iterative process, it’s almost the “anti-standard.” What does this do to something like ISO standards?

According to a recent report from Frost and Sullivan (3D Printing in Aerospace: Revolution or Evolution? Overcoming Challenges for Wider Adoption, April 2015), “Additive manufacturing is considered to be this century’s leading breakthrough. Not only will it open new manufacturing horizons, it will enable parts and systems optimisation to develop better products…”

The A-ha Moment
It’s a huge leap to go from plastics to metal in 3D printing, and hearing that news was most certainly my “A-ha” moment at the Summit. And even though most agree many traditional manufacturing methods will remain in place, the possibilities not only of what we can do today but what this next generation will imagine for tomorrow are endless (Check out Microsoft’s 2.5B Minecraft Acquisition Spotlights a Hidden Gem).

In Ray Wang’s new book, Disrupting Digital Business, he states:

In fact, digital business disruption is happening right in front of us, and data is the foundation of these digital businesses. As a result, manufacturers are remodeling their factories’ shop floors. They’re trying to figure out how to mimic and how to model and how to forecast what could happen. (Disrupting Digital Business: Create an Authentic Experience in the Peer-to-Peer Economy, R “Ray” Wang, May 5, 2015)

With all of this data, the introduction of 3D-printed metal, the possibilities of sensor-enabling these devices, and the rapid-fire growth of the IIoT, the ebb and flow of service needs should continue at a firm pace.

For questions or additional information, contact me at kris.brannock@vertsol.com or follow us on Twitter at @VertSol.