Additive manufacturing is expected to transform both electronics and mechanical manufacturing over the next couple decades. Right now, they’re considered distinct fields. But that may eventually change.
In the mechanical world, one of the groups promoting additive 3-D printing processes is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). It was established just last year, driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining.
NAMII is performing activities similar to those IPC is handling for the electronics industry — pulling companies together, helping them set goals and developing a roadmap for deploying technologies. I listened to a NAMII webinar last week — it was interesting to hear NAMII Director Ed Morris say that 3-D printing is a few decades old, but still has a long way to go. That’s similar to what’s happened in electronics. Another similarity between additive manufacturing of electronics and mechanical parts is that it “staggers the imagination” to think what is likely to happen when these technologies mature, Morris said.
Morris really piqued my interest when he talked about how he was “really jazzed” about the possibilities of the combination of mechanical and electronic printing.
It’s not hard to see why. If a company building an engine component with additive processes could embed a sensor inside, it could really get some good information that’s difficult to get with standard manufacturing processes.
It’s easy to stagger the imagination by thinking of ways to print electronics onto mechanical products — it takes the embedded components concept to new heights. The combination won’t happen overnight, but it’s certainly something to consider as additive processes transform manufacturing.