B1) AM development for priority- why or why not

In my last several offerings of thoughts on additive manufacturing, I shared some economic perspectives for AM disruptions, some rationales of the AM expensiveness, and some wild guesses on the near future of AM price & cost. AM technology is evolving fast in many ways, and so many passionate & talented people are working hard every day on pushing the limit of this technology (I have met and talked to many on LinkedIn and I am continually being amazed by their achievements). Every step matters, some can be strategically important in the long run, but the other, if happens, might make huge noise for current applications and markets. If you are a technology manager or R&D leader with limited resources on hand, how would you plan the spending budget on different AM projects for the next several years, or

Why or why not priorities certain AM development needs over the others?

This is another question I were asked several times in delivering AM insights to stakeholders of my research. I spent quite several minutes making a list on the scene and tried to “finding” (or creating 😊) a logic behind it (“I am not sure” may not be an affordable answer especially for presentations for my Ph.D. qualify or defense). At that moment, I was less experienced with thoughts that were ill-structured. I believe you would laugh at my old answers if you heard them (because I do, I won’t write down here due to embarrassment, but contact me if you really really want to have this joy). With ages building on, I think I may do better now or at least I know the mighty answer of “it depends”. If I were able to choose what current AM developments to be invested, my first priority would be

AM design and the tool/software used for designing

I will explain why from the economic perspective that I shared with you before. Candidates for such questions can be many since AM is developing in different disciplines. I found some good resources with thoughts about the development trends from many experts (Michael Petch interviewed AM CEOs and experts for 2018 trend on 3dprinting.com, Duann Scott’s thought from Autodesk, and Gartner Inc’s prediction). In order to save your time reading them all, I summarize a list from those resources for the AM developments in the near term that mentioned by experts from different background:

B1 table

Although those experts can only speak for what they are representing, I believe a collective view of the list may not be that subjective. Interestingly, most of those development candidates are directly about the process (automation, productivity, cheaper machine, reliability, post-processing, and maybe workflow integration), which indicates a strong need for more work on a better process. But remember what I emphasized in my discussions about delta profit?

Product, product, product!

AM technology or the process determines the bottom line of the delta profit, which is very important for new markets in a longer timeframe. But short-term speaking, a disruptive product with a higher price tag can impact the delta profit more significantly and faster. It would be strategically smart to find the top line first and raise the bottom line later when the technology catches up. Among those candidates of options, only material advancement, design & other software and maybe workflow integration are directly related to the product. Economically speaking, I will put them as my priorities due to their impact on the product and the delta profit.

From the technical aspects, the hurdles and difficulties that need to be overcome for different development vary a lot. Improvement of the cost performance of the material depends on hard science and scalability, which can be extremely difficult and slow. Similarly, process reliability, automation, and productivity enhancement also need a significant amount of work and even rely on the progress of other emerging technologies such as AI, industry 4.0, and laser tech. Reducing machine price may not be that hard and it is happening right now as I discussed in my wild guesses. Similar to develop an improved design tool with a user-friendly interface. If you put those development needs in a matrix combining technical and economic perspectives, four quadrants form: Quick wins (higher impact, lower effort), Major Projects (higher impact, higher effort), Fill-ins (lower impact, lower effort), and long-term vision (lower impact, higher effort):

 B1 quadrant

Improving AM design and the tool/software used for designing is a quick win for the industry!

Some evidence recently from the moves of major AM players: Desktop Metal announced Live partsHP partnered with SolidworksCarbon offered pre-processing software solutionsAnsys acquired 3DSIMGE acquired GeonXAutodesk acquired Netfabb;… All about improving the design through better tools.

Action expresses priorities.” – Mohandas Gandhi

I don’t mean other AM developments are not important. In the contrary, most of them should be the “major projects” and “long-term vision” for the technology and hold the largest potential in changing the landscape of the AM industry. Those require extra effort and still have a long way to proceed. Improving AM design and the tool may generate impact near-term.

B1 flow

Ironically, although the design fundamentally determines the functionality and profitability of the product, they actually stand at each end of the workflow where the design starts first and the product comes out the last. Generally, the original idea and design have to compromise to limitations or imperfections of each processing or manufacturing step of the workflow, which sometimes is called “design for manufacturing”.

The worse part is the workflow of additive manufacturing can be very long. This is the reason why we need “design for additive manufacturing” and better design tools and software.

B1 long flow

We may be seeing AM design and design tools evolving fast as one of the development priority. The industry needs robust and powerful design methods and tools that enable users to design for the product instead of the process or additive manufacturing. With Dr. Lin Cheng, we are going to touch a little on the topic of Design & Optimization in the following weeks, where we will share strategic thinking on design, discuss cutting-edge developments and offer suggestions. Watch out for our next article at LinkedIn or our website!

Please like, comment or share if you find this article is interesting. 🙂



A1) AM Disruption at Different Scale – What is Happening and Wild Guesses (2)

In my first two articles of AfT blog, I already showed you the MECE deltas as the key to AM disruption, why those MECE deltas with current AM economics are difficult working towards profitability and the vitality and concerns of extra gains from AM product (check this and this if you missed). I hope that my data evidence, derivations, and explanations have helped clear a little fog of AM hype and doubt. But, I know that most of our AM hope, hype, and “harm” lie in the future instead of the present. We used to believe AM would fundamentally revolutionize how we manufacture. Instead, now we tend to believe AM will be a complementary tool to how we manufacture. We can’t resist looking into future, making our projections and asking

How will AM technology be developed in next 5 years? What’s the trend for the next decade?

And will those MECE delta work in the near future?

So do I. In fact, making projections, or wild guesses have always been my favorite “sport” throughout my entire research life: technology development projections, technology adoption predictions, and sometimes even political election wild guesses. I always learn a lot when my prediction meets reality, from both the goodness of fit and deviation. Of course, I am not a fortune teller. I proceed as a strategic analyst and my “crystal ball” is data. For additive manufacturing technologies, I’ve been collecting data for years to make those projections. In this article, I will share some of my “wild guesses” about the vital deltas and AM disruption I discussed before, based on the data I found.

The first vital delta I discussed in my last article is the machine depreciation. With the current AM machine price, generally AM production faces a yearly cost of $20k-$120k (polymer) or $60k-$270k (metal) from the machine itself. The machine depreciation can represent a huge cost segment ranges from 40% to even 70%. Knowing how AM machine will be priced can greatly influence the landscape of many technology strategies, and of course, the delta profit map I brought up in the AfT. The difficulty behind this is that AM has many factors (e.g., size, speed, accuracy, service, brand) that may influence the price, and sometimes impossible to standardize under different operating mode and conditions. I’ve tried many factors to connect with machine price, but in the end, I only found one that may work. A very simple one: the volume of the building envelope/chamber, or in an approximate but simpler word, the functional size of the machine.

C1 Wild guess trend line

Based on the data that I was able to find for the AM systems in the past decade, you can clearly see a trend that machines with a larger building chamber (or in simpler word, larger machine) tend to be more expensive, and metal AM systems tends to be one order of magnitude more expensive than polymer AM systems with similar chamber volume.

You may think so what? This is common sense to many people who are not even familiar with AM industry. Here is the fun part –

If we take those data and analyze their trend line following the temporal sequence (e.g., biannually as showed in my following analysis and figures), the pattern of how those trend lines move in the plot is very interesting. The trait may demonstrate how the price of AM systems was driven down over the decade, and possibly suggest how we project the future.

C1 Wild guess polymer

The price of polymeric AM systems has been driven down significantly in the last decade and seems to continue dropping especially large machines. The significant price drop of newly released systems seems to start at 2013 with about 20% decrease and follow with an even larger drop (even close to 90%!) until now. Reasons can be the cheap machines with moderate performance got bigger, or expensive machines with great performance got cheaper. My guess is both. Due to increasing competitions, the profit margin of the polymer AM machine has been squeezed out quickly. We possibly see that the price of more and more systems is reaching a fair margin close to their cost, even this year – 2018.

C1 wild guess metal

Metal AM is a different story but may turn out to a similar ending as polymer AM. From 2007-2014, the price showed nearly no changes. Even there is, a 10% fluctuation biannually at most as shown by the data, which is probably within the range of error. The drop of metal machine price started in 2015 with a possible speed of 30% biannually, although I don’t have enough data to get a trend line for 2017 & 18. The decrease seems to show no preference for machine size. It makes sense since the metal machine with large building envelope tends to have extra powerful components, such as bi or quad-laser and in-situ monitoring. Those components can be very expensive, which raises the costs of building such systems significantly and possibly rule-out a larger space of price dropping for larger systems.

With over 250 data points, my dataset is definitely not exclusively, may not objective, or even not accurate enough to have a bulletproof prediction. But I will make my projections not too further way (for the year 2020) with my confidence anyway and call them “wild guesses”. I hope these “wild guesses” can help you regarding strategy for AM development and deployment.

My #1 wild guess: starting at 2020, all newly released polymer AM systems will cost no more than $150k, despite the performance, size or functionality.

(I am pretty confident about this one. Although with limited data, we can already see such trend line now 17-18. In fact, HP released new full-color 3D printing systems yesterday at Feb. 5th, 2018 with a price range from $50k to low $100k)

My #2 wild guess: the metal AM systems released in the year 2020 will cost 50% less compared to a similar size machine in 2015.

(Assuming a continuing 30% reduction as suggested in 15-16, it takes 4 years to reduce 50%. I even leave myself some space for error. 😊)

The second delta I discussed before is AM material costs, which lives the devil sometimes. The material price is extremely high (10-400 times more expensive) as I showed you before. The reason behind is complicated including the physics of the process, the supply & demand, and the business model. Producing AM materials with a desired quality and form sometimes require extra processing steps, which inevitably raise the price by some. Especially for metal AM powder, the requirement of spherical shape and particle size distributions limits the yield of the extra step of atomization, which chains the bottom line of the price (check this). Additionally, the AM material demand is still marginal comparing to traditional material markets (e.g., total metal AM material consumption is about 1000t), which the economy of scale is poorly leveraged. But more importantly, the high material price set by AM OEMs may not even reflect the material production costs. AM material can be the cash cow for many OEMs. You can easily buy similar AM materials for a much cheaper price from an independent material supplier, but at a risk of less optimum output and losing machine warranty. All these factors can be improved when AM markets grow, which drives down the material price, open up new markets and keep driving it down. So the price of AM material is predicted to drop in the near future

But by how much? Unfortunately, unlike the machine, the data for the material price is much harder to find or ask as a researcher. As a result, my projections on the material price will be closer to wild guess and based on my speculation and other people’s projections.

My #3 wild guess: By the year 2020, AM polymer material price will decrease by 60%

C1 wild guess carbon

(I made my speculation based on the recently released news by Carbon3D. Carbon plans to reduce their material price through a production-scale materials program, which aims at offering sub-$100 per liter material comparing current material price at about $250. The saving comes from the economy of production scale. Although we didn’t know how large their resin volume increase in production in the year 2017, but we can see with a similar range of volume increases, the price can hit a 60% reduction. I am betting such rule can be applied to other polymeric AM materials, and we can see such volume increase before 2020)

My #4 wild guess: By the year 2020, AM metal material price will drop by 40%

(Actually, you can buy 40% cheaper material now from independent suppliers. I am projecting that their material can reach the standard of the AM OEMs somehow by 2020)

Now I showed my projections for the year 2020 on the two major deltas I discussed in my last articles. Those new numbers for the year 2020 may change the landscape of AM disruptions. Such economics improvement can open up markets that you can charge extra $100/kg, but still may not be enough to tear up instead of knocking on the door of automotive industry or other industries with load bearing/engineering functional parts.

C1 wild guess delta

So my #5 wild guess: By the year 2020, AM will keep penetrating to the markets where deltas can be compensated by $100/kg, and we will not see a wild adoption in the automotive industry.

Here are my 5 wild guesses, do you agree or disagree?

Watch out for my next article for our blog “Additive for Thoughts” next week!



A1) AM Disruption at Different Scale – What is Happening and Wild Guesses (1)

In my last AfT blog, I discussed the importance of delta profit on AM disruption, and the MECE deltas that can be categorized as AM disruption on the process, product, and management. If the MECE deltas work toward a positive delta profit with realistic numbers of current technologies, we know AM can be disruptive.C1 equation

C1 Map edit

But are those MECE delta working?

In this blog, I will offer some rough estimates, rules of thumbs and run the numbers with you. You will clearly see the answer, understand what is happening of AM disruption, and why it is happening.

“Trust the process” – Joel Embiid, 2018 NBA All-star of 76ers

I will start with the scale of the process since this is where the disruption starts. Let’s say you want to add in AM capacity into your processing line today. The first thing is investing capital for machines and then immediately facing depreciation through ownership. Depending on the level of the machines, the depreciation plus maintenance would be about $15k-$120k/year for every polymeric AM machine and $60k-$270k/year for metal AM.
A1 table1

As for now, delta profit: deficit $15k-$120k/year (polymer AM), or $60k-$270k/year (metal AM) at the delta term of depreciation.

Printing parts directly sometimes can save mold, die, other tools, and the associated depreciation costs. This can be a more widely situation with polymeric processes. Take injection molding as an example, the depreciation costs saved of a mold can vary from $2.5k/year to $50k/year, depending on the complexity of the part and production volume. Considering this, the delta of depreciation under different conditions of part complexity and production volume:

With an AM machine sitting on your floor, you are facing ~$15k-$300k deficit from depreciation in most scenarios except if you plan to replace the production of complex plastic parts with small volume.

(Sounds familiar? This is one of the AM disruptions described as happening right now in many sources and materials. Examples include rapid prototyping and customized products.)
2018-01-29 (1)

Now let’s start printing. Every build consumes loads of materials, which combining with machine depreciation generally represents significant portions of AM total costs. But unfortunately, AM material is expensive. How expensive? Super, 10-400 times more expensive for most materials compares to its conventional form (bar, sheet or others). Even if you consider the AM advantage as a near-net-shape process with relative little scrap, plus the mass reduction generally achievable for most designs, the unit cost of material is still a raise for most polymers and metals, except expensive metals such as Ti64 or Inconel and a huge amount of machining involved for the original part.
A1 material

As a result, you will generally see a negative delta of the unit material of $10-40 per single polymer part, $10-70 per complex polymer part, and $50-400 per simple metal part (assuming 100g polymer part and 1kg metal part). You may see a negative delta of $50/part to a positive delta $600/part for complex metal applications depending on the level of complexity and material type.
2018-01-29 (2)

So in most scenarios, the delta profit will add another deficit from the unit material costs increase multiplied by production volume. Until now, AM production not only starts with a deficit but keeps adding deficit when you produce more. The only exception is complex parts with expensive metals to be machined away.

(Sounds familiar? This is one of the AM disruptions described as happening right now in many sources and materials. Examples include aerospace parts such as fuel nozzle. Counterintuitively, for this exception, you should not consider AM for small volume production as AM usually suits for. Instead, you should print as many as you can to cover up the delta deficit in depreciation. This may be one of the reasons for GE ramping up AM capacity quickly for the famous fuel nozzle production.)

A1 delta

Now you roughly see what is happening at the process scale with AM disruption. AM is facing extreme difficulties claiming a positive profit delta purely from the cost perspectives with current economics. I am not even counting on post-processing, inertia gas supply, and other possible cost increase. You may ask how about labor? I doubt AM production can save $50/polymer part (about 2 hours labor per part) or $200/metal part (about 8 hours per part) for most cases since direct labor generally represents a very small portion of total costs.

So my #1 core message of this blog: forget about the process scale if you consider current AM disruption for most cases. If it happens for certain applications or industries, the fundamental changes probably happen in the product or management. Think about other MECE delta terms in the map I offered you: Indirect Labor, S, G&A, unit price, unit volume….

Among all these terms, the most important delta you can count on to reverse the negative is the unit price. Whether it is lighter weight, better performance, or a longer lifetime, the unique features achieved through AM offer a competitive advantage in charging more for each part. It’s nearly impossible to squeeze $40/polymer part from direct labor or production supplies, but gain extra $40/part for faster delivery or better performance is achievable although may not be easy.A1 product

So my #2 core message here: product, product, product!

The current and near-term AM disruption would probably happen at the product-scale. The value added and the ability to charge extra from product innovation majorly determine the Top Line of the delta profit of AM. If you see a way to raise your product price with $80/polymer part or $500/metal part through AM, don’t hesitate to jump in and embrace the disruption.

But remember, raising price is always difficult. How can you prove and sell the value-added among all those uncertainties of AM processes and parts? The best case is the AM product is disruptive with nearly no competition, which offers you great power in asking whatever the price is if your customers can afford. Such case applies to nearly all major industries that AM currently penetrates deep, such as medical (customized crown and implant), prototyping (fast delivery), and tooling (informal cooling).

But sometimes the improvement is incremental, then selling the improvement may not be fun anymore especially when the product is a part of a system with hundreds of thousands of parts. This is due to the dilution of the improvement inside a complex system (assuming 20% performance improvement, and the part contributes 5% of the total performance of the system, after dilution the total improvement of the system from the innovative part is 1%). The assembler of those parts needs to consider finding a way selling single-digit improvement to final customers and balancing risks and uncertainties, which is difficult. Such scenario applies to industries such as aerospace and automotive, which you see a lot of integration of AM internally and pass vertically. Easier to sell, higher confidence. Also, you see GE is trying to build a turbine with as many AM parts as they can because it is easier to sell to the customer with a disruptive product adding up many single-digit improvements instead of a double-digit improved part.

Core message #3: disruptive final product (not part) directly to customers, if you think about best product strategy for AM technology.

All my discussions about the bottom line and top line of the delta are based on current or past AM performance. What about future? What’s the trend of AM development? How does the bottom/top line change in future? Keep your patience and I will give my predictions (or wild guesses) based past data I collected in my next blog in a few days. Please share, like, comment and follow our website if you enjoy this article!

My ending question for you:

What’s the exception successful case for AM disruption at the process, product and management scale? (I am also highly interested considering my personal limited scope)



Some of my references to those number:

  1. DS Thomas and SW Gilbert, Costs and cost effectiveness of additive manufacturing, NIST Special Publicaion, 2014
  2. M Baumers, Raw material pricing and additive manufacturing, EPSRC, 2014
  3. R Song and C Telenko, Material and energy loss due to human and machine error in commercial FDM printers, Journal of Cleaner Production, 2017

C1) Additive Disruption in Different Industries – How?

Preface of my first blog: I know it is weird to start with Series C instead of A, but I have a reason. What I discussed in this blog will be the foundation of many ones following. You will feel the rationale through reading this one labeled as “C1”. But if you think this is too long, fundamental, or bored to read, you can just jump to the end where I summarize take-away messages. Thanks a lot for your patience! Now let’s start. 😊

Skyrocketing? Hype?

Disruptive? Niche?

You are not alone if you have those question marks for the additive manufacturing industry. I had such mixed feelings for AM for a very long time, especially after I read different sources with various opinions. If you ask questions, such as whether AM will be disruptive, or continue to grow fast in future, to those related sources or experts, most of the answers would be:

It depends.

But depends on what?  The following answer can be vaguer, such as technology development, adopted industry and applications, product quality, and so on. Correct or not? Correct. Helpful? Not really.

As a trained researcher and data analyst, I believe that most hypes and doubts are generated due to lack of transparency. Whether it is missing data, limited evidence, unstated assumption or hearsay story, the lack of information blocks our eyes and compels us to derive conclusions and decisions from past experience, knowledge, or even intuition. Sometimes we can be right, but other times we can far deviate from the truth. I have battled hard over intransparency for my doctoral dissertations through data collection, model development, and quantitative analysis to better understand the implications of AM. I don’t think I fully answered such a complicated question through my 300-page dissertations, and hell no that I think I can answer it now with this blog in 1000 words. But what I can offer you here is some leads, tools, resources, and findings from my research to help you better structure your thinking, navigate yourself through your own “mist”, and see what I peeked for the future of AM.

One of the core questions that are asked very often, but also leads to hypes, doubts and uncertainties is:

How additive manufacturing is disrupting or will disrupt my industry/business/product/process and so on?

There already are very good resources to start with if you want to learn for this question. For example, some resources that I benefited a lot:

“3D opportunity” series of reports from Deloitte (high quality, well & widely covered most related topics)

Marc Saunders’s posts & articles (leading expert at Renishaw, I am following him, reading his posts and learning all the time)

and Direct Manufacturing Research Center (DMRC) annual reports (I was amazed by their analysis and vision for additive manufacturing)

If you want to further try something dryer and maybe less interesting, I can share some literature including my own publications. 😊

But if you still have little clue for your own specific disruption questions, the first thing I’d like to share with you from my research experience is that whatever your question for AM disruptions is, you actually only need one simple equation to start with. Nothing more, but very effective.

It is the basic profit equation used in the income statement:

Profit = Revenue – Expenses

Think this through: whatever disruption of whatever technology is, the fundamental changes definitely reflect somewhere in the bookkeeping at a certain time. It does not have to be yours, but can be your customers’, your suppliers’, and/or your competitors’. It does not have to be now or short term but also long term. If no changes can be materialized in someone’s financial performance at a certain time, highly unlikely a disruption can be claimed.

Straightforward, right?

As a result, the potential disruptions of AM can be treated as delta in the profit function for a certain time period: delta revenue, delta expenses, and

Delta Profit.

This is fundamentally how AM disrupts. Delta profit.

C1 DeltaIf your delta can reach positive through certain time with relatively high confidence, the disruption is happening and you should jump in; if your delta will be negative due to your competitors’ positive deltas in near future, the disruption is coming and you should be prepared; if your customers’/supplies’ delta will be positive but not yours, you need to find a way to lead the disruption to you.

I believe you may already consider AM from a financial point of view, but I’d like to emphasize it can and should be the ground zero for any considerations, strategies, and decisions regarding AM adoption and disruption. Forget about the fancy AM machines, cool parts only achievable through AM, or other claimed amazing benefits AM can bring. Those should be reasons for adoration, but not for decision.

Start with Delta Profit.

Take several steps further, the delta of the operating profit function (the total net profit without revenues/expenses from finance and tax, let’s assume little changes in those parts due to AM) can be written as

ΔProfit = ΔUnit Sold x (ΔUnit Price – (ΔUnit Material + ΔUnit Direct Labor + ΔUnit Production Supplies)) – (ΔUtilities + ΔDepreciation + ΔIndirect Labor) – (ΔAmortization + ΔSelling, General, and Administrative Expenses + ΔR&D Expenses)

C1 Breakdown

Since we are estimating future for most disruption questions, every delta on the right of the equation is a sum of expected values under uncertainties and risks at a given time period (e.g., quarter and year).  For example,

ΔUnit Sold = E[ΔUnit Sold] at year 1 + E[ΔUnit Sold] at year 2 + …

I keep the derivation as below, you can skip this part if you are bored or want to save time.

Profit = Revenue – (Cost of Goods Sold + Operating Expenses)

= (Unit Sold x Unit Price) – (Cost of Goods Sold + Operating Expenses)

= (Unit Sold x Unit Price) – (Variable Costs of Goods Sold + Fixed Costs of Goods Sold + Operating Expenses)

= Unit Sold x (Unit Price – Unit Variable Cost of Goods Sold) – Fixed Costs of Goods Sold – Operating Expenses

Variable Cost of Goods Sold = Material + Direct Labor + Production Supplies

Fixed Costs of Goods Sold = Utilities + Depreciation + Indirect Labor

Operating Expenses = Amortization + Depreciation + Selling, General and Administrative Expenses + R&D Expenses

This equation should be your GPS for strategic thinking about AM disruption. The delta you need to know is disseminated into different MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collective Exhaustive) deltas. Your questions such as how AM will disrupt my business can be disseminated into questions like:

How AM will change my delta of unit sold?

How AM will change my delta of unit price?

How AM will change my delta of SG&A?

How AM will change my customer/competitor/supplier’s delta of unit sold?

Getting more structured and clear right? In fact, those MECE deltas for AM can be categorized as disruption at different scales – process, product, and management:

C1 Map edit

This figure will be the foundation of my offering of blogs (Strategy & Impact) and appear again and again. In the next blog, I will discuss details of those MECE deltas and what AM is impacting or will impact in the deltas through data, cases, and analysis. Watch out for my next one “AM Disruption at Different Scale – What is Happening and Wild Guesses” early next week. Follow us if you are interested!

My ending question for you:

By following the map, how AM is disrupting your delta?

Looking forward to your comments & discussions. Thanks!

Take-away message:

  1. Delta profit reflects AM disruption and can be used as guidance for strategic thinking
  2. The MECE deltas structure map for potential AM disruption