Additive Manufacturing – Set to Become the Most Important Manufacturing Technology?

ORLANDO, FL, Aug. 8, 2012 — When additive manufacturing guru Terry Wohlers speaks, the laser industry listens.

That’s why the Laser Institute of America featured him at its cutting-edge Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM) Workshop last year in Houston, where Wohlers presented key findings from his annual report on global trends in LAM. LIA invited him as part of a concerted effort to spotlight the latest advances in laser sintering, selective laser melting, laser metal deposition and 3D printing.

“No one really knows how big (LAM) will become, but when you look at aircraft parts, automotive, dental, medical, printing human tissue … jewelry, games — the list goes on and on,” Wohlers relates in a video interview from LAM 2012, where he gave one of the keynote addresses. For example, “GE believes (it) will be building up to and maybe even more than 50 percent of a gas turbine engine by additive manufacturing.” (Wohlers’ interview is available at LIA’s YouTube channel,

So far-reaching are the effects of laser additive manufacturing technologies that Wohlers was featured in a February 2010 cover story by The Economist titled “Print Me a Stradivarius,” in which the Colorado-based consultant noted that more than 20 percent of the output of 3D printers is final products; he expects this to rise to 50 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, a column in the Jan. 30 Wall Street Journal called LAM one of three keys to the new tech boom in the United States, imagining the “ ‘desktop’ printing of entire final products from wheels to even washing machines.”

LIA, the recognized leader in providing indispensable industry resources and premier events showcasing up-to-the-minute laser research since 1968, is making sure its members are kept abreast of such developments. For LAM 2012, LIA crafted a program featuring LAM innovations in the production of everything from small consumer products, to patient-specific medical prostheses, to vital aviation components.

For instance, Dr. Ingomar Kelbassa of Fraunhofer ILT detailed a project in which his firm created an 80-blade high-pressure compressor BLISK (blade-integrated disk) with high-speed laser metal deposition in under two minutes per blade — 160 minutes total — at near net shape. He compared those results with conventional five-axis milling, which removes 80 percent to 90 percent of material — and takes more than 180 hours. Days later, Aviation Week honored Fraunhofer ILT with a 2012 Innovation Challenge award for the advance.

“I would challenge you to name an industry that won’t be impacted,” Wohlers asserts in LIA’s video interview. “I truly believe that additive manufacturing will develop to become the most important, the most strategic and most useful manufacturing technology ever — to exceed injection molding, all kinds of castings, CNC milling, die casting or blow molding. Name your favorite manufacturing process — this will become bigger and more used by a much, much wider audience than any other technology available.”

The experience of his first LAM workshop “exceeded my expectations,” Wohlers said. He praised “the caliber of individual that’s here (and) the amount of information that I learned — I’ve taken two full pages of notes.”

Expect another information-packed event when the 5th annual LAM Workshop convenes Feb. 12-13 in Houston. The session will cover various metal and plastic powders used in LAM, digital manufacturing in medicine and dentistry, surface tailoring, international markets, and how the technology could effect a paradigm shift in manufacturing. To register for LAM 2013, visit