Although additive manufacturing (AM) has been around for decades, it’s much younger than metal fabrication. That’s what makes it appeal to so many metal fabricators, including those who will be stopping by the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion at next month’s FABTECH® show in Atlanta. There’s an excitement to it, a feeling of untapped possibilities. There’s hype, of course, but within that hype are gems of opportunity, and sheet metal fabricators are just starting to find them.
For instance, they’re now printing various manufacturing aids, including press brake tools and backgauges; scale models; prototypes; assembly fixtures; even robotic end effectors for bending, welding, and pick-and-place applications. Advanced custom fabricators—like those specializing in tight-tolerance work for the medical, aerospace, and defense businesses—are looking to various metal additive technologies that could fill a need.
The pace of technological advancement is mindboggling. Not only are equipment companies developing new additive technologies and perfecting existing ones, but AM service bureaus (the industry’s term for a job shop) are developing their own AM methods too.