Skip to content

AM Community Conversation with Brent Stucker, Engineer in Additive Manufacturing at ANSYS

Welcome to SME’s AM Influencer Series…dedicated to the passionate professionals who volunteer with SME to connect the digital thread of Additive Manufacturing - within traditional manufacturing.

My name is Adam Penna, your host, leading customer engagement for our SME Additive Manufacturing community and I’m here with Dr. Brent Stucker, distinguished engineer in additive manufacturing at ANSYS, a premier company focused on specifically on advancing simulation, and 3 Sim, the company that Brent co-founded and led as CEO.  3 Sim was acquired by ANSYS back in November of 2017.  He’s also been a long-time professor and Fulbright Scholar with a publication called Additive Manufacturing Technologies and this book is the most widely read manufacturing book in the world.  He’s also a Dino award winner which is a distinguished innovator and operating award from AMUG, the additive manufacturing user group, in 2005.  He has SME affiliation going back from his past chair at the AM technical community advisors, also an AM coalition member, with a 2012 industry achievement award.  He started ASTM Additive Manufacturing International Standards Commission with SME and he is also our 2021 conference speaker.  Brent Stucker, welcome.


What was your first experience with AM?

About 30 years ago, I was reading in an ASME manufacturing engineering magazine when I was a student and first heard of this rapid prototyping stuff in the early 90s.  When I set off to do my Ph.D., I thought, this would be an interesting area to study for my Ph.D., so I started my Ph.D. in ’93, but the summer before I got a small amount of money from my major professor to read every article that was ever written about rapid prototyping.  Back then, there wasn’t very much, because it was new.  I went to library and had to look up stuff, old-school.  Then, towards the end of that summer in ’93, at the time I was living in the Northeast, I planned a road trip.  I literally drove to every facility in the northeastern United States that had a rapid prototyping machine of any kind.  That was the terminology back then, we now call it additive manufacturing.  I visited facilities like Ford and Chrysler, I visited little mom and pop shops that just happened to have some FDM machines, and I asked them if you were starting a Ph.D. program, what would you study?  Out of that summer and driving around and literally just meeting a lot of people who were sort of the original dinosaurs in additive manufacturing in a lot of these facilities, I got into this area and have dedicated my entire professional career of almost 30 years to additive manufacturing as a result.  It was kind of a fun thing where I got to meet, early on, almost every single inventor of every single process and got to know people like Chuck Hull or people that founded Stratasys, Scott Crump and others, because it was early on and there weren’t very many people involved in researching this area. 

What advice do you have for manufacturers looking to implement or adopt AM?

Additive manufacturing has really broadened into a huge industry, of course.  There’s a lot to learn.  If you’re brand new, doing something like getting a book, like the book I wrote with David Rosen and Ian Gibson on Additive Manufacturing Technologies, that’s super helpful just to sit down and understand, what are these different processes that people call additive manufacturing?  Also, there are a number of these different consulting firms out there that will come in and do a training course or go to an SME course.  In particular, I think going to RAPID + TCT is a perfect way to get your feet wet, because you can walk to the show floor and see all these processes.  Those are sort of things that when people are new, I say, go and read a book, attend an intro workshop, go to RAPID + TCT, and if you own a machine go to AMUG.  You have to own a machine to go to AMUG.  Those are some of the best ways to increase your learning quickly. 

What is the impact of AM on the broad manufacturing industry as whole?

I think its impact is growing tremendously right now.  If we think about the first 30 years of additive manufacturing from 1986 when Chuck Hull started 3D Systems and all the way up to 2016 or so we were really rapid prototyping and maybe doing tooling for wax casting and other things.  We were using it for prototyping and making molds and other things that were representative of what you wanted to build.  Over the last 5 years we’ve see this acceleration of real production of induced components.  Truly the additive manufacturing, or manufacturing the goods, using additive manufacturing.  This is where we are seeing the impacts on the manufacturing industry taking off right now.  It’s only over the last few years, if you look at the Wohlers Report, for instance, it’s really recent that the number of parts made for in-use production has finally been greater than those used for prototyping and tooling.  We’ve really just gone over that inflection point here, maybe even during COVID.  We don’t know exactly, these are all estimated numbers, but somewhere in the last couple of years we hit that inflection point, where more parts made using these additive manufacturing technologies are actually used as the production part, in an airplane, as an implant, in a toy, it doesn’t matter, it could be just about anything.  Rather than as a prototype to prove out a process or as a tool that is used as a jig or fixture or something like that.  I really think this is something for those of us who have been around for 20 or 30 years have been looking forward to and it’s exciting we are finally seeing that impact. 

How has your experience been with the SME event, RAPID + TCT?

The first time I attended that event, I think was back in ’94 or ’95.  It’s been a go to event for me for over two decades.  The SME event is really the primary event in North America where you can see all of the various processes.  If you are new you can go to workshops and learn about additive manufacturing and making sense of it.  You can hear from practitioners about the latest and greatest that they’ve been able to achieve with additive manufacturing.  My experience with the SME event has been very positive.  It’s a nice size event, it’s big enough to see everything you want to see but small enough to not be overwhelmed by not knowing what to do and what to look at, because you can really see everything you need to see out on the show floor, as well as learn what you need to learn at the conference.  I really think it is a great event and it’s always one of the top ones I recommend people to attend. 

What are you looking forward to at RAPID + TCT this year?

I am looking to getting face to face.  I don’t know about you and other people, but I am tired of zoom conferences, Teams conferences, and WebEx conferences.  I just want to get out there and shake somebody’s hand, talk to them face to face, see parts.  The thing about additive manufacturing is we are turning digital information into physical three-dimensional objects, right?  If all we are doing is looking at it on a screen, we are still seeing the 2D.  Getting to the trade show floor and seeing these things, I love all the new announcements from the companies who do a lot of new product and technology announcements, seeing what’s new, what’s up and coming.  To be able to do that face to face is what I am looking forward to after not having attended an in-person conference for a long time. 

What role do you see SME playing in the additive manufacturing space?

SME is a unique organization.  It really has had both the longest running but also the most impactful additive manufacturing community group in the world.  Early on, in the early era of rapid prototyping they created the Rapid Prototyping Association, which helps bring speakers and companies into the RAPID event.  It’s been this really great synergistic relationship between SME and the additive manufacturing community now for well over 30 years.  SME, with its overall manufacturing focus has given a great place for the additive manufacturing community to plug into that.  I see SME as a great conduit for making connections between different users, users with companies, a place to find information.  In general, I think its biggest contribution remains this RAPID + TCT event.  It brings thousands and thousands of people together every year to keep the industry moving forward not just in the United States but also through partnerships elsewhere in the world as well. 

How do you define the AM community?

Within SME, the AM community is a special community.  I’ve been involved with SME for a long time and it’s a very active community.  It still feels young and vibrant even though it has been going on for a few decades, there is a lot of young people involved in it, to be honest.  We keep getting this fresh entry of new people who just found out about additive manufacturing or 3D printing and are just excited.  It’s a place where that excitement can come together.  You have a collection within the community, there are all types of ways to get involved.  You can sit on advisory boards, you can be on different technical committees, you can get involved in just about anything that’s going to impact additive manufacturing through the community.  I see the SME AM community is a great place for networking and has always been influential in the broader additive manufacturing community.  As you mentioned in your intro, it was the SME AM community that saw the need for international standards and then asked me to go out and start the standards committee, that turned into ATSM Internationals Committee, but also the ISO committee on additive manufacturing standards.  Both of those came out of brainstorming within the SME AM community.  I see the SME AM community as really one of the most influential groups of people in manufacturing in general, certainly within additive manufacturing.  It has had a great impact on moving the technology forward and broadening its impact, starting with this prototyping area and broadening it to manufacturing in general, aerospace, biomedical, etc.  The AM community has really pushed a lot of that growth. 

What advice do you have for attracting the next generation into additive manufacturing?

I think the educational community is important here, as well.  That is one of things I appreciate about the SME AM community is that it has engaged not only industry, but it has engaged the professors and the students.  We’re trying to get students involved in SME and in the AM community and that is a great entry point into the industry.  I find if you can hook a young student or a young engineer with getting them in a course or especially if you can get them to go to RAPID + TCT, they’re hooked.  That’s what they want to do with their career.  I’ve seen it over and over and over.  One of the things I encourage young people is to go to these conferences, sometimes there is special rates for students at various conferences, sometimes there’s scholarships to go.  Definitely go to RAPID + TCT and see and walk to the show floor and get excited about it.  Also, I really encourage people to take a course in it at their university, as they are coming through, or even in trade schools.  There are a lot of courses and a lot of programs out there in additive manufacturing.  I tell people, just get started on it.  It goes all the way back into the high school and junior high areas if you look at something called First Robotics.  They are a huge user of different little 3D printing machines and additive manufacturing machines to allow the students to build all of these robots.  My son, for instance, was involved in this for years, every day he would come home from school, and we would print parts for his robot overnight and he would take them back to school the next day and put them on the robot and try it.  Seeing thousands and thousands of students from around the world do this in things like First Robotics also drives them into the area of additive manufacturing, because they have this ability to do design iterations as a high schooler, overnight.  Try something, it breaks, come home the next day, CAD it up, overnight print it, next day take it to school.  Not everyone has a 3D printer at home and my son was lucky enough to bring one home from the school that owned it and they let him put it in our basement that way he could do that, he could iterate every night.  Not everybody has that but more and more schools, more and more universities, more and more trade programs, are having that hands-on availability.  I think that is attracting the younger generation.  Engineers are a small subset of the overall population but within the engineering community we’re doing a pretty good job of making this area seem exciting. 

One of the things I have appreciated about the RAPID + TCT event is that often people will at other events ignore these young people who walk around, because they know that they will not be the ones they can sell to.  At RAPID + TCT when I have had booths and been in booths, we take time, and we volunteer to say bring the students here and we will tell them what we do.  Let’s educate them, let’s get them excited.  Whether it’s simulation, whether it’s whatever, they need to understand what is new and exciting in this area.  I really do like that how at RAPID + TCT we bring all kinds of young people in there and let them tour around.  It is from an immediate return on investment, you are not going to sell to them, they are not there to shop, but it is a long-term investment in the health of our community, and I love that SME does that type of investment. 

How do you see AM evolving in the next few years?

I think we are to the point where we are shifting from an emerging technology into an established manufacturing technology set.  I think that the maturation of machine types and understanding how these different types of additive manufacturing processes work, they are becoming quite mature, the machines are becoming more robust.  The relatively new influence of simulation, where you can take a design and you can simulate it and you can understand how is that part going to work in this process, and we can predict how the shape changes are going be, and all these things about it.  Even the microstructure and the properties of the part.  All of these tools we have applied and expected out of traditional manufacturing are now being applied to additive manufacturing.  I think over the next few years it is going to become widely accepted that additive manufacturing is just as good as machining or forging or investment casting, as an option.  It’s no longer going to be you have to have some “special” approval process to get this new and emerging technology approved to build this critical component.  It’s not going to be like that, it’s going to be another manufacturing process.  I think that is really going to help the financials.  It’s going to help all these companies be on a much better, stronger, financial base, because we don’t have to keep proving ourselves over and over and go through these long tryout and educational periods.  I also think there are some really cool technologies coming down the pike.  Things people are doing to change and tweak the machines to make them faster, more robust, work with more types of materials, and even some new ways of joining materials, and new types of materials that are being joined to additive manufacturing.  It’s still a very dynamic industry.  I don’t see this maturation makes us now boring.  It’s going to help the whole business side be a lot more stable but at the same time there’s plenty of other things on the research side we can do to make the technologies even better.  Even today, having been a professor, I have a lot of young people come up to me and ask, is this a really good industry to get into?  I say yes, there is so much left to do, don’t worry about your career, if you are in your teens right now or in your 20s, you have an entire career ahead you with amazing things we can do in additive manufacturing.  It’s not a dead-end career, it’s not a dead-end community, it is truly an evolving, emerging, exciting place to be in a career in this area.

What are some current and developing systems in AM?

Some of what I would consider the bread-and-butter type simulations that our customers are doing is you have some sort of shape, and you are trying to decide what orientation to put it in the machine and where do I support it to get success.  We have software to helps you choose the right orientation and where to put supports and then you can run a process simulation that says with this orientation with these supports, what’s going to happen with this part while the process is running.  We can predict how it deforms and twists due to the heating and cooling that occurs in these layering processes.  What you are going to get then is some sort of predictive distortion.  The part is designed in a certain way, but every single additive manufacturing process, as you build that geometry, it kind of bends and twists and curls a little bit.  The nice thing about simulation is we can predict all that bending, twisting, and curling, and then compensate for that.  One of the best things people use it for today is, you give it a geometry and it will tell you how it bends and twists and distorts, and then we can reverse that in the geometry, such that it twists into the correct shape.  Now you can build much more accurate shapes and we call that distortion compensation.  There are thousands of people doing that every day now, who say, I got a shape, I want it to be as accurate as I want, I am just going to run a distortion compensation analysis.  Give me the shape that when I put it in my printer it is going to turn into the right shape for me.  That’s a great tool, because it used to be you would have to run a bunch of iterations.  Build it, tweak the design, build it again, tweak the design, maybe change the orientation a little bit, build it again. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Down the same thread of simulation, one of the other things that is exciting to me is how simulation is starting to be used to re-design the process itself.  What size of laser should I have to get the best productivity?  What should be the diameter of this laser?  How much heat should I put there?  Those are things, as a professor, I used to take an entire Ph.D. program and have a student working on it for four years, or five years, and they would make one conclusion out of that.  I look back at my career and the 40, 50, 60 students that I advised and see how long it took back in the past to really move the bar on a new material or improving the process.  Today, we’re moving that bar quicker and quicker with less and less work, primarily due to simulation.  For me, it’s really exciting.  Our industry has grown relatively fast if you look at just about any metric, we have really good compounding growth, but I think that growth can actually accelerate.  It can even go higher with simulation.  For me, that’s the reason I left academia and pursued a simulation company, because I think it is the software that was behind.  The machines were more capable of doing things than we were able to make the machines do and until the software caught up, we couldn’t take full advantage of the cool things that additive manufacturing things could do.  Now we are starting we are starting to say software is starting to catch up with the ability of the machine, now we are going to have to both improve the software and the machines to keep growing faster, but the nice thing is they are synergistic.  The software helps the machines go better, the machines are designed based upon the software, so it’s really a synergistic relationship.  I am excited about the next decade and seeing this new simulation driven additive manufacturing and how it’s going to impact the industry, and for me it is exciting to see, and exciting to be a part of. 

Be Our Guest

Attend RAPID + TCT as a guest of one of our featured exhibitors and partners.