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AM Community Conversation with Jason Jones, CEO and Co-founder at Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies


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.

Our guest today joins us from Plano, Texas, Dr. Jason Jones. He is the CEO and co-founder at Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies. Dr. Jones is the pioneer and world’s leading authority on hybrid manufacturing. Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies brings the best digital manufacturing tools from additive, subtractive, and inspection, together like never before. Jason, welcome.

What was your first experience with additive manufacturing?

Well, my first two impressions were both negative actually. I remember my first interaction with anything 3D printed was when I was studying. It was a white powdery 3D printed part, very fragile, and it just didn’t quite click. This was very early days. Then my second was when I saw metal 3D printing for the first time in an exhibition. And I had done CNC machining and was very accustomed to hypercision, beautiful finishes on parts, really something that is fully functional and achieves very high tolerances. And when I saw the first 3D printed metal parts I thought something is missing here, I don’t see how this is going to work. And it took me a while to come around to that idea, obviously being steeped in CNC machining I loved that. And I then later had the chance to see 3D printing as it was happening, not just the parts after they were done. But as it happened and then I could kind of hear that music play and thought, okay, I get it now. I think for a lot of people, maybe you don’t quite get the hype yet or you’re not sure what it really brings. And then a deeper look lets you see a lot more freedoms with additive. And of course, from my perspective, additive is incomplete without CNC machining and inspection for many parts. Not for everything but for the majority of parts, you get some added benefits with those.

What would you say is the impact of AM to the broad manufacturing industry as a whole?

Well to me it’s the first manufacturing technology that really captured the general public’s imagination. At least in a long time. I can’t speak for centuries ago but I ask people what CNC machining all the time, and they look at me with a blank stare. And I’m like it’s the most important technology you’ve never heard of. Everything in the manufacturing world is touched almost by a CNC machine. And yet 3D printing, which is growing in importance but still represents a small fraction, like maybe even a fraction of one percent of everything that’s made, certainly a fraction of one percent that is made in the world today, it just feels like people get it. It feels like magic to a lot of people. Obviously, those of us that are in the industry know it very well its limitations and also its benefits. To me that’s the biggest thing, is its allowed manufacturing in making things to be seen in its proper perspective. Which now with a lot of automation and computer driven capabilities it’s shifting from those older perceptions of it’s risky and dangerous to be in manufacturing, or it’s boring, you get told what to do, you get handed designs. But on the contrary I feel like we’re enabling designs and enabling new capabilities.

How does it work with the CNC side coming together with the traditional 3D printing side?

I’ll tell you one more experience. One of my early experiences with additive was based on a SLA machine. So, pulverization, it’s beautiful the way the machine works is really exciting to watch. Alright you’ve got a laser beam that dances around essentially this vat full of kind of honey consistency resin, and everywhere the laser touches it solidifies, and it’s really cool. And then of course when the part’s done it emerges from this lake, and I was very enamored with the whole thing, and then they said go get a lab coat on and some glasses and some gloves, and then you’re going to spend the next hour and a half breaking little needle like support structures off and dipping it in different chemicals and I thought to myself, for what’s supposed to be the most advanced manufacturing process in the world, I sure didn’t plan on spending an hour and a half or two in gloves and goggles cleaning up parts manually, after the fact. And it was at that point that I realized, 3D printing is such a critical enabler, but especially as we get to more dense parts and really high precision surfaces and tolerances and other things, additive is a step in a manufacturing chain, and it’s not the only step in that chain. To me, the hybrid approach having a CNC background, seeing additive, one of my dear friends now Professor David Winpenny and I were working together and in 2007 he said, ‘What do you think about putting laser cladding inside of a CNC machine?’ And I was like I love it. In fact, I had done several ideas and sketches along the same lines of combining laser processing and machining together. And that was the impetus for us to then to start to flesh out, can we build parts up near net, everything 3D printed almost has some sort of surface texture whether it’s wavy from the layers or sandpaper like because of the feedstock. And then can we finish it? Which of course you can. And then even a step beyond that, can you inspect those parts and know they’re good before they leave the machine? In a lot of ways that’s kind of the forgotten piece of 3D printing, right? You give people this ability to make new geometry, which is very difficult to inspect without destroying it.

What are some of the typical applications you see starting to emerge from that process?

A lot of the hybrid field right now is focused on not printing an entire part from scratch, so much as adding features, doing surface coding, doing repairs, that kind of thing. A lot of times we’re doing tool type components where we’ll add high performance metal or metal matrix composites to the edges, and then we’ll machine finish it and then we’ll come back and inspect it, or ultrasound inspect it, and that way you know what you’ve deposited is good. For me that’s one of the most difficult impediments is quality. And often I’ll ask an operator or even here within hybrid I’m like how do you know that part’s good? And they’ll be like, ‘Uhhh, it worked last time.’ And I’m like, is that a question or a statement? ‘Oh, it’s a statement it worked last time.’ Well, is it the same? ‘Well, I think so.’ Well, how do you know? And the ability to then prove that and pedigree the data and inspect and say here it is, I know it’s good. It really transforms people’s ability to adopt with confidence. So that’s one of the things that I love about hybrid, is it’s a finished part, you get the data out, you know it’s good.

What would your advice be to new manufacturers that want to learn about implementing or adopting additive manufacturing?

Just my own personal experience, so much of it has grown out of CNC machining. You get the benefits of digital, but plan that printing step is one of the steps in a process chain, and you need to learn about all of the steps to get to a finished part. You can’t sell most 3D printed parts without some post processing. So just bear that in mind as you go into it, and to the degree you can automate it, it just becomes far easier and far quicker. For a lot of people, especially if you’re looking at metals or ceramics, after you print you’ve really only achieved about 50% or 60% of what you really need to get done from a cost perspective. Your cost of manufacturing is probably going to add at least 25% to that, maybe more.

What has your experience been over the years with RAPID + TCT?

Ten years ago, I was asked to give an overview of everything that had happened at RAPID + TCT in the first two decades. And so, myself and some of the other veterans in the industry put together a presentation, and it was really fun at that point. Sales had just exceeded a billion, one billion U.S. dollars, in terms of total market. And now of course we’re many fold that. It’s exciting to see how much progress in the last decade, how much more widespread and aware people are of it, but really SME was approached early on to house the professional society of people who were doing rapid prototyping at the time. And fortunately for SME and the rapid prototyping association, they all agreed, and of course RAPID + TCT has grown out of that and hosted a whole bunch of milestone events over the last couple of decades. Kudos to SME, and thank you for housing, if you will, what was rapid prototyping and has grown into the additive community.

What do you see going forward as some of the things that you like to see SME doing in the additive manufacturing space?

Well to me a couple of the highlights is obviously that very early engagement where SME gave a platform to the rapid prototyping and the additive community. I love as well that really the steering committee or the additive community advisors if you will, helped launch a lot of the initiatives that resulted in the ASTM M42 standards body formation, then it’s joint working group with ISO, and has pushed forward quite heavily on the standards. I really think SME has a lot to play in in terms of continuing to educate the workforce and equip them to move forward and possibly some certification and other things as well.

What do you think defines the AM community?

I think it’s a sense of optimism, I think additive opens up possibilities. And again, with the awareness that additive has risen to in just the public mind, I really think that pushing those possibilities is not just an aspirational thought, it’s actually what’s going on. And as additive marches forward, we see year on year improvements that even weren’t possible three or four years ago, that’s exciting. I think it builds enthusiasm and energy, and clearly with COVID many people have not been able to attend trade shows and pleased that RAPID + TCT will be co-located with Fabtech, so there will be more of a critical mass there gathered. I just think it’s energizing to see the community get together and see what the latest is on everybody’s developments.

What would your advice be for attracting younger generations into the new workforce of AM?

I think all manufacturing equipment should be as easy to operate as playing a video game. And I see a lot of potential alignment there. So as our ability to control things gets more and more sophisticated and more intuitive, I think people who grow up texting and gaming and doing lots of social media and other things, they’re already very well acclimated to living in the digital world. And of course, 3D printing is the union of digital and physical and so I think it’s just a very natural extension for them to continue in this sort of bilingual mode that they learn so well, what appears to be younger and younger, 18 months onward.

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

Well just a little aside, one day I had made a lot of progress at work 3D printing and I came home very excited ready to conquer the world with 3D printing and I said to a daughter that was quite young, what do you want me to try and 3D print next? And she said, ‘A bunny.’ And I wasn’t quite prepared for a bunny. If you ask me about the future, we’re not quite to printing bunnies yet, but I do see a lot of potential in the manufacturing of smart products, manufacturing of microfluidics biologically, assisted and enabled products. And to me that’s been a journey that additive has been trending towards since its inception. And in the next 5-10 years, those will become a reality. We know because we’re working on several of them and see them getting closer day by day. Additive has gotten very good at doing polymer parts or metal parts or ceramic parts, but now we’re starting to see that crossover, and we’ve actually got multiple customers using single solutions, single machines that can do metal and polymer together, or metal and polymer and conductive. And that’s when I think we really start to see a whole new generation of products enabled through additive.

Is there anything else you’d like to share while we have you here?

I always encourage people to learn about digital manufacturing. The more you can learn the more you can experience if you can do something at home even if it’s at a desktop scale on 3D printing, or CNC machining. I think that’s valuable experience for anybody who’s looking at this industry and trying to get a feel for what the future will bring. Clearly, we’re not displacing entirely the traditional mold and other types of forming and fusing and all the different variations of manufacturing. But I feel like this brings to a personal level, the ability to customize things, the ability to make one-offs. Actually, I’ll tell you, I designed a part years ago that I still carry with me and use often. And it’s a little assist device with fingernail clippers so that you don’t drop all of the clippings. And it’s just a little thing, I hadn’t found another product like that, but I was able to make it and it stays with me and I’ve just used it ever since. And to me it enables people to really express their individuality, to invent. And to me that ability to create is addictive, and I hope everybody can be enabled in that same way. That with less and less required prerequisite knowledge, people can achieve the creation step.