The BRAKE Report continues to examine additive manufacturing by talking with Brian Crotty of 3YOURMIND. The company, based in Germany, has had offices in the United States since 2016. It works with additive manufacturing service bureaus and large companies that require management of their additive manufacturing across many production locations.
Crotty explains that this niche is about optimizing additive manufacturing. Because 3YOURMIND’s software helps manage the ordering, pricing, and production of parts, the company has unique insights into what’s trending in additive manufacturing.
Crotty isn’t waiting for additive manufacturing to reach a turning point. “We are right now hitting the critical mass,” he says. “Ford is putting parts into serial production, VW is putting parts into serial production, GM is putting parts into serial production.” Crotty adds that almost all hearing aids made today are manufactured with additive manufacturing.
It’s not a low-cost technology, but prices continue to fall dramatically while printing speed continues to increase. Anyone with AutoCAD and an Internet connection can start producing parts by using an additive manufacturing service bureau. “Let them produce it,” Crotty says. “They have the expertise they need to actually produce the parts.”
But the additive manufacturing boom comes with a caveat. “As soon as it becomes easy to make something, the question becomes what actually makes sense to make,” Crotty says.
A handful of smaller parts are obvious candidates, either because of their complex geometry or because additive manufacturing can combine two or three existing parts into one part.
Crotty highlights a few other uses for the technology that make the most sense right now in the brake industry.
One that he emphasizes is parts for production machines. 3YOURMIND works with logistics companies in Europe that run machines that are 50 years old or older. “Of course, there’s no huge parts inventory warehouse anywhere. Often there’s no digital model, sometimes no model design.” With additive manufacturing, “You have a way to keep this otherwise functioning machine in use.” A related use is printing small parts for rare or obsolete brake systems.
Crotty also sees a role for additive manufacturing in tooling supports. “Suppose you need one or two pieces to hold components in the production process. The piece will need a custom geometry, it needs to be able to withstand a custom torque. This is a part that can be additive manufactured,” he says.
“This is the way to start thinking about it,” Crotty says. “Either it has a really specific application that you can’t achieve any other way — lightweight, high strength, complex — or there’s an aspect of individuality or scarcity where, ‘I only need one, I only need ten.’”
“Car frames? Probably not,” he says. “Complex geometry engine components? Yes. Sports car brakes and frame optimization components? Yes. General axles? Probably not.”