Does our industry need yet another term?
Have you heard that many players in our industry have agreed to adopt a standard term — “additive manufacturing” — to describe the basic, generic process of creating either a finished good or prototype layer by layer? The most widely accepted alternative had been “additive fabrication” until a recent decision by the ASTM International F42 standards subcommittee on terminology for our industry. Quickly following suit, SME’s Rapid Technologies and Manufacturing group moved to bless and adopt the term.
The new term is not intended to eliminate terms like 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and direct digital manufacturing, which are subsets of additive manufacturing. You can “prototype” with an additive manufacturing system.
This is just one of a handful of terms and definitions the ASTM committee has adopted, and more are on the way. Of course terminology is just a small part of the committee’s work. Its heavy lifting will be on designing a host of test and measurement standards. The formation of a standards committee is a welcome and encouraging sign.
Why is this change good?
An industry that wishes to be taken seriously needs to institute standards. I believe lack of universal standards has been limiting our industry to its current roughly $1 billion mark. And I believe that adherence to standards will position us for mass adoption by the global manufacturing industry and facilitate growth.
Standardizing is a sure sign our industry is coming of age. For the first time, the industry is starting to look more like a grown-up and less like a kid. For too long, individual companies in the industry, ourselves included, have employed their own terminology and their own measurement methods at will without seeking consensus from the industry at large. While we each enjoyed the autonomy to choose what served our interests, we were, in reality, doing a disservice to our companies, the industry and those we hoped to influence.
ASTM F42 member companies are not handcuffed by the committee’s decisions, and they reserve the right not to adopt a given standard. But I believe they will think twice before rejecting a standard that peers will follow.
Stratasys originally preferred to stick with the existing term additive “fabrication,” instead of the new, additive “manufacturing,” because some might believe the new term didn’t include prototyping. We did not vote for the change, yet we do support the committee’s decision, even though it is causing us some discomfort.
Although changing the way we do things will be uncomfortable for us in the short term, it will pay dividends when we become aligned with the common goal of moving the world toward confidence in our solutions.
The ASTM committee’s work is one of the topics you’ll read more about this month here on the Stratasys blog, when we’ll post industry consultant Terry Wohlers’ thoughts on this subject.