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All you need to know about the new MIT additive manufacturing online course

We met with the course's organizers to learn why it is worth a lot more than it costs

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Along with effective communication, one of the keys to growing AM awareness and adoption is education. When it comes to education in technical, technological and managerial fields, MIT is among the very top institutions in the world. That’s why the new 11-week MIT additive manufacturing online course starting this week could be one of the most important initiatives for reaching professionals who have an interest or a stake in AM all over the world.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology first introduced this course, titled Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production last year. Wanted, organized and taught primarily by Professor John Hart, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT, the course’s faculty lists several top technologies, materials and business experts from MIT. Among them, even Ely Sachs, the MIT Professor of Mechanical Engineering who invented the binder jetting process. The fall enrollment already closed but the course is coming back next spring so you might want to read on. We visited MIT to learn why it’s definitely worth the investment.

Learning to fly with AM

How exactly does this course differ from so many other similar initiatives around the world? On a recent visit to MIT, we had the opportunity to meet with Professor Hart and Haden Quinlan, program manager at MIT’s Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies, to get an up-close and detailed view of what the course offers. We were amazed by the sheer amount of knowledge, data, practical information and case studies that the course contains. There is enough information to easily split it up into several more specific course, which is something that the organizers may consider doing in the future. With a rapid calculation, if one compared the possible economic advantages that this knowledge could carry, within so many areas of industrial and medical production, the $1,950 price tag seems like a minimal investment for a course that could bring benefits worth tens or even hundreds of times over.

We met with Mr. Quinlan in the beautiful MIT campus and more specifically in the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity, which is also directed by Professor Hart. We spent a couple of hours going through a few of the different course modules. There are dozens of topics which range from the basics of AM technologies and materials to supply-chain disruption, end-to-end product workflow and relative lifecycle product management.

“At MIT we explore AM at all levels,” Quinlan explained. “It is integrated into our undergrad curriculum at MIT and we also offer graduate student courses specific on AM. Finally, we have two professional programs which are represented by the online course and by a 5-day in-person course. The in-person course has been going on for five years now and runs over the summer months.”

MIT additive manufacturing online course
By attending the online course you might not get to see the MIT campus in person but the standards of excellence are the same as for any in-person course, with even great depth of content.

Contents of the in-person and online courses are similar although the online course delves into even greater details. It begins with a general overview of additive manufacturing and then goes through all major technologies as per the ASTM definitions. The following sections get into much greater depths and were designed so that participants can focus on the segments that are more relevant to their specific profession. “For example – Quinlan says – an engineer or designer would focus more on materials and software, while someone working on supply-chain dynamics would be more interested in the costs and economics.”

The course has that flexibility build-in. Everyone learns the basics and goes into a much deeper dive, supported by dozens of videos and data charts. There are high-quality videos that cover each AM material family, technology, processes and post-processes in great detail. MIT’s extensive knowledge base and reference material are shared with all course participants. “This is not a course requirement and students do not get graded on it, but it is a key advantage for professionals that enroll,” Quinlan explained. “In the future, we might expand this content into a stand-alone product that what we are referring to as “Digital Book”, containing reference material that needs to be accessed quickly and often.

AM under the microscope

Starting in week 3, the course dives into the actual AM value proposition, analyzing real additive applications and how AM affects specific aspects of the product lifecycle such as, for example, end-of-life parts management. Quinlan highlights that they take a unique approach and look at the bigger picture: “How does AM affect the way I design, produce and fulfill products and orders? We break it down into five stages and walk through a series of applications across all of these stages – he explains.

Leveraging MIT’s unique experience in manufacturing management, course participants are able to explore the different models for approaching productions and sales. One of the first aspects is defining the different models for approaching product cost. “For example, if you look at traditional manufacturing, during the design and prototyping phase significant investments are made without any revenues coming in,” Quinlan says. “We show how, using AM, lead times are shortened thus leading to better overall economics.” Similar cost schemes and arguments are presented for tooling and in general for all indirect manufacturing applications that involve AM at some level.

In order to provide an even more professional and practical background, this segments of the course features video interviews of some very high-profile AM industry figures, including C-level executives from GE Additive, Carbon and many more, discussing their view of implementing AM into the workflow.

Designing the future

The mid-section of the course focuses on the design aspect. MIT partnered with Boston-based cloud CAD and CAE providers Onshape and Frustum, who offered full access to their platforms. Other relevant CAM/CAE software such as Autodesk NetFabb and Materialise Magics are shown throughout this section. Several other companies and figures partnering at some level to provide unique testimony of the DfAM process. These include Professor Tim Simpson from Penn State, the chairman of the ASTM F42 committee, AM experts from Protolabs, as well as medical implant experts.

“If the first three weeks lay down the foundations, the following three weeks let participants dive deep into the technology,” Quinlan explains. “We support them with an extensive library of interactive graphics that show the properties of different additively manufactured parts in different materials and in different AM technologies.

MIT additive manufacturing online course
A 3-piece 3D printed miniature of the main MIT building is offered to the course’s participants to provide a more tangible approach to different AM technologies and the design possibilities they offer.

In order to give a more physical sense to the possibilities offered by AM, MIT worked with Protolabs to produce a kit that can be purchased along with the course. It is a 3-piece assembly which composes the MIT main building, with parts made using SLA, MJF and SLM. “We designed all the different features in order to show different angle overhangs, thread designs, lattice structures, and different resolution capabilities.

More generally the course strives to enable participants to fully understand the new mindset that is required in order to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing in both prototyping and production. “We designed a methodology for DfAM, which we refer to as ‘DfAM Innovation Process’. It draws upon the traditional design for manufacturing approach,” Quinlan goes on to explain. “We look at how to use the two main advantages of AM – rapid design variation and expanded design space – in order to create a step by step process on approaching problem solving in part production using additive manufacturing effectively.”

MIT additive manufacturing online course
Course participants have full access to cloud CAD/CAE tools Onshape and Frustum GENERATE

As in any 4-step process, course participants are asked to define the job and work their way through to the solution, test it and then review feedback or go forward into production. MIT provides a number of tools to apply this process to AM, from initial design to final product. “We need to make people fully understand how much broader the design space is with additive,” Quinlan says. This does not mean that the course focuses solely on the benefits, as AM limitations are also discussed in great depths. “However, the expanded design possibilities are the main driver for AM adoption and we do focus on conveying  this message. Then we get into the value proposition of AM…”

Invest in yourself

“We provide a number of cost models,” Quinlan says. In the final segment, the course focuses on quantifying the value of AM applications. Because aerospace giant Boeing was a strong, early supporter, one of the key examples focuses on how much money can be saved by reducing the weight of a flying aircraft part by just one kilogram during the 20-year lifespan of a single plane. Applied to an entire fleet this value rapidly climbs into the millions. Other examples include mold tooling, jigs and fixtures, and part consolidation. However, cost elements are not limited to the manufacturing process, other analyses also focus on cost reduction for shipping and on-demand production

Asked who the typical participants are, Quinlan said ““We are targeting the world”. The fact that the course is available online, while still maintaining the highest MIT standards of excellence makes this proposition truly unique, especially at a time when in-person degrees are losing luster and practical knowledge is gaining strength and appeal, even with large corporations such as Apple and Google. “The course is designed to benefit application engineers, design engineers, and anyone working in production management,” Quinlan clarified, “but also people that we might not generally consider such as, for example, someone who is working in procurement and needs to evaluate whether the purchase of a particular machine is justified. Or if they need to choose between machines.”

So far 1,600 persons have enrolled since the course became available in April 2018. Initially many participants came from Boeing. Lately, the general population has increased thus balancing out the total. “We see a lot of interest from the automotive segment,” Quinlan revealed. “We now have 20 seats from a major automaker and 6 executives from another major automaker among participants. Medical is also highly represented, especially in the October run. We see people who are looking to change career or start a new business. In general – he assessed – large companies act as beachheads, while small enterprises find the highest value as they are looking at AM but may not be able to invest in a dedicated consultant.”

Considering that consultants with AM experience may demand as much as $2,000 for a single day, it seems easy to the benefits in the value proposition of internally gaining so much experience in just under thrre months, through the experts at MIT. By extent, it may be even easier to see the value in knowing if and when to (or not to) implement AM processes to maximize efficiencies and costs within any company that is expecting to develop, design and manufacture new products in the future.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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