When asked about which past 3D printing projects she remembers most fondly, Alex Kingsbury starts listing body parts. "One of them was a 3D printed sternum," she says. "Oh and the other one was a heel. A man was going to lose his leg because he had cancer in his calcaneus (heel) bone. The treatment for that is an amputation below the knee, but we were able to 3D print a heel implant." Watching her at IMTS 2022 nonchalantly describing something that would've been inconceivable 20 years ago is a remarkable testament to the kind of innovation and invention that's par for the course in the additive manufacturing world. For the people these items are printed for (and implanted in), this technology is a literal lifesaver – a titanium miracle that allowed them to live longer than they would've without it. Their lives were now divided into the period of time before the implant and the period of time after it. It was probably one of the biggest days of their lives. For Kingsbury, and many in additive manufacturing, it was probably a weekday. Like many (if not most) others, Kingsbury didn't dream of working in additive manufacturing. "It wasn't necessarily intentional," she says. "My pathway [to additive] was via engineering doing commercialization projects for a research institute and where I was immediately working with metals and metal powders." Now, more than a decade later, Kingsbury notes that the ways people get into additive have changed along with the industry itself. "I think a lot of people entering the industry these days are much more intentional about wanting to join," she says. "There's a lot more known about it." Still, she counts herself lucky that she entered the field when she did. "It's such an honor and a privilege to have been involved in a field for such a long time now," she says. "I'm able to look back at times in history and see where additive was and what it was doing and the status of it and the fact that it was so new." She notes that in the earlier days in 2013 she saw the industry's commitment to adopting and commercializing additive manufacturing, but at that point those big strides had yet to be made. Since that time, multi-laser systems are industry standard, process monitoring is better understood and executed, and materials processing has been optimized. "So now we've got the benefit of plus 10 years," she says. "I can look back and go 'yeah, that really materialized.’ All those wish-list items are now being delivered on." Kingsbury notes that the hype for additive tends to come in waves – there was one in 2014, she says, and another last year which was a response to the innovation that pent up during the pandemic. So as far as where the industry goes from here, Kingsbury sees a future where additive is thought of less like a mind-blowing sideshow and more a regular, relied upon part of the manufacturing repertoire. "We want to see scale happening in additive," she says. "More reliability, and more trust as well."
Alex Kingsbury, a metal additive manufacturing (AM) expert and a PhD candidate at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, never dreamed of working in additive and contributing to life-savings products.