By Travis Hessman

In the shadows of the GM towers, in Detroit’s Cobo Center, the real theme of this year’s RAPID conference was manufacturing – the real, hardcore manufacturing that built this city once and is trying hard to build again.

As such, the usual dichotomy between rapid prototyping and the still distant hope of high volume final part production that usually rules these gatherings – and the 3-D printing industry itself – seemed somehow inadequate.

Attendees wanted something more. Something real. Something that can change the way things are made today. Something these hybrid manufacturing folks were happy to provide.

“For 3-D printing to be a viable option in manufacturing, it must be applicable across the entire product lifecycle, not just prototypes or end-use parts,” explained Ken Vartanian, vice president of marketing for Albuquerque-based metal printer, Optomec. “…It’s scary to begin a new process that has the potential to shut down your factory if it fails.”

Rather, he says, what they want is something that fits into those current systems. Something that combines the power and promise of 3-D printing with the real, hardcore manufacturing that keeps them alive: a hybrid system of subtractive and additive techniques.

This is a field Optomec already knows well.

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