How do you convince program managers to take an additive manufacturing approach to tooling? A 3D-printing pro shares lessons he learned about how to overcome obstacles from leadership.

Dan Campbell, Research Group Lead at the Manassas, VA-based aerospace manufacturer Aurora Flight Sciences, recently led an Air Force Research Laboratory-sponsored effort to investigate how additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, supports the fabrication of carbon-fiber composite parts.

Dan Campbell (pictured) with a 3D-printed aircraft (Credit: Stratasys)

In a webcast titled Cost-Effective Additive Manufactured Tooling for Composites, an attendee had the following question for Campbell:

What hurdles did you face internally when you were introducing an additive approach for tooling at Aurora?

Dan Campbell: First, let me just say: Each year, without a doubt, the amount of additive manufacturing we've used atAurora Flight Sciences  has increased for prototyping, flight parts, and tooling across the board. Five years ago, I'd have to go out sell the idea, or the value-add. Now it's the opposite; it's about hiring the people to help me out, field the questions, and help the engineers implement.

I would say the biggest hurdle is probably the program managers and the leadership team not quite willing to adopt the tooling — because of concerns about risk, cost, and performance. I would recommend that you take a parallel approach. You continue down the path of your traditional tooling, but in parallel, build a sub-scale/sub-section tool, and use it to really evaluate the cost, the performance, the part you pull off, and what you'll be able to achieve. I think you'll be surprised with how well you’re able to meet your requirements, maybe to the point where instead of keeping down the parallel path, you choose the additive tool and move forward with that.

Have you had to convince leadership to take an additive-manufacturing approach? Share your own “lessons learned” below.