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Additive Changes How Things Are Made (and Sold)

Company A makes widget 1. Company B needs widget 1 to make product alpha. Company B buys widget 1 from company A and uses it to make, then sell, product alpha.

What you just read is a description of the basic contours of any typical business transaction (manufacturing or otherwise) or the beginning of the world's most boring word problem. But as it is with anything, it's important to know the basic rules first before you can start breaking them. 

Among the many things that additive manufacturing has revolutionized, there's one that often goes overlooked: additive manufacturing (AM) hasn't just changed the way things are made, it's changed the way things are sold. 

"One of the things that's unique to additive is that you're essentially selling the idea of what can be versus what is," says Lisa Block, chief revenue officer at additive firm Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies. "This is a very different approach to any other kind of sales transaction. You already know what is – 'Here's the product, it's right here, it's in front of you.' You take it and sell it." 

"With additive you have to throw imagination back on the customer and say 'What do you need? What are you trying to do? What can you conceive of?'" she adds. 

With extensive experience in business across multiple industries that's led her to a perch near the top of the organizational ladder at Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, Block is uniquely qualified to discuss the sales aspect of additive better than most. She's quick to note, however, that though she is not an engineer. Her title shouldn't fool anyone into thinking she only knows the business side of things; Block’s an unapologetic additive manufacturing fanatic and has been for some time now. Her biggest accomplishment to date is her constant desire to learn more about AM and its amazing capabilities. 

"The only way you're going to learn it [additive] is to get your hands in there," she says. "I soak up as much knowledge from my amazing team as I possibly can. My first day on the job I was in an exhibition booth talking to people about what they were working on while learning the benefits and limitations of additive." 

"I was astounded by how many industries this exciting technology touched and I fell in love with the idea of being able to make something from nothing," she reminisces. 

Today, with Hybrid, she gets to support the process of making something from nothing, but she also champions the process of making something better and making something last longer, with a unique focus on eliminating waste from the manufacturing process by focusing on the people doing the actual manufacturing. 

"Hands down a CNC machinist is the bread and butter of the manufacturing world," Block says. "They're the ones that make the parts and usually they start with a very large piece of metal, and they drill away until that part is built. That’s subtractive." She notes that one of the biggest challenges machinists face is when either the machine goes outside of the parameters of the project, or they just make a mistake and more surface area is subtracted than is supposed to be. 

Normally, when this happens, "they have to toss it and start again," Block says. However, using some of Hybrid's technologies (which are installed inside CNC machines and implemented in the same system) those errors can become a thing of the past. "Our technology provides a solution for that," she adds. "If you removed an area you shouldn't have, you can simply flip a switch and have the metal added back into the piece. It's like a CNC machinist’s undo button." 

That's just one example of what Hybrid does, and ultimately Block notes that the solutions that additive provides are ultimately as diverse as any given manufacturer's needs. She cautions, however, that as fascinating and futuristic as this technology can seem, all three of those questions she mentioned earlier (What do you need? What are you trying to do? What can you conceive of?) are important to answer before pursuing any sort of additive solution. 

"People often attend IMTS and they see these amazing, cool technologies, and the cool stuff people are able to do, from robotic dogs walking around to amusement parks being built, and they say 'That's really cool. I really need that. I want to make cool stuff too!'" Block says. "But a lot of times we buy things and we're excited about what we purchased but we haven't looked at how it fits into our lives. That's additive as well – the most important fact to note is that AM is not a cure-all. You have to have the additive tool that works for you, your team, and your process." 

"Ultimately," she adds, "The coolest tool is the one you'll actually use." 


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