Putting together this issue of Manufacturing Engineering caused me to cast my memory back to my childhood to think about how technology progresses—and can capture the imagination.
In this issue we concentrate on lasers in manufacturing as well as on the state of additive manufacturing. My memories arose because of the juxtapostion of what had once been a new and exotic technology, lasers, that is now firmly entrenched in the manufacturing mainstream with a subsequent, newer technology that is following quickly along the same path.
I first became aware of lasers as a youngster reading an issue of a comic book that featured the superhero Flash. I can’t remember the plot of the story or how the Flash saved the day, but I can remember being fascinated by light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Totally cool stuff that, the comic hypothesized, could be used for everything from communications to lighting to the next superweapon.
Now I’ll admit, my fascination wasn’t strong enough to motivate me to get more than Cs in my Physics classes, but it did make a lasting impression, as you can tell from my writing about it here decades later. And if you read our special Laser Section in this issue you’ll see that my expectations for this technology were not necessarily realistic, but have been far surpassed.
And that brings us to additive manufacturing. When I came to SME nine years ago I had heard about additive, but I had no great understanding of the technology. Then I had the opportunity to vist the RAPID show that year. What an eye-opener! What vistas spread out before me! Here was a technology that was even more exotic and exciting than lasers. It provided ways of making things that never could have beeen made before.
Now, nearly a decade following that RAPID show, lasers have a place in mainstream manufacturing, marking, cutting, deburring, scanning and doing a host of other things. And additive, once a mere stripling, is now nearing the stage where it, too, could enter the mainstream of manufacturing.
These have been exciting times, and more are to come. Sure makes me wish I had paid better attention in Physics.