ADAPT Consortium Looks to the Future of Additive Manufacturing

MIT's new initiative brings together manufacturers, 3D printing companies, academics

MIT has long been a source of important 3D printing research and advancements, with scientists there working on everything from printing in glass to developing new 3D printheads. MIT also offers well-regarded coursework for students and professionals related to additive manufacturing.

Last year, MIT announced it was forming a new industry consortium to focus on additive manufacturing—the Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (ADAPT)—to focus on expanding the use of AM in industry through new research, education platforms, and more academic-industry partnerships.

According to ADAPT’s program manager, Haden Quinlan, the idea for the consortium was first floated back in 2016. “There was a level of industrial excitement at that time, and today, that made additive manufacturing even more relevant than ever,” Quinlan says. “At the same time, we really started to asses the magnitude of additive manufacturing becoming a transformative production asset. It’s hard to appreciate how many different points in the lifecycle of the manufacturing timeline that AM can have a real, meaningful impact.”


Quinlan says that the consortium can also help better coordinate the many different strands of 3D printing research being conducted at MIT. “We have been doing our own research across the whole spectrum, from designing tools to hardware, process development, materials characterization development ... we thought: ‘Why should we all work independently, when there is a strong legacy of MIT working with industry across different colleges or schools for mutual benefit?’”

From ADAPT’s perspective, the potential of 3D printing technology has outpaced actual use cases; the type of partnerships envisioned at ADAPT could help accelerate adoption.

Professor A. John Hart of MIT’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity is directing the new consortium. Other staffers include faculty who represent a number of specialties, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and materials science.

Founding members include ArcelorMittal, Autodesk, BigRep, Bosch in North America, Dentsply Sirona, EOS, Formlabs, General Motors, Mimaki Engineering Company, Protolabs, Renishaw and Volkswagen Group.

New Outlet for Research

ADAPT is just one of several industry initiatives or consortia focused on 3D printing. America Makes, the 3MF Consortium, and EWI’s Additive Manufacturing Consortium, among others, have similar aims. What makes ADAPT different, according to Quinlan, will be the ability to leverage MIT’s research facilities and educational resources. 

According to Quinlan, initial efforts of ADAPT will include providing seed funding for new research projects at MIT and establishing a new advanced additive manufacturing laboratory there.

Membership fees can be pooled to fund advanced research through ADAPT. “We’re very overhead-light, so the money paid in can be used for research and we can maximize our operating budget in that way,” Quinlan says.

This is one area where Quinlan says ADAPT can differentiate itself from similar consortia. “America Makes, for example, does a good job of focusing on projects that are really immediate—these burning issues where they need standards yesterday,” Quinlan says. “We are thinking about what AM or digital manufacturing will look like several years from now, and how we can approach research from that perspective, at the first stage.”

ADAPT can also focus on research projects that wouldn’t normally get funded by a single company or grant. “There are breakthrough innovations that have institutional obstacles in terms of risk assessment and ROI that ADAPT will allow us to overcome,” Quinlan says. “That’s because the individual contribution is pretty low.”

Metal 3D Printing

“There’s been a conservative approach at many organizations because they don’t know if the promise that AM offers is going to be matched real value if they invest in it.”

— Haden Quinlan, ADAPT Program Manager

Currently, some of those initial projects will include work on a new metals manufacturing process, and a new physics-based cost model for AM that can help improve cost accounting when it comes to determining the true cost of printing parts.

The new MIT AM laboratory is currently being fitted with new machines. “If you can believe this, we didn’t’ have a single metal 3D printer at MIT until now,” Quinlan says. “Many of our members are working to install machines here now. MIT has a long history of advancing manufacturing—CNC was developed here, after all—and we are very excited to get that back on track.”

ADAPT will also host an Annual Research Symposium focused on additive manufacturing, as well as a members-only annual workshop and an on-campus seminar series available to members via webcast.

ADAPT also provides a number of AM-focused education programs, including MIT’s Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production online certificate course. “We’re thinking about how we can refine our educational materials,” Quinlan says. “We’re working with companies to figure out what the core job functions are in additive, and what competencies those people need to have. How can we teach those things and make it accessible?”

The education component is another differentiator that Quinlan says makes the ADAPT group stand out from other initiatives. “We have a leading program in AM, especially for professional straining,” Quinlan says. “We have an amazing team putting courses together, and a broad program that enables professionals to navigate the courses according to their specific interests.”

3D Printing Industry Resources

Another key advantage that ADAPT has is its location. “Here in Boston we have an incredible location for resources in terms of the companies involved in 3D printing that are here,” Quinlan says.

That includes a number of companies that either have headquarters or facilities in or near Boston such as PTC, OnShape, Altair, General Electric, Gillette, Formlabs, Voxel8, Desktop Metal, and a forthcoming Amazon facility.

“We have the means to pull all these people together without the inertia of having them distributed across the country,” Quinlan says. “Being able to have those regular, in-person touchpoints is valuable.”

While ADAPT’s short-term goals are focused on initial research projects and education programs, Quinlan says that the consortium wants to improve the way companies view AM and how it can fit into the future of manufacturing. “There’s a dearth of confidence because the technology hasn’t proven itself yet,” Quinlan says. “There’s been a conservative approach at many organizations because they don’t know if the promise that AM offers is going to be matched real value if they invest in it. That’s what we want to develop and put out into the world, so that the work we do facilitates growth in the industry at large.”

ADAPT members are scheduled to hold their second formal meeting this spring.

About the Author

Brian Albright's avatar
Brian Albright
Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering and a contributor to Robotics 24/7.
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