Over the last decade I've been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of companies around the world as they went through the process of adopting additive manufacturing. Those include medical device companies, Aerospace manufactures, most of the formula 1 teams, many of the top car companies (OEM and Tier 1), welding shops, ceramic dish manufactures, government agencies and about anything else you can think of. When I look back at the most successful implementations I see some trends. These trends aren't related to the industry, size of company, or even budget. They are much more related to the types of people involved with the implementation and adoption of the technology. In the next few paragraphs I'll share who I believe are the keys to the most important people for the success of these projects.
This is the person marching into meeting with PowerPoints already open ready to tell all of their colleagues and likely even people at other companies about how great the tech is. They are the ones waving the flag for the technology day in and day out. They have the coolest parts on their desks and LOVE telling people about them. They are the connectors of the project and will be the person pushing the project along no matter the hurtle. The best thing you can do for them is give them the information and tools they need. Invite them to the next user meeting, heck, even ask them to speak at it! Their story is as valuable internally as it is externally. If you only have one person to work with on an implementation, you better hope this is the one.
The Tinkerer: This could be the person with a special private lab, sometimes this is just some empty boxes they stacked next to their desks that are home to DIY 3d printers and laser cutters, sometimes they've managed to get their own room that will be filled with random parts and inventions. They know a little about everything and can be seen by some as the expert in all things. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes bringing in professional level equipment can be perceived by them as an attack on their domain, in which case they will shoot it down. In other cases they will be the one calling to get more equipment because in their eyes it's just another even better toy for them. Making sure you understand where this person stands, and working out a way that the new tech can benefit them is huge. Sometimes benefiting them means more equipment for them to use. Sometimes it means that the "boring jobs" will go to the new machines leaving them with more time to tinker. The key is to really listen to them and do your best to bring them into the team.
This is the person that makes things happen. These can come in the form of someone with an urgent project, or someone that loves to find the right tool for any job. If you can get them to buy into the projects value they will be the one to help you build the business case that will help open the purse strings. They have projects that need solutions and if your solution fits, they can bring you all the way to the implementation phase, if not, maybe it's time to rethink the project.
The Skeptic: Most companies have one, they can be heard repeating phrases like; we tried this years ago, if it's not broke don't fix it, or I'm just playing devils advocate. They are often people that have been there a long time, and are quite comfortable with the way things are. They are a bit of a tricky person to deal with because not only are they some of the hardest to convince, there is also a good chance that they have the expertise, the title, and the relationships that come along with working for an organization for years. They can be your biggest hurtle, they can also be one of your biggest allies. If you can convince this person that the new way is worth pushing them out of their comfort zone, you will often find one of the projects strongest supporters here. Take the time to win this person for your project and the payoffs will be endless.
This might be the person in finance or they could be a manager that you've never met that has to sign off on capital equipment before it goes ahead. Either way, it's important to find this person as soon as possible and make sure you really understand their perspective. It's worth the time to talk with them about more than just numbers to see what drives and motivates them. (Over our next rounds of drinks together I can tell you about some of them ;)) It’s important to remember that this person is not the ultimate key to success. They are one key. To truly be successful machines need to be utilized and it's pretty rare that the person paying the bill is going to be the one cranking out meaningful applications.
I've found that If I can identify these people, and take the time to understand their needs and desires the projects seem to flow forward much more easily. One person can hold several of these roles, even the ones that seem to conflict.
it's worth taking the time to work out who fits where as well as their motivations as you move through the process. While someone might fit one of these roles for a while, it's important to remember that no one is that one dimensional. For me at least, the people in the process are the what makes it worthwhile. I've had a blast traveling around the world to work with so many companies on cool projects, but what I appreciate the most is the time spent with new people and getting to understand a bit more of their view of the world. What are the other profiles that you've noticed and taken a certain likening (or disliking) to?