Viewpoint: History of Additive Fabrication (Part 2)

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This two-part series provides a timeline that shows how additive fabrication technologies have developed from their inception in 1987 to 2007. This part picks up where Part 1 ended. The following was excerpted from Wohlers Report 2007.

Terry Wohlers and Tim Gornet

"Viewpoint" is a column authored by Terry Wohlers for Time-Compression Technologies
This column was published in the May/June 2008 issue.

In February 2003, Z Corp. (Burlington, MA) introduced its ZPrinter 310 system. The product, then priced at $29,900, uses technology similar to the company’s other powder-based 3D printers and replaced the Z400 product. The same month, EOS (Novi, MI) announced that it had sold its first two EOSINT laser-sintering machines in North America.

In May 2003, Sony Precision Technology America (Lake Forest CA) began to market the Sony stereolithography machines in the U.S. As part of a settlement between 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC) and the U.S. Department of Justice, Sony purchased a license from 3D Systems to sell stereolithography in North America. Active sales of the machine occurred later that year.

In mid-2003, Solidscape (Merrimack, NH) introduced its T612 system for making wax patterns for investment castings. The basic technology is similar to Solidscape’s previous systems, although the T612 is faster and builds much bigger parts. Around the same time, EnvisionTEC (Ferndale, MI) launched the sale of its systems in the U.S. In September 2003, it was announced that Stratasys (Eden Prairie, MN) would serve as Objet Geometries’ (Rehovot, Israel) exclusive distributor for its Eden products in North America. The distribution agreement ended in December 2006.

In late 2003, 3D Systems began to sell and ship its InVision 3D printer, a machine that jets and hardens photopolymer similar to Objet’s machines. 3D surprised many when it priced the machine at $39,900. The company introduced the InVision HR (high resolution) version of the machine in April 2004 for $59,900.

Chubunippon (Japan) began to sell its low-cost Wizaray stereolithography system in 2003. The machine builds acrylate parts that fit inside a 100 x 100 x 100 mm (4 x 4 x 4 inch) build volume and sells for about ¥998,000 (~$9,590).

At EuroMold 2003 in December, EOS introduced its EOSINT M 270 for direct metal laser sintering. The system uses a fiber laser rather than a CO2 laser, which is used in the EOSINT M 250 Xtended machine. Another German company, Trumpf, entered the industry when it introduced its TrumaForm LF and TrumaForm DMD 505 machines at EuroMold. The LF machine uses a 250-watt laser and fiber optic cable to direct the light onto a bed of pure powder metal. Trumpf partnered with POM to produce the DMD 505 machine. The 505 offers advanced features, such as a 5-axis motion system.

In March 2004, Stratasys introduced the “Triplets,” which consist of three variations of the FDM Vantage machine. Prices range from $99,000 to $195,000. The machines can process both ABS and polycarbonate materials.

In Q2 2004, EnvisionTEC introduced the Vanquish photopolymer-based system that uses Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments to solidify an entire layer at once. Unlike the company’s Perfactory system, Vanquish works similar to traditional stereolithography systems, with the build platform moving downward with each layer.

DSM Somos (Elgin, IL) introduced several new resins at the April 2005 SLA/SLS user conference, including a nanocomposite material, a high-elongation material, a low-durometer material, a UL94 V0 flame-retardant material and a material that can withstand high temperatures.

In July 2004, the ProMetal division of Ex One (Irwin, PA) (then Extrude Hone) introduced the small RX-1 metal-based machine. Maximum part size is 40 x 60 x 25 mm (1.6 x 2.4 x 1 inch). The RX- 1 is targeted at educational and research customers.

Also in July, 3D Systems announced the Bluestone nanocomposite stereolithography resin. The same month, 3D Systems began to ship the InVision HR, a high-resolution 3D printer targeting the jewelry market. The Sinterstation HiQ, also released in July, added new closed-loop thermal controls and scanning options aimed directly at process improvement for rapid manufacturing. This technology was also offered as an upgrade to the Sinterstation 2500plus and Vanguard systems.

Solidica (Ann Arbor, MI) sold and installed a new version of its Ultrasonic Consolidation system, called Formation, in September 2004. The system was priced at about $400,000. The following month, 3D Systems introduced its dual vat Viper HA stereolithography system for the hearing aid industry. In November, Objet introduced its Vero FullCure 800 series opaque colored materials. They offer improved mechanical properties and better detail visualization.

At EuroMold 2004 in December, EOS announced the availability of its latest systems, the EOSINT M 270, a metal-based machine that uses a fiber laser with a small spot size. At the same time, the company introduced the EOSINT P 385, a plastic material system capable of thinner layers than were possible with its predecessor, the EOSINT P 380.

Concept Laser of Germany introduced the M1 Cusing laser-melting machine at EuroMold. The machine can process all of the metals of the M3 Linear but it does not support laser erosion or laser marking. Also at EuroMold, Next Factory (Vicenza, Italy) introduced the DigitalWax 010 and DigitalWax 020 systems. Both use a solid-state laser to harden photopolymer, and were priced at 25,000 Euros and 35,000 Euros, respectively.

Also in December 2004, Solidscape introduced the T66 Benchtop and T612 Benchtop systems for $40,000 and $50,000, respectively. The new systems do not require an air conditioning unit, so they are smaller and lighter than the previous machines.

In March 2005, Z Corp. released its latest high-definition color 3D printing system, the Spectrum Z510. It offers a larger build volume, produces better quality parts than the Z406 and is less expensive at $49,900. The same month, Stratasys dropped the price of the Dimension SST from $34,900 to $29,900. The machine offers a soluble support removal system that automates the process.

In April 2005, 3D Systems unveiled the Sinterstation Pro, a large-frame laser-sintering machine with part breakout, powder handling and recycling. It is built on the HiQ technology and includes removable build modules and digital scanning. The InVision LD, manufactured by the Israeli company Solidimension and rebranded by 3D Systems, was introduced at a price of $22,900. This system builds by selectively laminating PVC sheet material.

In June 2005, Aspect Inc. of Japan showed its SEMplice laser-sintering machine at a large exhibition in Tokyo. The same month, DSM Somos sold its laser- sintering technology and patent portfolio to Valspar Corp., a large manufacturer of coatings and laser-sintering powders in Switzerland. A month later, Contex Scanning Technologies, a Danish manufacturer of wide-format document scanners, acquired Z Corp. In August 2005, Objet Geometries introduced the FullCure Tango line of flexible materials for its PolyJet systems.

October 2005 was an active month. Stratasys launched its RedEye RPM paid parts service business with online quoting and 60 FDM and PolyJet machines. Objet Geometries introduced the Eden500V, a large format PolyJet 3D printer for $170,000. Z Corp. introduced the $25,900 ZPrinter 310 Plus, which replaced the ZPrinter 310. 3D Systems announced the large Viper Pro SLA, a modular system capable of running single or dual vats of resin.

In November 2005, 3D Systems announced that it would relocate its headquarters to Rock Hill, SC. The company also announced its new DuraForm EX polyamide material for its Sinterstation Pro systems. The same month, Ex One’s ProMetal division introduced the sand-based S-Print machine at a base price of $500,000. EnvisionTEC launched a new version of its Perfactory machine. Meanwhile, MCP ( Stone– Staffs, England) introduced the SLM Realizer 100 machine for meso/micro applications.

Voxeljet Technology GmbH of Germany introduced its VX800 machine and showed parts from it at EuroMold 2005. The large powder-based system uses 3DP technology originally developed at MIT and commercialized by Z Corp. The company sold its first machine in 2005.

In December 2005, AeroMet, a division of MTS Systems Corp., ceased operations. MTS said in an announcement that making titanium parts for the aerospace industry was not a profitable business model.

The Swedish company Speed Part (now Sintermask) began to ship its system in early 2006. The system is aimed at volume production. The machine uses infrared lamps to project light through a mask to sinter powder in a single step. The cycle time for each layer is reportedly less than 10 seconds, regardless of the area sintered.

In January 2006, Stratasys signed an agreement with Arcam (Mölndal, Sweden) to be the exclusive distributor in North America for Electron Beam Melting (EBM) systems. Meanwhile, Stratasys lowered the price of its Dimension BST and SST machines from $24,900 and $29,900 to $18,900 and $24,900, respectively. In response to these lower prices, Z Corp. lowered the price of its ZPrinter 310 Plus from $25,900 to $19,900.

Also in January, Objet Geometries introduced it Eden350/350V platform, which replaced its popular Eden330/333 system. At the same time, the company introduced its Eden250 3D printer for $60,000. Soligen shut down its operation the same month after more than 12 years in business.

In February 2006, 3D Systems announced its InVision DP (dental professional) system that includes an InVision 3D printer and 3D scanner for the dental market. Stratasys added the Vantage X systems starting at $99,000 and reduced the price of its Vantage i machine to $85,000.

3D Systems reduced the price of its InVision LD product from $22,900 to $14,900 in March 2006. Also in March, the company filed a patent infringement lawsuit against EnvisionTEC and Sibco. In Q2 2006, EOS introduced stainless steel and cobalt-chrome materials.

In April 2006, Stratasys introduced the Dimension 1200 BST and SST systems priced at $21,900 and $29,900, respectively. The following month, Desktop Factory (Pasadena, CA) announced that it was developing a 3D printer priced in the $5,000 to $7,000 range. The device uses an inexpensive halogen light source and drum-printing technology to build parts additively from plastic powder.

In May 2006, DSM Somos showed its NanoTool, a nanoparticle-filled photopolymer for SL with high heat resistant capabilities. DSM also introduced ProtoCast AF 19120, a completely antimony-free, lowash- content SL resin targeted at investment casting. DSM Somos also unveiled its new high-accuracy, ABS-like SL materials, ProtoGen OXT 18120 and O-XT 18420.

Also in May 2006, Sony Manufacturing Systems ended its stereolithography sales in North America. Under a licensing agreement with 3D Systems, Sony began to establish an SL sales organization in California in Q3 2002. In a span of more than three years of active sales, the company sold four systems.

The same month, 3D Systems released its Accura 60 photopolymer, which is said to mimic polycarbonate. The following month, 3D Systems announced two authorized service providers: Integra Services (Round Rock, TX) for its laser-sintering equipment and Total C S Team (Stevenson Ranch, CA) for SL equipment.

The German company Trumpf discontinued its TrumaForm LF machine in Q2 2006. The machine constructs parts in a powder bed by selectively melting powder with a Trumpf disk laser.

In August 2006, EOS launched its cobalt–chrome powder material for the EOSINT M 270 systems. The same month, Z Corp. introduced its ZScanner 700 handheld 3D scanner for $39,900. In October 2006, EOS announced the commercial availability of 17-4 stainless steel for use with its EOSINT M 270 equipment.

In November 2006, 3D Systems opened its new headquarters in Rock Hill, SC, and Stratasys opened a new office in Shanghai, China.

At EuroMold 2006 in late November and early December, several new products were introduced. EOS unveiled the Formiga P 100 laser-sintering system, a new system that was designed from the ground up. EOS also introduced two new higher-throughput machines, the EOSINT P 390 and EOSINT P 730. Voxeljet Technology showed its VX800 machine, which uses PMMA thermoplastic powder. EnvisionTEC introduced its small Perfactory Desktop System. MCP introduced its new SLM Realizer 100 selective laser-melting machine. Next Factory introduced a faster stereolithography machine, as well as a much larger system.

Aspect Inc. of Japan shipped its first SEMplice laser-sintering machines to customers in Q4 2006, a product it introduced more than a year earlier. Sintermask (then Speed Part) of Sweden sold its first systems in 2006. Also in Q4 2006, Meiko of Japan stopped manufacturing and selling of its SL systems. Near the end of 2006, Trumpf ended its agreement with POM to sell the large DMD 505 machine in Europe. Also at the end of the year, Stratasys stopped the distribution of the Eden PolyJet products for Objet Geometries. Meanwhile, Objet opened a sales and support office in the Boston, MA area. In December 2006, Stratasys installed the first Arcam EBM machine in the U.S.

In January 2007, 3D Systems announced the V-Flash 3D printer. It uses film transfer and photo flash imaging technology. The machine was expected to sell and ship around mid-2007 at a price of $9,900. The same month, Stratasys launched the new Dimension Elite 3D printer for $32,900.

Solidscape released two market-specific models of its T66 machine, the D66 for dental applications in February and the R66 for the jewelry applications in March. Both are about $36,000. Around the same time, Desktop Factory had received “pre-sales” for most of the 200 units that it had planned to deliver in 2007. The 125ci 3D printer was expected to be in full production in July or August 2007.

In March 2007, Z Corp. introduced the ZPrinter 450, the first color 3D printer to break the $40,000 price point. The most interesting feature of the system is its automated removal and recycling of loose powder.

At the 2007 3DSUG Users Conference in March, DSM Somos introduced the DMX-SL 100 high-impact-resistance material for rigorous prototyping and manufacturing applications. It also introduced WaterClear Ultra with ABS-like properties, resistance to water and improved clarity. Huntsman released a resin, initially named 71640, for HeCd-based SL systems that offers low viscosity and good impact resistance. 3D Systems announced the Accura 55 resin that mimics ABS.

Also at the 3DSUG event, Advanced Laser Materials (Belton, TX) released a new fire-retardant polyamide for laser-sintering systems. It passed the 60-second vertical burn test and offers Nylon 11-like properties. The company also showed a highly recyclable polyamide composite material for LS. SLAMaterials introduced three SL resins: a clear material called Hi-Rezz ICE, Hi-Rezz MED for medical applications, and Hi-Rezz X-factor that offers high strength and high-temperature capabilities.

At the end of March 2006, Sony Manufacturing Systems stopped manufacturing the Solid Creation System for D-MEC of Japan after 18 years.

Several technologies and companies have emerged and vanished over the years, including Light Sculpting (U.S.), Sparx AB (Sweden), Laser 3D (France), BMT (Germany), Röders (Germany) and Schroff Development (U.S.). All of them have developed and introduced additive systems, but they have had little or no commercial impact.

No machines from Asia are available for sale in the U.S. at the present time. One exception was the stereolithography systems from Sony when it sold systems in the U.S. from Q4 2002 to Q2 2006. Kira Corporation sold its paper lamination machines in the U.S. for a short period beginning in January 2001. TCT

Industry consultant and analyst Terry Wohlers is principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, CO). Wohlers has provided consulting assistance to more than 150 organizations in 20 countries For more information, visit http://wohlersassociates.com.

Tim Gornet is the manager of Rapid Prototyping Center Operations at the University of Louisville (Louisville, KY). For more information, visit http://louisville.edu/speed/rpc.