Blog Menu

The Future of 3D Printing

December 2, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 09:39

Like many, I’m intrigued by the prospects of the future. For 30 years, I have put thought into the developments and applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably. For most of this time, Wohlers Associates has focused its consulting, speaking, and publications on 3D printing technology. We are proud to have worked with 260 client organizations in 26 countries, with more in the queue.

In recent years, we have been asked to give even greater thought and consideration into what the future might hold. We believe that 3D printing will lead to far more product variety, coupled with entirely new types of products, many that are unthinkable today. Generative design and other software tools will contribute. Product inventories will shrink as companies transition toward cost-saving, digital inventories and on-demand manufacturing.

Biomimicry is a fascinating field that will inspire many to produce 3D-printed products that are lighter and stronger with enhanced performance characteristics. Our industry has barely scratched the surface of the almost endless list of possibilities. The opportunity is to learn from nature and then apply it to design for additive manufacturing. If I were to begin an advanced degree program today, it would focus in this area.

For the 13th time this year in a public setting, I will present thoughts and ideas surrounding the future of 3D printing. If you would like to be a part of the discussion, attend Inside 3D Printing at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. I speak at 9:00 am on Monday, November 4. I hope to see you there.

formnext 2017

November 18, 2017

In only its third year, formnext has quickly become the additive manufacturing event in Europe to see and to be seen. I attended last year’s formnext and shared here the impression it made. In my view, it was the most impactful additive manufacturing industry event in Europe that I had attended in my 30+ years of going to them. This week’s four-day event, held again in Frankfurt, Germany, has topped it. Three of us from Wohlers Associates were there.

With few exceptions, the most important AM companies worldwide exhibited their products and services at the Messe Frankfurt Convention Center. The exhibition filled most of two large halls. Conspicuous by its absence, one fast-growing AM system manufacturer did not exhibit, and I’m reasonably certain that it is regretting the decision.

Similar to last year, all things metal was in force at formnext. Desktop Metal, EOS, GE Additive, Renishaw, SLM Solutions, and many others showed their latest machines and parts in large, elaborate exhibits. Even HP showed parts from a metal 3D printing technology it is planning to introduce next year.

The scale of some of the new machines is striking, along with the large and complex parts coming from them. The quality of exhibits, people, and announcements at formnext signaled how far the AM industry has developed and matured in the recent past. It was great to meet so many engineers, top managers, and visitors from around the world.

Congrats to Mesago for the impressive formnext exhibition and to the TCT Group for the expertly-organized four-day conference. The formnext event grew from nothing to something very special in three short years. Other events have taken a decade or longer to reach this point and many never have. Next year’s formnext is November 13-16, again in Frankfurt, so add it to your calendar now and begin to make plans. It has become THE place in Europe to conduct business in the AM industry.

How I Built This

November 4, 2017

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:22

NPR’s “How I Built This” series of podcasts are excellent. They are candid interviews with the founders and CEOs of some of the top companies in the world. Among them: Jake Carpenter (Burton Snowboards), Perry Chen (Kickstarter), Jim Koch (Samuel Adams), and Herf Kelleher (Southwest Airlines). Others are Mark Cuban (serial entrepreneur), Richard Branson (Virgin), and John Mackey (Whole Foods Market).

To listen to the podcasts, go to the NPR website, review the titles and descriptions, and download the MP3 files. I have downloaded 16 thus far, copied them to my phone, and listened to 12 of them. Most are 40-50 minutes in length. Thanks to John Dulchinos of Jabil for telling me about them.

Most of the people being interviewed had humble beginnings, with little financial resources. They believed strongly in what they were doing and had extraordinary determination. One podcast details how Jim Koch and his 23-year old former secretary sold their first beer and was voted the best in America just six weeks after it became available. Another is an interview with Maureen and Tony Wheeler and how they started Lonely Planet, the largest publisher of travel guide books.

The podcasts provide fascinating insight into how some of the most recognizable brands were established. They are easy listening, inspiring, and entertaining. Thanks to NPR for making them available free of charge.

Vestas Wind Turbines

October 20, 2017

Filed under: manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:49

Have you ever wondered how wind turbine blades are made? I have. Luckily, I was a part of a special tour initiated by SME Chapter 354 that gave a good view into the manufacturing process. I was one of 27 that toured the Vestas blade factory in Windsor, Colorado earlier this week. The blades produced at the impressive facility are 54 meters (178 feet) in length, weigh seven tons, and amazingly complex. When a blade is at work, the speed at its tip is an astounding 251 kph (156 mph).

Denmark-based Vestas began to make wind turbines in 1979 and leads in the production and worldwide sales, with more than 16% of the market. GE, Siemens, and many relatively small companies are also in the business. Vestas has factories in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, India, and Colorado. The Windsor and Brighton, Colorado factories produce a significant number of all blades from the company. Windsor, alone, produces about 2,000 annually.

The visit began with an excellent presentation by Hans Jespersen, vice president and general manager of the Vestas blade factory in Windsor. Six other employees were on hand to answer questions and serve as our tour guides. Molds used to produce the blades are the largest—and definitely the longest—I have seen in 30+ years of visiting manufacturing facilities worldwide. The molds are made of a composite material, and the blades, themselves, are made predominantly of fiberglass and epoxy. On the surface, it may sound relatively straightforward, but sophisticated methods, intellectual property, and decades of experience go into the production of the blades.

Thanks to SME Chapter 354 for setting up the tour, and special thanks to the people at Vestas for sharing their time and expertise. Our tour guide, Phil McCarthy, senior production manager at the company, did an outstanding job in showing and explaining the many manufacturing steps and processes at the company. The tour was among the best I have taken in recent years. Vestas rolled out the “red carpet,” spent a lot of time with us, and answered many questions. I now have an even greater appreciation for wind turbines and their contribution to clean energy.

CSU’s Idea2Product Lab

October 9, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education — Terry Wohlers @ 09:53

Note: The following was authored by Ray Huff, manager of the I2P lab at Colorado State University. He is an intern at Wohlers Associates.

At universities worldwide, 3D printing is unlocking doors previously unavailable to students, staff, and others. Five years ago, David Prawel introduced Colorado State University to 3D printing with a single RepRap 3D printer in the mechanical engineering department. News of the new technology spread quickly, and soon Prawel spun off a dedicated lab providing 3D printing education and services. The lab was modeled after Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs originally launched in South Africa by professor Deon de Beer.

I was introduced to the I2P lab in mid 2014. I had spent the first half of that year managing a fledgling web marketing startup in Denver, and was looking to shift into a more dynamic industry. After some preliminary research into the 3D printing industry in Colorado, I came across an open house at Colorado State hosted by the I2P lab. It included a symposium featuring Terry Wohlers, Andy Christensen, and others in Colorado. I was blown away by the amazing, cutting edge developments in my backyard. It was then I knew I had to find a way into this industry. A year later, while working at then 3D-printing startup Aleph Objects, I was encouraged to pursue a degree in engineering, and that brought me back to Colorado State and the I2P lab.

I accepted an offer to serve as lab manager during my first year and was immediately exposed to more developmental projects than I could have imagined. Entrepreneurs came to the lab seeking help in 3D modeling and proof-of-concept development. Researchers designed custom apparatuses for their experiments and fabricated them on the spot. Educators learned to think creatively in completely new ways to clearly demonstrate difficult concepts. Artists came to modify and replicate their models digitally and physically using 3D scanning and printing. Veterinary surgeons brought CT scan data to create bone and organ analogies in preparation for surgical procedures. Countless engineering students began to produce models of their designs from classes and projects. I found that with a little bit of education and guidance, people of all backgrounds can go further and faster with their ideas and innovations than ever before.

Today, the I2P lab looks vastly different than it did in the days of a single student running one 3D printer. Over the past two years, the I2P lab customer base has doubled to more than 700 registered users. The lab boasts 20 3D printers of both material extrusion and vat photopolymerization technologies. Users come from across campus and the community to make their dreams into realities.

As these technologies mature and become less expensive to implement, labs like I2P are developing and multiplying in nearly every corner of education. Already, maker spaces, schools at many levels, and even libraries are benefiting from the creative freedom offered by 3D printing, 3D scanning, and design software to empower the community. They are being challenged to transform ideas into realities that affect and improve lives.

Time in Silicon Valley

September 23, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:44

I spent some time in the San Francisco Bay area this week, including the illustrious Silicon Valley. My first stop was Jabil, which is one of the largest and most interesting contract manufacturers on the planet. The company employs 175,000 people at 100+ sites in 23 countries. I visited the Jabil Blue Sky Center located in San Jose. The facility includes an impressive customer showcase of products, along with some of the best equipment and people available. The work that Jabil is doing in additive manufacturing has progressed significantly in a relatively short period of time. Already, many employees at the company are dedicated to AM. The Blue Sky facility has extensive labs with ~100 subject experts. It was a privilege to visit the site and spend time with two key employees.

My next stop was Carbon in Redwood City. The company produces the M2 machine that’s based on a stereolithography-like technology called CLIP—short for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. The process uses light to set the shape of a part and heat to set its mechanical properties. Whenever a new process or product is introduced by any young company, I’m somewhat sceptical until it’s proven and used by customers. Carbon has found one in adidas. Machines from Carbon are being used to manufacturer the sole for the new Futurecraft 4D running shoe from the footwear and clothing giant. About 10,000 units will be produced this year, 400,000 near year, 2 million in 2019, and 5 million in 2020. The commitment that adidas has made to Carbon speaks volumes.

My final stop was the TRX+ event organized by America Makes and held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. (TRX is short for Technical Review and eXchange.) The event was co-sponsored by San Rafael-based Autodesk. The company opened up its Pier 9 workshop and Autodesk Gallery to a sold-out crowd of 175 attendees. The two Autodesk sites are in easy walking distance from the Hyatt. I had visited both three years ago, so it was good to see what had changed. Since first making contact with Autodesk in 1983, I have been impressed by the achievements of the company, which is said to be the largest 3D modeling software company in the world.

Together, America Makes and Autodesk did an outstanding job with the organization of the TRX+ meetings and events. For the first time, an America Makes event was dedicated entirely to the subject of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). The first day provided the audience with reports on many DfAM-related R&D projects being conducted by the members of America Makes. The second day was an opportunity for speakers and panellists to share experiences, perspectives, and challenges associated DfAM. I found the presentations, discussions, and Q&A to be extremely interesting and worthwhile.

There’s no place like Silicon Valley. It’s crowded and expensive, but some of the largest and most successful corporations in the world are located there, along with thousands of start-up companies. One-third of all venture capital in the U.S. is spent in Silicon Valley. The talent and resources in the area are truly astounding. And, it’s a great place to see some of the most advanced AM-related technology, products, and services.

Ukraine

September 9, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 08:53

I visited Kyiv, Ukraine for the first time in July. It was an eye-opening and intensely interesting experience. The Ukrainians are friendly and Kyiv is safe. Many of the restaurants in Kyiv were full, suggesting that people have discretionary money to spend. The streets and many of the buildings are beautiful, even though much of the city was destroyed in World War II. City planners did a great job with the architecture and feel of the buildings and streets. A recently built area of the city is stunning.

To some, Ukraine is best known for Chernobyl, which is 130 km (80 miles) north of Kyiv. The 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident was the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in history. At the time, Chernobyl was a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. The city was evacuated 30 hours after the accident. Chernobyl is almost entirely a ghost town today, although a few people currently live there. Two general stores and a hotel are available for tourists.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyiv remained the capital of Ukraine. In November 2013, a wave of demonstrations and peaceful protests began in Independence Square. My hotel was adjacent to the Square, so I walked around the area a few times. Russia’s Vladimir Putin pressured Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from forming close ties with the European Union, which Putin had long opposed. The protests in Kyiv led to calls for the resignation of Yanukovych and his administration for this, along with corruption, abuses of power, and human rights violations. This led to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. Special riot police were ordered to take over Kyiv, although the Uranium people dug in their heels. Scores of innocent people were injured and killed.

Hundreds of thousands, including my host and his wife, came to Independence Square, some for weeks or months, to join the protest. Some who did not, or could not, such as my host’s mother, prepared food for those demonstrating. In mid February 2014, the riot police finally gave up due to the extraordinary resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people. Yanukovych and others in his administration fled the country and headed to Russia in late February. The strength and will of the Ukrainians helped to make them stronger and define who they are today. A very good documentary, titled Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, is available on Netflix. It chronicles the sequence of events with horrifying detail and video footage.

My visit to Kyiv could not have gone much better. The food, people, history, sight-seeing, and hand-crafted products made it a fascinating place to visit. Ukraine is in territorial dispute with Russia over Crimea, which is in the south. In March 2014, after the revolution, Crimea was taken over by pro-Russian separatists and Russian Armed Forces. Eastern Ukraine is facing conflict, violence, and war with Russia. When returning to Ukraine, I will stay away from those parts of the country. In addition to Kyiv, my hosts told me that western Ukraine is beautiful and has a lot to offer.

New On-Campus Experience

August 27, 2017

Filed under: event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 14:29

Colorado State University broke in its sparkling new on-campus stadium yesterday as it hosted Oregon State University in college football’s first game of the season. Emotions were running high in anticipation of the $220 million facility. It is absolutely beautiful, inside and out. In almost every way, the stadium, and nearly everything associated with it, exceeded my expectations. The score board, for example, is as crisp and clear as an HD television and is the size of a basketball court. The energy in and around the stadium was off the charts.

My wife, daughter, and I arrived about three hours before kickoff. Our plan was to first walk around the stadium and then visit a couple “tailgate” parties. A countless number of them were spread across the expansive campus, so it’s difficult to know how many were underway. My guess is a few hundred, when considering the family gatherings in the 20+ parking areas. We attended one of the largest, which was sponsored by the Bank of Colorado, as well as a small one. Bands were playing on three stages, and as many as 30 bands are scheduled to play throughout the football season.

The multi-use stadium includes an impressive and spacious Alumni Center, large weight and training room for the athletes, and offices for coaches, including one for former coach Sonny Lubick, a legend in Colorado. The stadium also includes a New Belgium Porch (at the main entrance), 22 suites, 40 loge boxes, state-of-the-art classrooms, and space for events such as wedding receptions. The stadium has the capacity for 41,000 people, compared to 34,400 at the previous off-campus Hughes Stadium.

The in-seat experience was the best of all. We were lucky enough to secure season tickets in row 17 near the 50-yard line. Our daughter decided to attend the game yesterday morning, so we were “on a mission” to find a ticket for her prior to the game. We found a reasonably-priced one less than an hour before kickoff. With it being a sell-out crowd, tickets were going for $120 two hours before the game. The people that sat around us were great, making the experience as good as it could possibly be, with many “high fives” when CSU scored.

Best of all, the Colorado State Rams crushed the Oregon State Beavers, with a final score of 58-27. At halftime, it was a close 24-20. The Rams played an incredibly strong second half, piling up a total of 525 yards in four quarters. Senior quarterback Nick Stevens played nearly flawlessly with 334 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Rams defense forced five turnovers, which contributed greatly to the big win at the new and impressive stadium.

It’s All About the People

August 14, 2017

Filed under: education,life,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:27

Note: The following was authored by Doug Rhoda, CEO of DMS (Colorado Springs, Colorado). Rhoda was directly responsible for hiring more than 200 interns while CEO of Wolf Robotics (Fort Collins, Colorado). Today, an estimated 75% of Wolf’s permanent employees came from internships.

In my personal leadership and management journey, people that make up a team are the distinguishing factor of any business. My former mentor, now deceased, would coach me as I was growing a struggling robotic welding company, and he would say “It’s all about the people.”

Getting the right people “on the bus” is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Although not quick or expedient, I have found that building long-term mutual beneficial relationships with local universities and developing internship programs have been critical to getting the best people.

In spite of some of the headlines today, I have found reason for optimism with today’s young people. I have had the privilege of hiring and coaching so many millennials that are bright, hard-working, and capable. Like anyone, they are looking for autonomy (not to be micro-managed), mastery (to learn), and purpose in their work.

Our recipe, refined over the years, challenges young people. Our student interns start on the factory floor, getting their hands dirty, and learning our machines from the ground up. While they are in the factory, they are being evaluated by senior factory floor leaders to determine whether the individual has the right work ethic, attitude, and ability to learn.

An internship is like an extended interview. It’s an interview of the student by our staff, and it’s an interview of the company by the student. During the internship, the intern can determine whether the company and industry are of interest for long-term employment.

If the person is right and the economics justify it, we will hire graduating interns into full-time positions. In the case of engineering students, they are hired into a field service role, where they learn how the machines are applied and what customers value. We have found that after their customer service stint, the former interns discern where their passion and interests lie, and self-select—with our involvement—key roles in the business. Among them are design engineering, project management, and software development. Because of their strong foundation in the business, they contribute in unique and precious ways.

Talent recruited and developed through internships have been critical success factors in the businesses in which I have had the honor of being responsible. We will continue to invest in our internship programs to grow our business because it’s all about the people.

Traveling the Iron Road

July 28, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 04:05

Note: The following was authored by Julie Whitney, executive assistant at Wohlers Associates.

What do World War I, the Dolomites in Italy, and Telluride, Colorado have in common? The Iron Road (aka, via ferrata). Previously, I did not know what a “via ferrata” was and had never even heard the term before our German exchange student introduced it to me. According to Wikipedia, a via ferrata is a protected climbing route in the Alps and other areas. A modern version uses a steel cable, iron rungs, pegs, or other climbing aids that run along the route. Our exchange student’s family does a via ferrata trip every summer, and I wanted to try one.

When my Google search found a via ferrata route in Telluride, Colorado, I could not believe it. I anticipated a need to travel much further. Unlike its European brethren, the Telluride route is almost completely horizontal. Traversing 4 km (2.5 miles) and 152 meters (500 feet) above the valley floor, it is one of the most spectacular and breathtaking things I’ve ever experienced.

The route is not all metal rungs. In fact, most is hiked along a trail, albeit a very narrow one with a significant drop off. At certain points, it becomes so narrow that it is necessary to hook in with harness lanyards. At these points, the trail is literally a foot step in width. At one particularly interesting spot, a tree is in the middle of the path with a cable running behind it. It’s necessary to hook in and then hug the tree as you swing around, with your rear suspended in the air.

The actual via ferrata section is called the “main event.” It’s not particularly physical, but it is “off the charts” mentally-challenging, especially to those new to rock climbing. Tyler, our guide, was cheering me on and it felt awesome. As we were eating our lunch after successfully completing one pass, Tyler asked if we would like to return using the same route. He felt confident in our abilities and suggested that we head back while he stayed to take pictures of us. How could we say no to that?

As we eased back onto the rungs, I felt a little differently than before. I was missing Tyler and his encouragement. In the middle of the “main event,” panic was knocking at my door, but I was able to give myself a pep talk and pull myself back from the figurative edge, while standing on the literal one. Nothing worthwhile is easy, and sometimes you need to get out of your own way and go for it. The result is having one of the most memorable times of your life.

Click here to read the full version of this story at Empty Nest Adventures.

Next Page »