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Growth in AM Patent Applications

February 11, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:16

Note: The following was co-authored by Ray Huff and Terry Wohlers, both of Wohlers Associates. John Hornick of Finnegan collected and assembled the data for the chart.

A key indicator of innovation in any industry is patent applications. From 1996 to 2013, the additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing industry experienced a moderate but steady increase in published patent applications. From 2013 to 2016, the number of applications grew by a surprising 7.7 times, as shown in the following chart (taken from Wohlers Report 2017). The green line shows published patent applications, while the blue line shows issued patents.

In recent years, several AM foundation patents have expired. As these AM technologies mature, and new players enter the market, companies are pressured to differentiate their offerings. Filing a patent can be time-consuming and costly, and it can take years for a patent to be granted. This makes the number of patent applications a good way to take the “pulse” of a particular industry. The AM industry has a strong one.

AM System Manufacturer Growth

January 27, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:39

The additive manufacturing (AM) industry continues to experience dramatic growth in the number of companies that produce industrial (above $5,000) AM systems. In 2016, the total number grew to 97 across four continents. This is up from 62 the year before, and it nearly tripled in three years. This is good news for customers because it gives them a much wider range of products to consider. Also, it offers more competition that leads to better quality and lower pricing.

The total number of AM systems manufacturers in 2017 will be published in Wohlers Report 2018 in Q2 of this year. We have reason to believe that the number of manufacturers will grow once again by a high percentage. Already, our company has identified more than 20 additional companies from around the world that are offering industrial AM systems, so stay tuned.

Venture Funding for 3D Printing

January 14, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,money — Terry Wohlers @ 10:40

As a company, we pay attention to venture capital funding for 3D printing and additive manufacturing companies. We do not measure and compare the value of venture funding from one period to the next, although we have sensed an upswing in recent months. For example, Carbon announced a $200 million round of funding in December, and this is on top of the $220 million the company had previously secured.

In July, Desktop Metal said that it had raised an additional $115 million in venture funding. Since its founding in 2015, the company has attracted a total of $212 million. In November, Markforged stated that it had raised $30 million. A month earlier, it was published that Dutch 3D-printed optics company Luxexcel received EUR 4 million in venture capital, which came after an investment of EUR 8.5 million in Q2 2017.

Other types of investments are also underway. In September, it was announced that S$60 million (US$44.5 million) is going into an aerospace facility in Singapore for the development of new technologies, including AM. In December, GE Additive said it had invested $15 million into the company’s first European Customer Experience Center in Munich, Germany. In Q3 2017, Merck of Germany opened a EUR 20 million incubator in Israel that focuses on disruptive materials and innovative technologies that include AM.

Voestalpine is investing EUR 20 million to expand its AM metal powder production facilities in Austria and Sweden. This brings the Austrian company’s total investment in AM to EUR 50 million. Meanwhile, HeyGears, a Chinese manufacturer of wearable technology products, such as custom earphones, will invest $149 million in a 3D printing facility in Guangdong, China.

The 3D printing industry is being propelled to the next level, largely by the investment community. A strong flow of venture capital and other types of investment are finding their way into start-up companies, new products and services, and centers of excellence. With the stock market booming, coupled with corporate wealth generation, I do not see it slowing down any time soon.

Best Products of 2017

December 30, 2017

Filed under: entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 09:13

The following are some of the best products and services I encountered over the past 12 months.

Samsung Galaxy S8 – I upgraded to this phone in July after owning two HTC Android phones. Both were very good, but the S8 is even better. I especially like Wi-Fi calling, recently branded as Calling Plus on the S8. With a wireless signal, it permits you to seamlessly make and receive calls anywhere in the world at no cost. One click turns it on and then you’re good to go. I like the phone’s performance, curved screen, water-resistance, and hot-spot feature.

HP DeskJet 3755 – For just $60, you can purchase the world’s smallest all-in-one document printer. It works especially well in small areas or if you have a second place, such as a cabin on a lake or condo in the mountains. I have not used it a lot, but when I have, it has worked flawlessly for scanning, copying, and printing.

Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ – For just $28, you can get this Bluetooth speaker. You are not going to get big sound in a large area, but it’s perfect for a relatively small space. Its design and battery life are very good.

Spotify – I’ve been using it for a few years, but decided to finally recognize it for how good it really is. Previously, I used it on an iPod that I’ve finally retired, and I’m now running it on my Samsung S8. It is free on a computer, but you’ll spend $10 monthly for using it on your phone.

Audible – It’s difficult to read a conventional book when you’re exercising, driving, or resting your eyes. With Audible, you can easily get through a good book while doing something else. The monthly subscription is $15 or you can pay as you go in the range of $15-25 per book.

Two Nights at a Kibbutz

December 17, 2017

Filed under: life,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 18:45

I returned from my eighth trip to Israel last week. The country is intensely interesting and thriving with many new infrastructure investments. Nearly everything about the country is fascinating, and I wish I had added another day or two with each visit. The Israeli people are highly educated, speak flawless English, and are up-to-date on world events and American politics. The amount of history in every corner of the country is staggering.

When visiting Israel the first time in March 1993, long-time friend Dave Tait, then with Laserform, and I were introduced to the concept of the kibbutz. A kibbutz is a type of community that originated in 1909 and initially focused on agriculture. The communal lifestyle has changed over the years and sources of income have expanded into the production of many types of products. I had always wanted to visit a kibbutz to see, up close, what life on one was like. More than 24 years later, the opportunity emerged.

Thanks to associate consultant Joseph Kowen, who lives in Zichron Ya’akov, Israel, for booking a room for me at Kibbutz Dalia, located about 37 km (23 miles) southwest of Nazareth. Upon our arrival, Joseph and I immediately caught the aroma of herds of sheep and cattle, which were located adjacent to the 800 or so residents. Dalia was formed in 1939 and has since expanded into the manufacture of water metering products, as well as wine-making. It offers visitor lodging as an additional stream of revenue.

I found my time at the kibbutz interesting. The lodging is not high-end, but my room was clean and comfortable and the wireless Internet and breakfast were excellent. Also, the employees were very friendly and helpful. Coincidentally, the father of one of them is working in Estes Park, Colorado, which is about an hour from Fort Collins. I went for walks both mornings to get a good view of the lifestyle on a kibbutz. It looked and felt somewhat similar to a quiet neighborhood in a rural village in the U.S., but without a main street, shops, restaurants, and signs with advertisements.

The Israeli kibbutz is among a lengthy list of reasons why I find the country so interesting. The country’s beaches, orchards, valleys, and deserts are striking, and its history is extraordinary. High-tech start-up companies and the economy are thriving, and many major infrastructure developments, including a light rail system, have been completed recently or are under construction. Tel Aviv is lively with trendy restaurants and nightclubs, posh hotels, and a beautiful Promenade that runs along the Mediterranean Sea. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

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.

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