July 18, 2015

AM in Aerospace

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:39

The world of additive manufacturing is experiencing an interesting time in the aerospace industry. The technology holds tremendous promise for the production of both polymer and metal parts. Many aerospace companies are currently qualifying AM processes and materials and certifying designs at an unprecedented pace. What’s more, we expect it to accelerate in the coming months and years. This rapid growth could result in a demand for AM products and services that outpaces the supply, especially for metal parts.

Airbus has said that it plans to 3D print 30 tons of metal parts monthly by 2018, which is less than 30 months away. Already, the company has flown 3D-printed metal on commercial aircraft, and has built many impressive and complex parts that reduce material and weight by 40-50%, and sometimes more. Meanwhile, GE Aviation is working toward the production of tens of thousands of metal parts annually for jet engines with the construction of a $50 million manufacturing facility in Auburn, Alabama.

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3D-printed sheet metal parts, which flew on the A350

The demand for AM becomes especially interesting when considering all of the other aerospace companies. Among them are BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, General Dynamics, GKN Aerospace, and Honeywell Aerospace. Other companies include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance. Most of them have built infrastructures within their corporations to evaluate and implement AM.

The aerospace industry is a natural for the series production of parts by AM. The volumes are relatively low and the part complexity and value are high. With new designs that consolidate many parts into one, coupled with methods of reducing material and weight, AM becomes very compelling. Consequently, we can expect an exciting and thriving future for AM in the aerospace industry.

July 4, 2015

Cheap 3D Printers

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:28

Low-end, desktop 3D printers are becoming surprisingly inexpensive and they continue to decline in price. Some say that it’s a race to the bottom. At least three models are priced at under $400, with one—the QB-3D OneUp—selling for $199. The other two are the da Vinci Jr. from XYZprinting for $349 and the Play product from Printrbot for $399. All three are material extrusion “FDM clone” 3D printers.

We have not worked with any of the three, so we can’t say how easy they are to set up and use. And, we hesitate to comment on the quality of the parts they produce. We do know that you more or less get what you pay for. However, with the sub $2,000 3D printers, we see a lot of similarity in the quality of output, compared to the differences in the much higher-priced industrial-grade machines, which have an average selling price of $87,140. Some desktop 3D printers offer surprisingly good quality, considering the price.

OneUp

Companies are buying many of these low-cost products for early design concepts. In the past, these same companies would spend 10-30 times more for a machine to produce basic concepts models. Put another way, they can purchase 10-30 machines for the same money they spent previously on one machine.

Indeed, the market has changed, and it’s causing many to rethink their modeling and prototyping strategy. At the low-end of the cost spectrum, companies, educational institutions, and hobbyists have an unprecedented number of options. We believe that more than 300 brands of under $5,000 3D printers are now available, with most of them priced at under $2,000. For a review of several 3D printers priced under $1,000, see this product review.

June 21, 2015

3D Printing in Australia

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:20

Last month, the Australian government announced the funding of a new program that could give 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) a boost in the country. On May 26, the Honorable Ian Macfarlane, Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science, announced the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Center (IMCRC). Much of the program is expected to center on AM and related methods and technologies. The focus on AM may have been partly inspired by America Makes, coupled with the investments and alliances associated with the U.S. initiative.

The IMCRC is a collaboration of 14 manufacturing companies, 16 universities, and CSIRO, which is Australia’s top federal agency for scientific research. Four industry bodies will help recruit more than 300 additional small and medium-sized enterprises to serve as “portal partners.” As part of the program launch, the Commonwealth is providing A$40 million (US$31 million). An additional A$210 million (US$163 million) is expected in cash and in-kind contributions from industry, research institutes, and state governments, bringing the total investment to A$250 million (US$194 million).

The announcement lingered for about nine months, so many people welcomed the long-awaited news. Senior consultant Tim Caffrey and I were in Australia when the announcement was made, with the IMCRC being the center of attention. We believe that it will indeed provide a much-needed lift to advanced manufacturing in the country, but as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” It will be interesting to observe how Australia sorts through the maze of challenges associated with coordinating so many people, organizations, and agendas. As with America Makes and other national efforts, the challenge and opportunity is to make a difference, and that’s easier said than done.

The day before the announcement, CSIRO officially launched its new and impressive Lab 22. Tim and I were present to participate in the festivities and meet many of the talented researchers and scientists at CSIRO. Lab 22 was established as center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types.

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Lab 22’s Voxeljet VX1000 installation

Equipment in the new lab includes an Arcam A1 electron beam melting machine, a Concept Laser M2 laser-based machine, and a Voxeljet VX1000 machine for producing sand casting molds and cores. The lab was established as a center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types. CSIRO also has an Optomec LENS MR-7 directed energy deposition machine and a cold spray plasma additive process.

Australia is establishing a strong foundation in AM. The adoption of the technology in the private sector may not be as great as it is in some advanced countries, but the pieces are coming together for it to close the gap. The Melbourne area, alone, may well have the highest mix of metal AM systems in the world (in an area of this size), with nine direct metal AM systems. Among them are machines from Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, Optomec, SLM Solutions, and Trumpf. The Concept Laser Xline 1000R at Monash University, and two Trumpf TruLaser 7040 machines, one each at Monash and RMIT University’s Advance Manufacturing Precinct, are very large, both in size and investment.

June 6, 2015

Jobs from 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:47

Government officials have been asking how 3D printing will create jobs in their part of the world. The subject came up again last week in Melbourne, Australia when meeting with people at the state government of Victoria. We explained that some companies and businesses would not exist if it wasn’t for 3D printing. An example is Align Technology, makers of the Invisalign plastic aligners that replace metal brackets and wire to straighten teeth.

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Invisalign manufacturing, courtesy of Align Technology

Align takes advantage of additive manufacturing to produce parts used to thermoform sets of custom plastic aligners. The company involves many additional processes, including CT scanning, special software, 5-axis CNC milling, robotics, polishing, and other methods of manufacturing and packaging. Seeing it in action is impressive. Much of it involves a great deal of sophisticated automation, which has dramatically reduced manual labor, but has also created many jobs. The company employs 3,580 people. Consider also all of the people needed to design, produce, sell, and service the machinery and systems that make everything tick at the company. And, consider the many dental professionals that are impacted by the Invisalign product.

As 3D printing penetrates production applications more deeply, it will involve many upstream and downstream processes. Among them: new methods of design and redesign, data management and IT, and cloud computing and web services. Also, it will involve thermal processes and machining operations, materials and material handling equipment, surface treatment and methods of coating, and inspection and process improvement. Consider all of people and jobs behind these machines and processes.

3D printing is what made it possible for Align Technology to create personalized plastic aligners. It is the enabling technology that will help launch many other new companies and businesses. Organizations of all types and sizes will put 3D printing to work to manufacture custom, limited edition, and even relatively high volumes of products, especially in the future. When viewing it from this perspective, it will create many jobs. A manager at GE put it best when he said, “Additive manufacturing won’t create thousands of new businesses; it will create tens of thousands.” And, behind them will be countless jobs.

May 22, 2015

Apple iPrint

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 21:03

Apple has pioneered many industries. Among them: desktop computing, desktop publishing, music, smart phones, tablet computing, and smart watches. Could the high tech giant also get into 3D printing? It’s possible, given that other IT and technology companies have entered the space. Autodesk and HP have made big commitments, and Adobe, Amazon, Dell, eBay, Intel, Lenovo, and Microsoft are dabbling in it.

apple

In a presentation I gave yesterday at RAPID 2015 in Long Beach, California, I mentioned the idea of Apple’s potential interest, with “iPrint” being a good name for a 3D printer. Lucas Mearian of Computerworld was in the audience and picked up on it. See the story titled Is Apple Planning a 3D Printer?

I honestly don’t know whether Apple has an interest and is working on anything at this time. However, it could be a fit, given the company’s success in producing winning products across a range of industries. However, Apple is best at producing products for consumers and not for industrial customers and manufacturers. For now and the foreseeable future, that’s who will be purchasing and using most 3D printers and systems for the additive manufacturing of parts and products. Consequently, Apple will probably not launch a product any time soon, unless it develops the unimaginable, which it has done in the past.

May 11, 2015

Consumable Strategies

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:34

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

The classic example of the “closed” consumable model is the Gillette razor. The razor itself is surprisingly inexpensive, but the buyer is locked into purchasing the manufacturer’s blades for the life of the product. An example of the “open” consumable model is the manufacturing industry. Buyers of CNC machines, injection molding presses, and most other manufacturing tools are free to use any feedstock they chose. These customers would resist the idea of being required to buy feedstock from the manufacturer of the machine.

Industrial additive manufacturing (AM) machines that process plastics are typically closed consumable systems. Users are required to purchase feedstock for their machines from the very same company that sold the machine. Manufacturers restrict or prevent the use of third-party materials with software and physical and electronic interlocks. Materials with high margins produce substantial revenue for these system manufacturers. They don’t want to see that revenue stream dry up as the result of open-market competition and natural selection.

metal

Thankfully, the metal AM segment is following the open consumable model, for the most part. This has attracted a growing number of companies that produce and sell metal powders. Among them are Additive Metal Alloys, AP&C, ATI, Carpenter, Erasteel, H.C. Starck, LPW, NanoSteel, Norsk Titanium, Praxair Surface Technologies, Sandvik, and VDM Alloys, to name a few.

Growth in the metal AM segment is outpacing growth in the rest of the AM industry, and the open consumable model may be a contributing factor. The open model creates competition, which forces prices down from artificially inflated levels. It also encourages innovation as a way to differentiate a product and gain market share. Suppliers are motivated to develop new materials and to discover more cost-effective and efficient production methods. Ultimately, it pushes material technology forward at a faster pace than the closed model.

April 27, 2015

Materialise

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 05:18

The Materialise World Conference was held last week in Brussels, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. A high caliber group of customers, partners, and others attended the two-day event. The conference coincided with the opening of a museum exhibition at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts. The exhibition is open until June 7 and consists of four rooms filled with an impressive array of 3D-printed parts and products—all from Materialise and Materialise partners. I spent about 90 minutes at the exhibition, and could have spent much more time there.

Materialise is celebrating its 25th year in business, and now employs 1,250 people in 16 offices worldwide. The company has 8,000 software installations to its credit and has produced 146,000 medical devices. It currently prints 2,000+ parts every day for customers worldwide.

Last week, Hoet Eyewear and Materialise announced the commercialization of new 3D-printed eyeglass frames. The products currently available for sale are standard designs, but custom-fit frames are coming soon. In fact, Materialise CEO Wilfried Vancraen was wearing custom frames at the conference. The Cabrio collection of frames from Hoet are beautifully designed by Bieke Hoet and manufactured and finished to perfection by Materialise. The retail price of the frames is EUR 190-250.

hoet

RS Print and Materialise announced the commercialization of custom insoles based on biomechanics. I went through the ordering process by walking across a special scanning plate to capture the details of my feet and how I walk. Special software is used to perform detailed analysis based on extensive R&D in collaboration with Materialise. The insoles are then 3D-printed and delivered to the customer.

rsprint

Materialise has taken additive manufacturing to a new level. It very carefully targets a market and then goes after it with care and great attention to detail. It is manufacturing many types of products that you may not hear about or see unless you visit the company. With its AS9100 quality certification, Materialise is now targeting the aerospace industry.

I was surprised by the progress the company has made since my last visit in June 2013. Materialise is, without question, among the most advanced and impressive AM companies anywhere. My sincere congratulations for 25 years of meaningful innovation, a successful World Conference, and remarkable progress over the past two years.

April 11, 2015

20 Years Later

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:03

Wohlers Report 2015, our 20th anniversary edition, was published this week. The 314-page publication was developed with the help of many people. The new edition was created with the support of 78 carefully-selected co-authors in 31 countries and the kind cooperation of 40 system manufacturers and 87 service providers from around the world.

2015smcover-new
The first Wohlers Report was published in April 1996 in cooperation with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). It was 40 pages in length and represented the first published analysis of the additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing industry worldwide. Short reports were published in 1993, 1994, and 1995 by Wohlers Associates and made available for free.

The 1996 report showed that the AM industry represented a mere $295 million in 1995. In 2014, it was $4.1 billion. An estimated 526 AM systems were sold in 1995 by 15 system manufacturers located in the U.S., Germany, and Japan. In 2014, 49 system manufacturers in 13 countries produced and sold an estimated 12,850 industrial AM systems. Meanwhile, hundreds of mostly small companies worldwide produced and sold nearly 140,000 desktop 3D printers—those that sell for less than $5,000—in 2014.

Indeed, a lot has changed since 1996. We celebrated our company’s 10th anniversary that year—a time when very few people had heard of 3D printing technology. Today, it is widely publicized and showing up in places that few of us predicted. Some consider it to be one of the hottest and most interesting technologies of our time. I genuinely hope that the next 20 years are as interesting and gratifying as the last 20.

March 30, 2015

Not for Everyone

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 10:22

Contrary to what some would like you to believe, owning and operating a 3D printer is not for most consumers. It may be easy to buy one, but it’s definitely not easy to create the 3D model data needed to produce a unique design. Also, getting a satisfactory result from a 3D printer is not fast or straightforward.

I’ve owned a pair of downhill (alpine) ski poles that I cannot easily replace. They have molded grips that the ski industry stopped producing more than 10 years ago. I like the poles, but the plastic parts near the tips (called baskets, as shown in the following) are ripping apart. So, I decided: Why not replace them using our 3D printer?

b1

Student intern Tyler Hudson, who graduates in May 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering, learned SolidWorks some time ago, so he produced a solid model of the basket design. Learning to use SolidWorks or another professional-grade CAD solid modeling product is not trivial. Tyler did an excellent job with the basket design, but my guess is that 99% of average consumers would quickly become frustrated with the effort. And, this assumes that they have access to good CAD software.

Tyler printed the first version of the basket in ABS plastic using our UP! 3D printer. It turned out well (see the following image), but the plastic was much too rigid for this application. The basket design snap fits into place, so it requires a flexible or semi-flexible material. We knew about the NinjaFlex materials and contacted the company, which was kind enough to spend us two spools of 1.75-mm diameter filament. The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) NijaFlex material is very strong and tough, with high tear resistance. We later discovered that our 3D printer does not support the higher temperature requirements of this material, so running it on the machine was not an option.

b2

Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has an Idea-2-Product lab with several 3D printers, so we contacted the lab to see if it could run TPE material in one of its machines. We learned that it had a LulzBot printer from Aleph Objects that was already running black NijaFlex material. Tyler visited the lab and spent hours getting it to build properly, partly due to his unfamiliarity with the material and its slow build speed. Eventually, he was successful, and he delivered the new baskets to me the evening before our ski weekend. The baskets turned out well and they performed as expected on Saturday and Sunday at Copper Mountain.

b3

Most consumers would not have been able to produce these relatively simple parts. Creating the data would have been the first obstacle, and then having the right 3D printer and material would have also presented challenges. What’s more, the cost in time would have easily exceeded the cost of buying new poles or buying used ones (with the preferred grips) online. We went into this fairly small and simple project hoping that it wouldn’t require a great deal of time and effort, but also understanding that it could. It turned into a time-consuming effort that spanned more than a week, required a lot of skill and experience, and access to a special 3D printer and material.

March 14, 2015

Wohlers Park

Filed under: Travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:34

I had heard about Wohlers Park in Hamburg, Germany many years ago, but did not visit it until last week. Thanks to Prof. Dr.-Ing. Claus Emmelmann of Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH for taking me there. It’s unclear whether our family is connected to the park, but there’s a reasonable chance. My great, great grandparents lived in Northern Germany prior to immigrating to the U.S. The following sign is at the entrances into the park.

w1

The German writing translates to: The former cemetery Norderreihe was renamed to Wohlers Park due to its proximity to Wohlers Ally. The cemetery was opened in 1831 by the protestant-Lutheran parish St. Johannis to Altona/Elbe. The last burial took place on 11 October 1945. The area of the park was subject to conservation green spaces and recreational sites by law and has been open to the public since 1977.

w2

The previous image is at the park’s most active corner. We could not resist a visit to the pub named “Wohlers” for a good German pilsner. That’s me standing near the entrance, and Claus holding the pub menu.

w3

For more on the beautiful city of Hamburg, see this 2.5 minute video. A good friend from Hamburg sent it to me this week. And, if you’re ever in Hamburg, I hope you stumble across Wohlers Park, Wohlers Ally, and Wohlers pub.

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