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 it to see if 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.

February 27, 2015

Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Education — Terry Wohlers @ 13:48

Note: The following was authored by Tyler Hudson, an intern at Wohlers Associates.

With the declining prices for consumer-grade material extrusion (FDM-like) 3D printers, more people are purchasing them. This has created a need for a basic understanding of how to get started with the technology.

The orientation of the part you are building is key to success. Orientation that produces the fewest number of overhangs tend to result in better builds because it requires less support material that later must be manually removed.

Few designs can be oriented in a way that eliminates overhangs and the need for some support material. When this happens, it is best to orient the part in a way that results in external overhangs instead of internal. The orientation at the left in the following is usually preferred over the one at the right.

orient

The orientation on the left results in external overhangs, which means that the support material will be easier to remove. The orientation at the right results in internal overhangs, so removing the support material becomes much for difficult. Some designs may not be as easy to orient as this one, but with experience, you will be able to decide which orientation works the best.

Click here to read the entire Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing.

February 15, 2015

Leno’s Garage

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 19:02

I had the great opportunity of visiting Jay Leno’s garage about three weeks ago. I first visited it in August 2009 and was very impressed by Leno’s rare, restored, and expensive collection of 128 cars and 100 motorcycles that he had at the time. In some ways, I was even more impressed by the most recent visit. The vehicles, all of which Jay drives, may well be the largest in the world. And, it’s not getting any smaller or less valuable.

I brought with me several 3D-printed gifts for Jay to keep. One was a topology-optimized titanium cabin bracket from a major aircraft manufacturer. I like the design so much that I almost kept it, but I gave it to him. Another was a window crank handle for an antique car (see the following image) that was redesigned and 3D printed in aluminum. Both are beautiful designs. Another part I gave to Jay was a metal impeller with paper-thin fins. I also gave him an investment casting pattern for a small two-cycle cylinder head, as well as a sand core for an intake manifold.

crank

The tour was excellent, but the time we spent discussing 3D printing was cut short, unfortunately, because we arrived late. Jay and his staff are aware of 3D printing and they even had a machine for a while. The team works extensively with unique and hard to find metal parts, so metal 3D printing is of interest to them. Thanks to Bob for the inspiring tour and to Bernard (garage manager), Jim, and Per for meeting with us. Thanks also to Jay for letting us through the door.

February 2, 2015

Major Brands Adopt 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:07

Commercial 3D printing has been around since 1988, but change over the past two years is unlike anything we’ve seen in the industry’s first 25 years. Major corporations are making commitments to 3D printing. The earliest adopters of the technology were the likes of Chrysler, GM, Pratt & Whitney, and Texas Instruments, but the recent wave of big companies and brands fall into another category.

Among the new companies are Autodesk, Adobe, and Microsoft. Led by CEO Carl Bass, Autodesk is planning to play a role in easing the flow of 3D model data, from concept to 3D printing. Pre-processing steps can include the cleanup and “healing” of 3D models, the creation of support structures, slicing, and optimizing the orientation of parts. Autodesk aims to simplify these steps. Adobe has added features to Photoshop CC that it hopes will help users streamline the preparation of data for 3D printing. Microsoft is promoting its new 3MF file format as an alternative to the STL and AMF formats.

brands

Wohlers discussed these brands in an “analyst outlook” presentation
at CES in January 2015 in Las Vegas

Other major brands that have entered the 3D printing industry are Amazon, eBay, and Dell. Amazon has created a new 3D printing store that competes, to some degree, with Shapeways. About 1.5 years ago, eBay launched a new app for creating custom print-on-demand products, and Dell is selling 3D printers and materials. Meanwhile, Office Depot, Staples, Home Depot, Toys “R” Us, and UPS have gotten into 3D printing market at various levels. The two office supply stores and Home Depot are attempting to sell 3D printers. Toys “R” Us is installing kiosks for creating and printing toys in two of it stores. UPS is offering 3D printing services at 100 of its stores across the U.S.

What does all of this mean? A vote of confidence from major software companies, large e-commerce sites, and retail outlets has propelled 3D printing to a new height. It’s uncertain whether these companies will succeed with their initiatives, but the technology is finally getting the attention and respect it deserves.

January 19, 2015

CES

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event,Review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:20

The year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was January 6-9 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It involved 3,600 exhibitors and 204,387 sq meters (2.2 million sq feet) of exhibit space. More than 170,000 people attended the event, including 45,000 from outside the U.S. I was present for 1.5 days, and one full day was dedicated to a 3D printing conference presented by TCT + Personalize magazine. The conference was well organized and attended, and it included a wide and interesting mix of people. Those that I met were serious professionals.

I was surprised by the number of new 3D printing products on display, coupled with the scale of some of the exhibits. New material extrusion machines (i.e., FDM clones) were everywhere. MarkForged showed its interesting Mark One machine. To strengthen parts, the $5,500 product uses Kevlar, carbon fiber, or fiberglass, and nylon as the base material. I was impressed by the quality of the parts. Coincidentally, I was present when USA Today shot this video.

markforged
3D-printed parts that include Kevlar, courtesy of MarkForged

Voxel8 introduced its multi-material 3D printer for producing integrated electronics. The $9,000 product deposits PLA and conductive ink. Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis is the head of the startup company. Autodesk is partnering with Voxel8 on the development of design software called Project Wire. It is being produced from the ground up to support the design of 3D-printed electronics.

Autodesk had a large and impressive 3D printing exhibit that featured Ember, Spark, and Project Wire. Ember is Autodesk’s new photopolymer-based 3D printer that uses DLP technology for high resolution imaging. Autodesk is also developing Spark, which is an open and free platform that promises to connect digital data to 3D printers in a new way.

CES was overly crowded with people and traffic, and Vegas is not one of my favorite places to visit. Also, I was disappointed to learn that Uber’s app-based, car transportation network was temporarily banned in Nevada’s highly regulated taxi industry. Even so, CES had a lot to offer, and the 3D printing exhibits were larger and more elaborate than I had expected. Overall, it was interesting and worthwhile.

January 3, 2015

Best Products of 2014

Filed under: Review — Terry Wohlers @ 15:24

The last time I published a “best products” blog commentary was in December 2010, so it’s time to do it again. The following are some of the products from the recent past that stand out.

HP Officejet Pro 8600 – We purchased this all-in-one printer/copier/scanner in June 2014 for $128. (I do not recall how we got this price because it’s now available at Amazon for $249.) The wireless device prints and copies beautifully. The sheet feeder works flawlessly and the scanner is fast. Excellent product.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch laptop – I purchased it in May 2014 for $1,720. The touch screen is helpful when wanting to quickly zoom in and out on emails and other screens. I especially like how thin it is, yet the screen is relatively large. Another good product.

Hive Bass – I received this beautiful product in August 2013, but did not spend a lot of time with it until 2014. It looks and sounds great, thanks to the design talent of Olaf Diegel.

hivebass
Hive Bass designed and manufactured by Olaf Diegel

Tumi Alpha Laptop Brief – This bag became my “portable office” in July 2014, and it has since traveled more than 100,000 miles (161,000 km) with me. Tumi makes excellent products, although they are not inexpensive.

Samsung 55-inch (140-cm) LED Smart TV – Other than two internal hard drives, this is only our second Samsung product, and it is living up to the company’s reputation. We purchased it for $830, and the quality is excellent.

Vizio 32-inch (81-cm) LED Smart TV – This is our first Vizio product and we like it better than the Panasonic that it replaced. For $290, it was a good buy. Vizio is an American company based in Irvine, California.

Best wishes to you for a great 2015!

December 22, 2014

More Inside 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Education,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 08:30

I was fortunate to participate in nine Inside 3D Printing events in 2013-2014. The first one was in New York City in April 2013. The most recent one was in Shanghai, China in November 2014. It drew 4,000+ people, and the one in Seoul, Korea in June 2014 attracted about 5,000. Attendance, such as this, for a first-time 3D printing event, is unprecedented.

In the 25+ history of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably—we have not seen such an impressive level of commitment and investment in a worldwide series of events. Inside 3D Printing is the brainchild of Alan Meckler, PhD, head of MecklerMedia (previously of Mediabistro). I first wrote about Meckler and Inside 3D Printing in a blog commentary in April 2013.

nyc2014
Inside 3D Printing in New York City in April 2014

Running large conferences and exhibitions is big business, but it’s also an opportunity to introduce important subjects to many people, as well as update those who have been in an industry for some time. It’s impossible to estimate the educational and economic value that this series of events is having on our industry, but I believe it is significant. For many, Inside 3D Printing is the first event on AM that they’ve attended. The information they collect and contacts they make are invaluable.

A high percentage of the people attending are mature, practicing professionals from major corporations. It’s my belief that the series is leading to many new collaborations and partnerships, start-up companies and new businesses, equipment purchases, and other types of investment in AM. The number of meetings and interactions that I have witnessed is exciting.

For 2015, Inside 3D Printing conferences and exhibitions are scheduled for Singapore, Berlin, São Paulo, London, New York, Melbourne, Seoul, and Santa Clara. Meanwhile, other locations are being considered. I recommend that you attend one or more of them, and if you do, I look forward to meeting you there in person.

Best wishes to you for a safe and relaxing holiday season!

December 7, 2014

HP Multi Jet Fusion

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 19:21

On two separate occasions in October 2014, I saw HP Multi Jet Fusion machines running and building parts. The new technology uses HP thermal inkjet arrays to print fusing and detailing agents onto thin layers of thermoplastic powder. An energy source is used to fuse the areas where the agents were deposited. What I saw was extraordinary. The build speed is 10 times faster than other 3D printers and additive manufacturing systems, according to HP, and what I witnessed supports this claim.

The quality of the parts I saw and held also got my attention, especially since the technology that produced the parts will not become a product until 2016. The edges of the parts were crisp, the features were well defined, and areas that are supposed to flat were indeed flat. Also, a number of them were multi-colored. Bringing together this speed, part quality, and multi-color using thermoplastic materials is a first.

hp
Left: HP senior vice president Stephen Nigro and USA Today reporter on October 29, 2014 in New York City. Middle: Vase and flower printed in color. Right: 3D-printed mechanism for use on the Multi Jet Fusion machine. According to HP, it out-performed a similar mechanism that was machined in metal.

Strength properties of parts made on the machine, I was told, are good. However, until we see independent test data, it’s too early to say how they compare to laser-sintered parts. A car weighing 4,536 kg (10,000 lbs) was lifted using a 113-gram (0.25 lb) chain link printed on the HP machine.

We will better understand the impact that Multi Jet Fusion will have on the market after we hear from customers using the machine. Until then, it’s difficult to know what it will be. However, I believe it could compete with conventional plastics processing, such as injection molding, for certain types of parts and quantities. This would disrupt both the 3D printing and plastics processing industries.

HP has not yet discussed pricing, but the company has referred to “breakthrough economics” on multiple occasions when describing its possible impact. If the machine is priced aggressively and the consumables are competitive for manufacturing quantities, I truly believe it could not only be a game-changer, but it could rewrite the rules of 3D printing.

November 22, 2014

16th EuroMold Conference

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:30

Our 16th annual international conference on additive manufacturing and 3D printing coincides with next week’s EuroMold 2014 event in Frankfurt, Germany. It is on Thursday, November 27, which is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. For those of you outside the U.S., Thanksgiving is among the most important American holidays.

The title of this year’s conference is The Truth Behind the Additive Manufacturing Supply Chain. We are excited to have an outstanding lineup of speakers from Australia, Belgium, China, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. They represent some of the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals on the subject, and we are happy that they are willing to share their insight.

euromold2013
Wohlers conference at EuroMold 2013

The additive manufacturing supply chain is underdeveloped, and in some cases, almost non-existent. We believe that this could present significant opportunities, but also very big challenges for companies wanting to adopt AM for production applications. As companies begin to use the technology for manufacturing, we could see the demand for quality materials, machines, and certified suppliers exceed the supply.

EuroMold 2014 is the perfect place to discuss and debate issues surrounding the AM supply chain. For 15+ years, EuroMold has served as the most important exposition and meeting place for AM producers and users worldwide. Significant business is conducted among exhibitors, their customers, and others, and we look forward to seeing you there. To learn more about the conference and to register, click here.

Next Page »