November 21, 2015

America Makes Three Years Later

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:46

I had the privilege of attending this week’s America Makes Program Review and Members Meeting in Youngstown, Ohio. America Makes is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a public-private partnership launched in 2012. More than 250 people from many organizations across the U.S. were in attendance. Among the newest members: Autodesk, FAA, GM, Intel, Toyota, and the United Launch Alliance. I last wrote a blog commentary on America Makes in September 2014.

America Makes currently has 159 members, compared to 119 a year ago. Strong membership is important because the members provide direction and support the research, development, and many other activities, such as roadmapping. Recurring revenues from membership dues and in-kind support help to make America Makes sustainable. A current list of members is found here. If my memory serves me correctly, Wohlers Associates became the fifth Platinum Member, and America Makes now has a total of 18 of these top level members.

I could not attend the previous (April 2015) bi-annual meeting, although senior consultant Tim Caffrey attended, so a year had passed since meeting with the members and government and America Makes employees. I’ve tried to stay up-to-date with the major developments at America Makes, but there’s no substitute to face to face meetings. What I experienced and learned this week was that America Makes had advanced faster and further than anticipated, positioning the national partnership in a league of its own.

Youngstown State University hosted this week’s meetings for America Makes

The types of companies and people in attendance this week, coupled with the many projects and progress reports presented, showed impressive growth over the past year. A number of national programs on additive manufacturing have been launched around the world over the past couple years, but the work of America Makes stands out. The advanced nature of the projects, and the strong spirit of cooperation and collaboration among so many organizations, is exciting. America Makes serves as a model for the other six innovation institutes that are a part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

We are proud to be a part of America Makes. In my opinion, it has already made a difference in our nation’s position in AM. Given what I witnessed this week, it could accelerate in the coming months and years. My hat goes off to the great people at the Youngstown headquarters, NCDMM in Pennsylvania, government affiliates and agencies, and other organizations. With such a strong foundation formed over its first three years, I believe that America Makes will continue to help set the U.S. apart from the rest of the world. As the AM industry grows to tens of billions of dollars, and eventually to hundreds of billions, the U.S. will be glad it made this investment—one that I believe will pay back many times over.

November 8, 2015

Progress in South Africa

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 10:25

The Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) held its 16th annual conference near Pretoria last week. Growth in attendance mushroomed from around 135 people last year to 230 this year. Strong development activity and investment around additive manufacturing and 3D printing over the past year have expanded in many parts of the world, including South Africa.

One interesting development is the growth of the Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs in South Africa. The I2P lab concept is the brainchild of Deon de Beer, now at North-West University in Potchefstroom. The labs offer a low-cost setup where people of all ages, especially youth, can go to create, invent, and development new product ideas using design software, 3D printers, and related tools and equipment. Today, 20+ I2P labs are in operation in 10 countries, with about half them in South Africa.

Professor de Beer, largely responsible for putting South Africa on the “AM map,” was previously at Vaal University of Technology (VUT) where he launched a large and impressive science and technology park. The facility now employs 80 people and houses high-end machines from EOS, Stratasys, Voxeljet, and other companies. Before that, he started and grew the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing at Central University of Technology (CUT), a world-class facility with some the best people, experience, machines you will find anywhere. When de Beer touches something, it typically turns into gold, although you would never know it when talking with him. His relatively quiet and humble demeanor is invigorating.

Another interesting activity in South Africa is the Aeroswift project, which is focused on the development of a large powder bed fusion AM machine. It is being developed by the National Laser Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Aerosud, an aerospace company located in Pretoria. Funding is coming from the South African Department of Science and Technology. The system has an impressive build volume of 2.0 x 0.6 x 0.6 m (79 x 24 x 24 inches) and employs a powerful 5-kilowatt laser.

Airbus VP Peter Sander standing beside the Aeroswift machine
located at CSIR in Pretoria, South Africa

The Aeroswift process is capable of consolidating 60 mm3 (0.0037 in3) of metal per second. From the outside, the machine looks 100% complete, but the process is not yet making parts. The development of the machine was launched in early 2012 and about R107 million (~$8 million) has been invested thus far.

Industry adoption of AM in South Africa is not nearly as wide or deep as it is in the U.S. and many parts of Europe. However, the growth in attendance at RAPDASA 2015, coupled with technology transfer efforts, particularly at CUT and VUT, will help accelerate South Africa’s position. The country is working to better leverage its vast mineral reserves for making titanium—second only to Australia—by producing powders and AM machines that can process titanium. One goal is to reduce the shipping of titanium minerals to other countries for processing into usable materials and to transition that business to South Africa. If this occurs, the country could become a much bigger player in AM internationally.

October 25, 2015

3D Printing Startups

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:00

What does EmberSurge, 3d Evolution Printer, 3Dom, and 3Dponics have in common? And, Avatarium, bondswell, Chemcubed, and Chimak3D? They are startup companies in the fast-growing 3D printing industry. Others include Cubibot, Dongguan Pioneertr, Fathom, 3D Filkemp, Growshapes, and HoneyPoint3D. The list goes on and on. Have you heard of them? I had not, until recently. These small companies exhibited at last week’s Inside 3D Printing event in Santa Clara, California.

Many young companies exhibited at last week’s Inside 3D Printing

The surge in startups is part of a seemingly endless sequence of unprecedented events in the 3D printing industry. It’s an indication that 3D printing has been, and continues to be, ripe for innovation. The excitement surrounding the technology and circulating information—coupled with a lot of hype—is leading to the introduction of many new ideas, companies, businesses, business models, and products.

Will most of them survive and thrive? History strongly suggests that they will not. A September 2014 article in Fortune states that nine out of 10 startups fail. Also, it’s important to note that many 3D printing companies have come and gone in the past. Even so, it’s encouraging to see so many enter the business. It shows that scores of entrepreneurs and investors are betting on it, even when the odds are stacked against them. This is yet another sign that 3D printing will be an important part of our future.

October 11, 2015

3D-Printed Buildings

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:55

Earlier this year, reported on Shanghai-based WinSun and its 3D printing of buildings. Stories of printing entire homes have been published in the past, although most have been met with disbelief. This one, however, includes many detailed images, suggesting that it might be real.

The video clip and pictures that accompany the story are compelling. They show the layer-by-layer construction of walls for a five-story apartment complex, as well as an upscale villa. The print material is said to be made from construction waste, including concrete, fiberglass, sand, and a special hardening agent—probably Portland cement and water. WinSun is manufacturing the walls off site and then assembling them at the location of the building construction.


I’m skeptical, not of the possibility of 3D printing walls, but of the idea and business model. The 3D-printed wall sections are replacing conventionally built ones, which are often concrete and steel, concrete block, wood, or steel. For decades, a highly established workforce has quickly and economically produced walls using these materials and conventional methods of construction. The labor, components, and materials required to complete the walls are the most time-consuming and expensive, by far. Consider the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC that must be installed, as well as the insulation, windows, doors, exterior covering (e.g., siding, brick, and stucco), and interior covering, such as sheetrock/drywall.

When considering the time and cost of constructing an entire building, the skeletal walls are a small part of the project. You also need floors, ceilings, roofs, stairs, and kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Consequently, I cannot see how the use of 3D printing technology could save any time or money. When you factor in the added cost of a very large, expensive, and not very portable 3D printer, the cost of these walls are likely far more expensive and time-consuming than conventional walls. The use of 3D printing may be good for marketing and attention, but that’s all.

September 27, 2015

Last Week’s Euromold 2015

The 22nd annual Euromold event was held last week in Düsseldorf, Germany. Other than a few companies missing from the exhibition floor, it could not have gone better. More than 450 exhibitors from 33 countries showed their latest products and services. More than one-third of them were from the additive manufacturing and 3D printing space, giving visitors a lot to see and learn. A fashion show on Friday featured models with stunning 3D-printed accessories.

Large crowd in awe by the work shown at the Euromold fashion show

This year’s Euromold conference program was expanded to three days, with the support of USA-based SME. Jeff Kowalski, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Autodesk energized a packed room at the opening keynote. His comments were inspiring, and people were discussing them days after his presentation. Kowalski said that quality and reliability are holding back 3D printing. He also explained how we are entering the “imagination age,” but it will require completely new software capabilities to help propel the industry forward. His fresh and forward-thinking ideas gave hope to those who feel that CAD software currently hinders their ability to unlock the full potential of 3D printing.

Left: Jeff Kowalski of Autodesk. Right: Lively panel session on 3D printing software tools and data with Wilfried Vancraen of Materialise, Scott White of HP, Chris Romes of Autodesk, Emmett Lalish of Microsoft, and session chair Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates

Dr. Jules Poukens, a cranio-maxillofacial surgeon, was keynote speaker the second day of the conference. He shared video footage of his team implanting a cranial plate, as well as the world’s first complete mandible (jaw) replacement. Both were custom-designed and 3D-printed in titanium. The full room of people were amazed by this work.

On the final day, Stephen Nigro of HP took center stage as keynote speaker. Nigro is senior vice president at HP and responsible for company’s printing business, which is valued at more than $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. On November 1, 2015, he becomes president of HP’s new 3D printing business. Similar to the previous two days, the room was completely packed, with people lining the walls and queued in the doorways. Nigro said the 2D printing business is $230 billion annually, but 3D printing has the potential to exceed it in size. I was flattered when he used Wohlers Associates’ data to illustrate his point. If 3D printing penetrates just 5% of the global manufacturing economy, it will surpass 2D printing by nearly three times.

The three-day conference concluded with an outstanding keynote by Jason Dunn of Made In Space. The company successfully designed, produced, and placed the first 3D printer on the International Space Station. The excellence of Dunn’s information, along with that of the other speakers and panelists, coupled with the number and quality of people in attendance, were, by far, the best in 17 years of running the conference. Thanks to everyone in attendance, and to the teams at DEMAT and SME, for their involvement. We look forward to Euromold 2016, again in Düsseldorf, which is a great place to spend a few days. Please add December 6–9, 2016 to your calendar. I look forward to seeing you there!

September 12, 2015

HP’s Stephen Nigro

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 11:38

Stephen Nigro is senior vice president of PPS Imaging and Printing at HP. He has worldwide responsibility for the company’s printing business, which includes HP InkJet, HP LaserJet, and HP Graphics. This business is roughly $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. One can easily conclude that Nigro is very important to HP.

Stephen Nigro

It was announced last week that Nigro will focus entirely on 3D printing on November 1, 2015. This news was first reported in an article by Fortune. In my opinion, this is very big news for the company and 3D printing industry. The announcement speaks volumes about the importance of HP Multi Jet Fusion technology and how the company believes it will develop in the future.

Dion Weisler, CEO of HP Inc. (beginning November 1), has stated more than once that the 3D printing industry has not solved the major problems of speed, quality, and cost. HP hopes to address these problems with Nigro’s help. He will continue to report to Weisler as the company expands into 3D printing. “Over the next 5-10 years, I think [3D printing] will be a really big core part of our business,” Weisler stated recently. Nigro will be a key to making it happen.

Update: After the above was originally published, Nigro was named president of HP 3D Printing.

August 30, 2015

LASIK Nine Years Later

Filed under: Life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:36

One of the most important medical-related decisions of my life was made more than nine years ago. In July 2006, I had LASIK surgery on both eyes. I documented the experience a few days after the procedure. A year later, I reported on how my eyes were doing.


My eyesight has regressed some, but little. I’m still seeing better than 20/20 when using both eyes. My right eye is considerably weaker than my left, which was the case hours after surgery. However, it has enabled me to see small print without the need for reading glasses. In fact, I still don’t own a pair.

If you require corrective lenses and would rather not bother with them, consider LASIK surgery. Carefully research your options and go with the very best ophthalmologist in your region, if you choose to move ahead. It’s not something you want to rush, and do not shop for the best price because your eyesight is priceless.

August 15, 2015

Kill Decision

Filed under: Entertainment,Future,Review — Terry Wohlers @ 10:15

A good friend recommended Kill Decision and I’m glad he did. Author Daniel Suarez knows how to get and keep your attention. Many compare him to Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy. The techno-thriller grabs you early in the book and has you on the edge of your seat most of the way through it. As odd as it may sound to some, I do not read novels for the pure sake of enjoyment. However, if the book provides interesting perspective into future, I’ll make an exception.

I chose the audio version of Kill Decision so that I could exercise while taking in something good. Also, narrator Jeff Gurner tells a story spectacularly. I’ve heard him before and he’s excellent. He nails foreign accents and characters (for example, a hard-nosed army general) better than anyone I’ve heard and his emphasis on certain points and phrases is flawless.


The book is focused mostly on drones and how they may develop to control the world around us. The tension-filled plot brings together many technical ideas in ways that are not only fascinating, but believable. At times, I could not put it down. The story builds and the plot thickens as swarming autonomous drones communicate and organize attacks. The drones and their “behavior” are modeled after swarms of weaver ants, which are very organized, even deadly, as a colony.

If you are looking for a good book to round out the summer, assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, consider Kill Decision. You won’t regret it. And, if you like to walk, run, or go to the gym, take the audio version with you. Listening to narrator Jeff Gurner, alone, is worth the price.

August 2, 2015

Frisco, Colorado

Filed under: Life,Review,Travel — Terry Wohlers @ 17:16

Frisco is a mountain town of about 2,700 people, located 114 km (71 miles) west of Denver. It is situated at an elevation of 2,766 meters (9,075 feet) and surrounded by mountains. Ten Mile Creek runs through the town and empties into Lake Dillon, which touches the northeast border of Frisco.

Repeatedly, Frisco has been named the top ski destination without a ski resort. Four major ski mountains are within 26 km (16 miles), with Copper Mountain—our favorite—being just 11 km (6.7 miles) away. A fifth is Vail Mountain Resort, which is 42 km (26 miles) away and the largest ski area in the USA.

Frisco is not known to as many as one would expect, especially given its proximity and charm. Many bypass it on their way to somewhere else without knowing much about it. Consequently, it is not as busy and crowded as neighboring Breckenridge—a short 16 km (10 miles) away.

Frisco’s Main Street

Dentist and friend Ted Mioduski once said, “Summer time in Frisco is a best kept secret.” I could not agree more. Temperatures are in the low 20s C (70s F) during the day and much cooler at night. This makes it perfect for hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, taking a stroll down quaint Main Street, or having a bite or drink at one of the many local restaurants, pubs, or coffee shops.

Frisco and nearby Copper Mountain host many musicians, festivals, and exhibits in the summer. Just last night, we stumbled across an excellent acoustic guitarist and singer while waiting for the Saturday night fireworks at Copper. Returning to Frisco was a quick ride on the complimentary Summit Stage Shuttle.

On Friday, my wife, Diane, and I biked to Vail Pass, located at 3,250 meters (10,662 feet), and then back to Frisco—a 42-km (26-mile) round trip. (Diane turned around a few miles short.) Yesterday, friend Paul Carlton and I climbed Peak One, which is 3,901 meters (12,800 feet) in height. I felt like I might not survive after the seven-hour round trip. Although tired, I’m feeling better today.

At the top of Peak One, with Copper Mountain in the background

Frisco is small and quiet, yet it offers plenty of activity to keep things interesting. Some joke that the town has more pets, mostly dogs, than people. I doubt it’s true, but it certainly is dog-friendly. The people are open and friendly too. Frisco grows on you the more you spend time there. I can say without reservation it’s one of my favorite places to escape. Just don’t tell anyone.

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.

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.

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