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30 Years Later

December 4, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 11:02

It does not seem possible, but it’s true: Wohlers Associates has been in business for three decades. I started the company in November 1986 after working at Colorado State University for five years. I was young at the time—not even 30—but it “felt” like the right thing to do. I was inspired by Dr. Joel Orr, a brilliant individual and extremely successful consultant, author, and speaker. I told myself that if I could do even a small fraction of what he does, it would be incredibly interesting and challenging. I don’t know that I’ve even “scratched the surface,” compared to what Joel has achieved, but it has been enormously gratifying, and I’ve been lucky to work with great people and organizations over the years.

The original focus of Wohlers Associates was on CAD tools and their application. I was presented with the opportunity of being the instructor of the first semester credit course on CAD at CSU in 1983. CAD experience and know-how were hard to find back then, so I was approached by three publishers to write a textbook. I accepted the offer from McGraw-Hill in 1985. The work experience and textbook provided a foundation for offering CAD instruction and consulting to local companies, such as HP, Kodak, Waterpik, and Woodward. I also accepted writing assignments from technical journals, which did not pay a lot, but they helped to introduce our startup company to the world. I learned from Joel that if you want to meet people with similar interests, speak at industry events, so I began to participate in technical conference programs.

30-years

Less than a year after starting the company, I came across a short but interesting article in a newsletter published by Joel. It was about a start-up company named 3D Systems, and it discussed a new process called stereolithography. I was fascinated by the concept and envisioned how powerful it could become in combination with CAD solid modeling tools, which were rolling out at around that time. Aries Concept Station was the first to support stereolithography. Dave Albert, a person that Joel and I know, was commissioned to create the CAD interface and file format for 3D Systems. It was called “STL” and it’s still being used extensively today. I don’t know whether Joel knows it, but I credit him for introducing me to additive manufacturing and 3D printing, a class of technology in which our company has spent most of its energy. I’m excited to go to work every day because of the almost endless opportunities that this technology presents.

I have many stories from the journey that began 30 years ago, but I will save most of them for another time. I do want to say that without my wife, Diane, the company would not exist. She has provided mountains of loving support and encouragement over the years. Also, she has graciously tolerated my crazy travel and work schedule. Without her, our accounting system would be a mess. I also give my sincerest gratitude to Joel Orr. Without his inspiration and encouragement, it’s safe to say that Wohlers Associates would not have been launched. Thanks also to countless others around the world for contributing and supporting our company over the past 30 years.

Metals at formnext

November 20, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 16:03

I attended last week’s formnext, powered by TCT, in Frankfurt, Germany. The four-day event, involving an international exhibition and conference, was outstanding, especially given that it was the second year. Most major companies in additive manufacturing and 3D printing were present, and many had very large and impressive exhibits. One could easily make the case that it was the most elaborate and striking display of AM products and services ever.

As with most events, the people in attendance were as important as anything else. Organizations around the world sent their best and most informed employees. This is especially important for visitors wanting to schedule meetings and have discussions about AM and where it is headed. If the schedules of others were anything like mine—and I’m sure many were—they had little spare time through the week because of all that formnext had to offer.

engine-block2

If the event had a theme, it was metal AM. Additive Industries, Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, ReaLizer, Renishaw, 3D Systems, and SLM Solutions had large displays with machines and parts. Companies relatively new to metal AM that showed their machines were AddUp (a collaboration between Michelin and Fives), Farsoon, OR Laser, Sentrol, and Sisma. Fraunhofer ILT displayed a small and relatively low-cost metal AM machine that may be commercialized at some point.

Some of the mature companies showed automated metal powder removal and handling capabilities and concepts. As their customers ramp up for production quantities, this automation will become important. Absent was the automation of most other downstream operations, such as thermal stress relief (with the exception of Additive Industries), hot isostatic pressing, and the removal of parts from the build plate. Also absent was automating the removal of supports/anchors from the parts, CNC machining, and surface treatment.

Regardless of your interest in AM, formnext had something for everyone and was the place to be last week. One exhibition hall included a large and impressive concentration of technology and know-how. It was completely filled, so Messe Frankfurt and TCT employees are planning to expand into a second hall for the 2017 event, which is set for November 14-17. The four days of conference sessions were also very good and well attended. I only wish I could have attended more of them. Maybe next year.

South Africa

November 6, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:10

I spent last week in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, at RAPDASA 2016. It was the 17th annual conference and exhibition of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. I’ve been lucky enough to attend all 17 of them. Like fine wine, the event continues to improve with age, and this one was the best, thanks to organizer and host Vaal University of Technology. VUT’s Science and Technology Park, the venue for the event, completes more than 1,000 industrial projects annually with machines and facilities that rival the very best in the world.

On Monday, a few of us visited a company that VUT is working with it. The company produces cast impellers for large industrial compressors. VUT is using Voxeljet additive manufacturing technology to produce sand molds and cores for the impellers. It is not yet into production with the process, but it is expected to cut the cost in half, saving R2 million ($147,000) per casting. What’s more, the delivery will improve dramatically from an excruciating 9-12 months to just one month. The impellers spin at 3,000 rpm and operate in a harsh environment. Company management is ecstatic about what the technology will do for it.

cast-impellers

Much of South Africa’s work began many years ago at the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at Central University of Technology. Today, CRPM is extremely active, with more than 600 commercial projects annually. The group is running a wide range of industrial machines, including several metal AM systems that are at work building high-end parts used in an array of industries. One area of focus is around medical devices and implants. Earlier this year, CRPM received ISO certification, which shows that the people, processes, and work at CUT are among the best you’ll find anywhere.

A platinum project was launched recently with Lonmin, one of the world’s largest producers of the precious metal. I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with several managers from the company. The effort is serious, although early in its development. The largest market for platinum, by far, is catalytic converters, followed by jewelry as a distant second. Time will tell whether the company can use AM to create entirely new markets for this special material, but it looks like the people are going into it with a lot of enthusiasm and determination.

What do these and other developments in South Africa have in common? Professor Deon de Beer. He began his work in AM at CUT where he helped launch the CRPM. He then went to VUT to establish the Science and Technology Park, which is mostly focused on AM. He’s now at North-West University, but has continued strong ties with CUT and VUT. His humble and somewhat quiet demeanor will fool you because he’s like a spark plug. He ignites an avalanche of activity wherever he goes and brings out the very best of people that surrounds him. Without Deon and his inspiration, AM progress would be VERY different in the country.

South Africa is home to many Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs, with more than 25 operating worldwide. They consist of facilities full of equipment for hands-on learning of CAD, 3D printing, and other design and manufacturing technology. The I2P labs were also a brainchild of Deon de Beer. With him and a growing number of colleagues and others, South Africa has grown to become a leader in additive manufacturing. The adoption of the technology is not as deep and widespread as it is in the U.S. and parts of Europe, but the work is just as advanced and impressive. I credit de Beer and the formation of RAPDASA (both the association and annual event) for the on-going ideas, programs, strategy, and education that are provided country-wide.

GE’s AM Acquisitions

October 23, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:41

Last month, GE surprised the world when it announced the company’s plan to acquire Arcam of Sweden and SLM Solutions of Germany for $1.4 billion. Both companies offer additive manufacturing systems that produce world-class metal parts for medical, aerospace, and other industries. Arcam also owns a prominent producer of titanium and other metal powders (AP&C of Canada), which supplies materials to many organizations. For more than two decades, some people in the AM industry have speculated whether a large OEM might acquire an AM manufacturer to give it an advantage, rather than relying on relatively small companies to serve its needs. In more than 28 years, no such corporation had made a commitment, until now.

ge-arcam-slm

Why would GE want to buy these two companies? I believe it’s mostly about the company’s need for machines, materials, and capacity. GE stated that it would need in the range of 1,000 industrial-grade machines over the next 10 years. If it relies on the status quo, it may need to get in line and wait. With the recent demand for metal AM, the wait could become lengthy. (Growth of metal AM has averaged 59.2% over the past three years, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2016.) With ownership of machine and material producers, GE can accelerate development and expansion, and it can be first in line to receive what it needs. Also, it can dedicate serious resources to the advancement of process control software and hardware, as well as other features to help ensure system reliability and part quality.

Greg Morris, GE Aviation’s leader of additive technologies, said that the company plans to sell Arcam and SLM machines to others, even to competitors of GE’s many businesses. It’s difficult to know exactly how sales and support of these products will be handled, but I believe it’s safe to assume that GE will receive high priority. Why wouldn’t it? As GE improves its AM technology, to what degree will these enhancements be made available to others? This is a question that may not be answered for some time. Regardless, GE is positioning itself in ways that have not been seen in the past. This is exciting for it and the influence the company will have on the entire AM industry.

Late Breaking News: On Friday, October 21, GE refused to raise its price for SLM Solutions after Elliott Management said it would reject GE’s tender offer. Elliott own 20% of SLM Solutions and more than 10% of Arcam, according to 3DPrint.com. GE and SLM management are urging shareholders to accept the offer before it expires on Monday, October 24.

Proto Labs

October 8, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:30

Yesterday, Proto Labs celebrated the grand opening of its new 7,154 sq meter (77,000 sq ft) 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina, located at the west edge of Raleigh. Proto Labs is best known for quick turn injection molding and CNC machining, with headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota. The company entered the 3D printing business when it acquired FineLine Prototyping of North Carolina in April 2014. FineLine, headed by Rob Connelly, had a strong reputation for quality over a period of many years. Whenever I would hear something about FineLine, it was positive.

Connelly told me that the new site is running 48 stereolithography, 10 laser sintering, and 13 metal powder bed fusion machines. With its Germany and Finland sites, Proto Labs is operating 121 industrial 3D printing systems and growing. This represents a tremendous amount of prototyping and manufacturing capacity and is now one of the largest in the world.

proto-labs

Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs since 2014, and Connelly generously gave me a personal tour on Thursday after I arrived into Raleigh. I received a second tour yesterday as part of the grand opening. As expected, I was impressed by the organization and sheer number of machines and jobs running through the facility. The company’s software for scheduling and tracking jobs, produced entirely in-house, is at the core of the operation. Large monitors in many places graphically show new and existing jobs that are making their way through the system. On average, about 275 customer projects are quoted daily for 3D printing. The site’s 150 employees handle everything from customer inquiries to scheduling jobs and shipping. For a premium, customers can obtain parts that are produced and shipped the same day.

Holt explained to me that the company’s “sweet spot” is its very quick turn around. Proto Labs is not competing on cost, but rather on consistently delivering high quality parts in the shortest amount of time possible. As a chemist and veteran in polymers and manufacturing, she knows what it takes to make customers happy. From 1979 to 2013, Holt held various positions at Monsanto, Solutia (a Monsanto spin-off), PPG Industries, Spartech Corp. (owned by PolyOne), and other companies. Holt and Connelly’s attention to detail, and that of their employees, coupled with their strengths in interacting with people, play a big role in attracting and keeping customers. Congrats to Proto Labs for its new and very impressive facility.

American Football

September 23, 2016

Filed under: entertainment,life — Terry Wohlers @ 14:06

In my view, it’s the greatest sport on the planet. The action, hits, and wide mix of plays makes the game so exciting to watch. Sure wish they could fix the head injury problems. I’m hopeful that with creative 3D printing methods using lattice and cellular structures, someone will design a helmet that cushions hard blows far better than with conventional methods of manufacturing and materials.

Colorado State Rams: We’ve been season ticket holders for many years, so we attend most of the home games in Fort Collins. This is the last season for Hughes Stadium, so we can expect an entirely new experience next season. More importantly, I hope the Rams improve. The first two games were not pretty, but last Saturday’s game was encouraging. The Rams have finally found a quarterback in true freshman Collin Hill. He threw four touchdown passes and ran 51 yards for a fifth, all in the first half. And, he’s only 18 years old. Tomorrow’s game at Minnesota will be a big test for him and the team.

collin-hill

Nebraska Cornhuskers: Last Saturday, the team pulled through in a nail biter against a ranked Oregon team. My wife and I both grew up in Nebraska, with family and friends still there, and we’ve cheered for the team since we can remember. In recent years, the Huskers have not shown the national prominence of the past, but they’re off to a 3-0 start this season. There’s nothing like a Huskers game in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Denver Broncos: These Super Bowl champs are fun to watch. Defenses win games and Denver’s D could be even better than last season. Prior to the start of this season, the quarterback position was a big question mark with the retirement of Peyton Manning and departure of backup Brock Osweiler. So far, second year rookie Trevor Siemian has been solid and better than most expected. He looked sharp again in last Sunday’s defeat of the Indianapolis Colts, but it was Denver’s Von Miller and its defense that won the game.

With some luck, these three teams will have a good season. Injuries and other factors usually determine the outcome. Regardless, we’re looking forward to watching some great football in the coming weeks and months.

3D Veterans Bootcamp

September 12, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,life — Terry Wohlers @ 08:43

An interesting program for U.S. veterans concluded on Friday of last week in San Antonio, Texas. A start-up organization, named 3D Veterans, was formed to train veterans in CAD and 3D printing for high-tech American jobs. The first six-week “bootcamp” involved 13 enthusiastic veterans out of 70 applicants. I was lucky enough to witness them in action on Wednesday as they were wrapping up several intriguing final class projects—the culmination of expert instruction and hands-on learning. The projects were aimed at designing and 3D printing devices that would help less fortunate fellow veterans. I was moved by this giving of time, creativity, and energy to other veterans.

The 3D Veterans organization was founded by Michael Moncada and David Schnepp, with subsequent involvement from Andy Miller, Wayne Dudding, and others. I first met Moncada, a veteran himself, at Inside 3D Printing in New York City in April, and what he told me about the program got my attention. Among the current partners and sponsors are America Makes, Autodesk, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Google.org, Google’s chartable arm, is the primary sponsor. The veterans completed the program with new skills in using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software, which was used for most of the design work.

3dveterans

I was with the staff and student veterans for about 2.5 hours. I especially wanted to meet the veterans and see their work, and I was lucky enough to get fairly in-depth explanations from six of them. Len, 59, designed a knee brace that he hopes will be more effective and fit more comfortably under a pair of slacks. The available 3D printers and materials did not allow him to complete and test his design, but I like the path he has taken, coupled with his passion. One of his comments to me said it all. “This is the most exciting time of my life,” referring to the class, the knowledge and skills he has gained, and where all of it could take him in the future. Wow!

Another student veteran, Deborah, designed a brace for those with carpal tunnel syndrome. She said the ones on the market work with mixed results. She went on to say, “The course has been challenging and exciting and something I needed.” Other projects involved 1) the use of a transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation device to treat pain, 2) an exoskeleton device for therapy of finger and hand movement, 3) a device to hold a straw in place in a drinking cup or glass, and 4) a versatile cup holder that can be mounted just about anywhere, including onto wheel chairs.

I like this program a lot. Credit goes to Moncada, his colleagues, and the program’s supporters. Gratitude also goes to the participating veterans for enrolling in the program and giving back to fellow veterans. It was a privilege to see, up close, the veterans at work. Plans are underway to expand it into other locations across the U.S. in coming months. If you are interested in supporting this outstanding program or hiring one of the 13 veterans, contact Michael Moncada at michael@3dveterans.com.

Big AM Investments Continue

August 27, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,money — Terry Wohlers @ 06:44

The additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry is not short on money. Since early June, we’ve stumbled across five new investments that total more than $260 million. For example, French investment bank Bpifrance announced that it is investing €45+ million over the next five years in an initiative to develop advanced processes in the country’s AM industry. The government of the Netherlands said that it will invest €134 million into research projects focused on AM.

dutch-flag

In late June, it was announced that Norway’s Norsk Titanium secured $25 million in a round of funding to help expand operations. The investment follows the inclusion of $125 million in the 2016 New York State budget to support the development of Norsk Titanium’s Plattsburgh, New York factory. In early July, Desktop Metal stated that it had received commitments for investments from GE Ventures and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures. Little is known publicly about the company’s technology, but the company has secured a total of $52 million from investors thus far. About a month later, Formlabs said that it had raised $35 million, with Autodesk being one of the investors.

Much of the $260+ million spans multiple years and represents a significant amount of money in just two months of announcements from five organizations. It is possible, even likely, that many additional large investments have occurred recently, but have been kept private. This activity is stimulating, especially given that we did not see anything like it many years ago. What’s more, I have every reason to believe that it will continue, especially given the insight we are receiving from our client companies, many representing some of the largest brands in the world. It is an exciting time to be a part of this industry.

RØDE Microphones

August 15, 2016

Two of our consultants and I have had the privilege of visiting RØDE Microphones of Sydney, Australia. RØDE is a manufacturer of world-class microphone products for studio recording, performances, video broadcasts, and live interviews. It also manufactures microphones for presenters (lavalier and button mics) and smart phones. Over the past nearly two years, we have worked with RØDE and learned a great deal about the company and its products. Peter Freedman, managing director and chief executive, has given permission to disclose and discuss our relationship publicly.

RØDE hires some of the best people in Australia and other parts of the world. The company has offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Most of the Australian employees we’ve met are young, bright, and energetic. Freedman is the driver of new products, is constantly pushing the limits, and is the heart and soul of the company. RØDE is running $30 million in precision equipment, including a considerable number of new machines that were installed since we’ve started working together. Freedman seeks to be among the best of the best in the design and manufacturing of microphones. And, it shows by the company’s strong growth in recent years.

rode

I feel lucky to be able to work with great companies such as RØDE and people like Freedman and his team. He always has a can-do attitude and is constantly looking for new and better ways for product development and manufacturing. Over our 29 years in business, I have worked with a few people and organizations that find reasons why you cannot do something and serve as obstacles to progress. Fortunately, most of the people that we’ve encountered have the right spirit and outlook. Engineering consultant, futurist, and friend Joel Orr once said, “Success breeds success.” I could not agree more, and RØDE is a company that is producing a lot of it.

GE’s New AM Center

August 1, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 09:45

In April 2016, GE opened its new Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA), located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 11,613-sq meter (125,000-sq ft) facility was designed to drive innovation and adoption of additive manufacturing across the company’s major businesses. They include Aviation, Energy Connections, Healthcare, Oil & Gas, Power, Renewable Energy, Transportation, and Current, powered by GE. CATA houses multiple AM machines from EOS, SLM Solutions, Stratasys, and ExOne. They are complimented by many CNC machining centers, EDM, heat treatment chambers, and other equipment. Space is available that would essentially double the number of machines and processes at the facility.

I toured CATA last Thursday and found it to be jaw-dropping impressive. It will almost guarantee an acceleration of knowledge and understanding of AM for production applications within the company. Having spent time with GE employees from several businesses over the years, I can say without reservation that many have solid AM experience. Even so, company management would be first to admit that the opportunity to grow and expand expertise across the 305,000-employee corporation is vast. CATA will help the company get there more quickly. Work at the facility is focused on mid technology readiness levels (i.e., TRL 4-7).

cata

GE advanced its position in AM when it acquired Morris Technologies, and its sister company, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, in November 2012. Greg Morris, then CEO and owner of the company, is the leader of Additive Technologies at GE Aviation. In 2013, GE Aviation announced that it had developed a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for its new LEAP engine. The attention received by the nozzle, which is now in production, has been an inspiration to countless organizations worldwide. Airbus was the first to receive LEAP engines, each with 19 nozzles, in April 2016 for the A320neo aircraft.

GE is making a big investment in additive manufacturing. However, it has shown few new designs since the public announcement of the fuel nozzle program. In my view, it is time for the company to show another advanced and exciting design for AM to serve as further inspiration inside and outside the company. It would make a bold statement and show the company’s leadership in the adoption and advancement of AM technology.

CATA is located about an hour from America Makes, which is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. Other key organizations close to CATA are Alcoa, ATI, Carpenter Technology, ExOne, Lincoln Electric, and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. Universities include Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Pennsylvania State, University of Pittsburgh, and Youngstown State. These organizations were a factor in choosing the location for CATA, a $40-million facility that signals how important AM has become at GE. The world-class facility will likely serve as a model for other large corporations globally.

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