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.

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.

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