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RP&M 2003 Exceeded Expectations

May 26, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 20:10

The RP&M 2003 conference and exposition, held May 12-15 in Chicago, Illinois, was excellent. Organized each year by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, this annual event became the most important gathering of RP enthusiasts in the mid-1990s. In recent years, however, attendance has fallen, though the event is mounting a comeback. About 325 individuals attended this year’s conference, compared to 269 last year. Exposition visitors declined by about 200 from last year’s 1,570 visitors. Even so, this year’s exposition offered the most interesting set of products and companies to date. 

Objet Geometries (Israel) introduced its Eden330 machine and a new photopolymer, while Envisiontec (Germany) showed its incredibly simple Perfactory product, a system based on Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology from Texas Instruments. Sony, also new to the U.S. market, introduced its Solid Creation System. The company showed its SCS-8000 stereolithography system and had an army of employees on hand. EOS (Germany) displayed its EOSINT M 250 Xtended metal laser sintering machine, while Arcam (Sweden) showed parts from its Electron Beam Melting (EBM) process. Praxair, who teamed with Ford to develop Sprayform spray metal tooling, showed parts from its version of the process. DSM Somos displayed complex parts from its new ceramic-filled ProtoTool material, while Z Corp. introduced its new zp250 material that works for snap-fit applications. The list goes on and on, but I hope this gives you a feel for what the event had to offer. If you add it up, RP&M 2003 provided an exceptional display of products and services from around the world.

Will the A/E/C Industry Adopt RP?

May 18, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:01

I have long felt that the architectural/engineering/construction industry would use rapid prototyping when prices fall and the technology improves. A/E/C models have been produced with RP, but they represent less than 1% of the total built. The data format that most use in A/E/C has also been an obstacle. Construction drawings are the standard for communicating design intent with builders and other contractors and the digital representation of these drawings do not carry the information needed to construct a physical prototype using an RP machine. Some in A/E/C create 3D CAD models, but they are the exception. These models are usually not fully closed, water-tight (solid) models required by RP systems.

I attended COFES2003 last week in Scottsdale, Arizona. (COFES is The Congress of the Future of Engineering Software.) I sat in on an A/E/C session that debated the pros and cons of designing and communicating in 2D versus 3D. It became clear that the A/E/C industry has not progressed much in its transition from 2D to 3D over the past several years, compared to manufacturing. I asked the group: If scaled, physical models were free, would that motivate A/E/C professionals to design in 3D? The question received a lot of reaction from this vocal group of about 35 individuals, so I was hoping for some consensus. Instead, I heard a range of comments that made me wonder whether this industry would ever be ripe for RP. I did learn that as a whole, the group is not up-to-date on the advances in RP. However, it is my belief that A/E/C professionals will warm up to RP in the future, but it could take many years—possibly a decade—before A/E/C becomes a hot market for rapid prototyping.

Personal Interaction Matters

May 3, 2003

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 12:34

Most would agree that online exchanges and reverse auctions have not done well in the rapid prototyping and tooling industry. To some, it’s puzzling. Using web tools to seek quotes and buy parts can be efficient and effective. So, why is it that they have not developed as some had hoped? My conclusion is this: Getting quotes and buying parts requires personal interaction beyond that offered by a website. It’s not like buying a loaf of bread from a grocery store. It’s important that the service provider clearly understands what the buyer is requesting. Sometimes, the buyer does not know all the options available to him, so it becomes an educational process. This requires phone conversations and sometimes personal visits. Other companies have a handful of suppliers that they prefer to work with, so the online exchange is of little value to them. So in the end, most buyers prefer to interface with people at the supplier companies using traditional methods of communication.