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In the Future, RP will mean Rapid Production

October 26, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 05:39

The number of RP machines sold each year and the number parts produced from these machines continue to expand. Meanwhile, companies are finding creative ways of applying RP to the manufacture of finished, series production parts in quantities of one to more than 1,000 pieces. This is an interesting market segment that is developing quietly, yet is likely to dominate in the future.

Many companies are trying to reduce product development costs and with this comes a reduction in the number of expensive prototypes. As CAD and simulation tools improve, users are able to do more without the expense of making physical prototypes. Prototypes will not disappear at most companies, but much of this activity will move into the engineering office as 3D printers for concept modeling improve and proliferate. So, rather than employing shop personnel and space to process and finish models, engineers will produce models and prototype parts that are easier and less expensive to produce.

So where does this leave the high-end machines? I believe that these machines will best serve organizations willing to try alternative approaches to expensive tooling for the manufacture of some parts. Already, a number of industries have embraced the idea, including hearing instruments, motor sports, and aerospace. Also, a number of efforts are underway to use RP to custom manufacture consumer products such as lamps and sunglasses. As machine and material technologies develop further, RP will mean rapid production in the future.

Do You Receive upFront.eZine?

October 15, 2003

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,review — Terry Wohlers @ 20:03

Getting information these days is easy, but getting good information is not. Ralph Grabowski, a respected authority on CAD and related technologies, wades through piles of information each week and presents the most interesting material in a concise newsletter called upFront.eZine. Over recent years, it has risen to the top of important reading material for people in the CAD/CAM industry. I look forward to receiving it each Tuesday for perspective that I don’t get elsewhere. I find the email newsletter a good value, especially given the subscription fee. It’s free. He suggests an annual donation of US$25 and accepts text-based ads that are easy to gloss over if you’re in a hurry.

I’ve known Ralph for more than 15 years and respect him and his opinions. If you have an interest in the products and companies in this industry, you will want to receive this little gem. To subscribe, send the message subscribe upfront to More than 350 back issues are available at, so have a look. The newsletter is published in several languages and sent to readers in 70 countries each week.

Product Development in Portugal

October 6, 2003

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:04

Portugal is known for its prominence in moldmaking. Leiria, Portugal, and the surrounding area, is home to the highest concentration of moldmakers in the country. About 90% of the molds are exported, including about 11% to the U.S.

While attending last week’s VRAP 2003 conference (see below), I had the pleasure of visiting VANGEST, a company made up of 16 small companies that are in the mold and product development business. The company, located a short distance from Leiria, takes projects from concept to production tooling. It offers advanced industrial design, engineering, rapid prototyping, urethane castings, tooling, and precision inspection.

VANGEST focuses on producing very small and large parts—jobs that are among the most difficult to complete. I was especially impressed with the products that the company has tackled over the recent past. Compared to other companies in product development, it became clear to me that VANGEST is a world class organization. Thank you Victor Oliveira (CEO of the company) for your invitation and for taking time to give me a tour of your company.

Portugal’s VRAP 2003 Event

October 5, 2003

Filed under: additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 18:19

If you were not in Leiria, Portugal last week, you missed an interesting and worthwhile conference. The event, titled the 1st International Conference on Advanced Research in Virtual and Rapid Prototyping (VRAP), brought together 207 people from 24 countries around the world. It was the first event of its kind in Portugal, so I was not expecting this many people from so many countries. Dr. Paulo Bartolo, the primary organizer of the event, did a remarkable job in bringing these people, along with an impressive line-up of speakers, to this small country in southwestern Europe.

Held at the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, the conference had an academic flair to it. An estimated two-thirds were from educational or research institutions. The remaining one-third was a mix of moldmakers, service providers, vendors, and consultants. 

Congratulations, professor Bartolo, for an outstanding job. The organization of the conference was excellent, as was the information presented, and the staff at the institute did an admirable job at  making everyone feel welcome. I attend many international conferences each year and this one stands out as being among the best. The next VRAP conference is being planned for 2005 so stay tuned.