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Wohlers Report Published

April 9, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 17:13

I’m happy to announce that Wohlers Report 2016 was published this week. It is the 21st annual edition of our state of the industry report on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. We received tremendous support from many people and organizations, including 80 co-authors and experts in 33 countries. They contributed very important sections and provided great insight from their regions of the world.

Senior consultant and principal author Tim Caffrey was vital to this year’s report (once again). He has a special ability to efficiently find “nuggets of gold” from an avalanche of “news” that is often questionable. Associate consultant and new principal author Ian Campbell played an important role for the second consecutive year. I sincerely thank both of them for helping to produce a report that offers depth, breadth, and detail unmatched by others.

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I am also grateful to the 98 service providers, 51 system manufacturers, and 15 third-party material producers for responding to our requests for detailed information. Year after year, companies provide quantitative, and sometimes sensitive, data that we compile and use to produce industry-wide totals and trend lines that benefit the entire industry. Without their support, we could not produce many of the more than 100 charts, graphs, and tables that are spread across the report’s 335 pages. We did our very best again this year to be short on words but long on information.

The report has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. We are flattered when people refer to it as the “bible” of 3D printing. I am grateful to them, our customers, and the many people that supported the development of this edition. We are very lucky to have what we believe is the largest group of friends and contacts in the 3D printing industry—a network that spans 28 years.

Mattel’s New ThingMaker

February 27, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,Entertainment,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 06:36

I’m old enough to remember the Creepy Crawler ThingMaker of the 1960s. I did not own one, but a neighbor friend did, and we made many plastic worms and bugs with it. We had fun with the simple product, even though we were limited to the shapes available from the small molds that came with it.

Fast forward a half century to two weeks ago. At the New York Toy Fair, Mattel announced that it is introducing a new ThingMaker that takes advantage of 3D printing. Price: $299. For me, this is an exciting announcement, given that I have put considerable thought into the idea over the past two decades. I even ran it by film producer James Cameron back in 2010 and he liked it.

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Sure wish I could take credit for the idea, but I cannot. In the 1990s, Charles (Chuck) Johnson, then with the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, shared with me a future vision of 3D printing. He imagined a child waking up on a weekend morning and going to the kitchen for breakfast. The child switches on a device and then pours dry cereal, such as Cheerios, into it. She then pours milk into a reservoir inside the device. Viewing a small display, she selects a number of digital action figures that’s available and then readies the small machine.

The 3D printer grinds the cereal into fine powder and spreads it, as a print head jets milk for binder, layer by layer. If you’ve ever spilled milk, you know that it becomes sticky as it dries. After minutes of printing, she removes the action figures from the bed of powder, brushes them off, and then eats them.

Mattel’s new ThingMaker does not work like this, but it has a chance of becoming as popular as what Johnson had envisioned so many years ago. Over the past, I’ve shared his story with many groups and most found it interesting. Perhaps the new ThingMaker, slated to become available in October, will be a stepping stone toward Johnson’s cereal printer.

Autodesk has partnered with Mattel to provide software and an easy way to create 3D content—a key to success, in my opinion. So, stay tuned. It could be the beginning of something big.

Nano Dimension

February 2, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 07:07

Nano Dimension is an Israeli company that is producing a 3D printer for making printed circuit boards. The machine and sample PCBs are on display at SolidWorks World 2016 here in Dallas, Texas. The dual printhead machine uses material jetting technology to deposit photopolymer as the base material and a silver nanoparticle ink for the conductive traces.

The printhead deposits the silver in layers that are 2 microns in thickness. It took about 75 minutes to print the circuit board pictured in the following. Light is used to fully cure the photopolymer and sinter the silver.

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The build volume of the machine is 20 x 20 x 0.3 cm (7.9 x 7.9 x 0.12 inches). In the future, the company hopes to increase the Z dimension to permit the printing of circuits that are fully integrated into a design.

Nano Dimension’s software accepts standard PCB Gerber design files, as well as STEP, JPG, and TIFF files. The company is hoping that SolidWorks Corp. and other companies will develop software that takes advantage of the machine’s capabilities.

The company expects to commercialize and ship machines later this year.

Popularity of FDM

January 17, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:29

Since the early 2000s, fused deposition modeling (FDM)—more formally referred to as material extrusion by ASTM and ISO—has been the most popular additive manufacturing and 3D printing process worldwide. In 2003, Stratasys sold nearly as many FDM machines as all other AM machines combined, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2004. In 2006, Stratasys was responsible for 54.7% (1,723) of all AM systems sold.

2007 was a turning point for FDM technology, although few people knew it at the time. This was when the RepRap project, an open-source effort on FDM technology, began to gain traction. It coincided with the expiration of key FDM foundation patents held by Stratasys. We believe that 66 low-cost (under $5,000) FDM clones were sold in 2007, but the number of these products grew to an estimated 139,584 by 2014, based on our research for Wohlers Report 2015. To give some appreciation for this growth, 12,850 industrial AM machines, priced at more than $5,000, were sold in 2014.

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Two people are responsible for the popularity of FDM technology. First is Scott Crump, the inventor of FDM and co-founder of Stratasys. His pioneering work in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the commercialization of the technology. Without his efforts, the industry might look quite different than it does today. Second is Adrian Bowyer, the person that started the RepRap project. No one knew at the time that it would serve as the foundation for hundreds of start-up companies that would produce and sell FDM clones around the world.

Earlier this month, it was announced that RepRapPro, a company that Bowyer founded, was shutting down. In some ways, Bowyer was a victim of his own success. Over the recent past, we have told others that we believe 300+ companies are producing and selling FDM clones worldwide. A knowledgeable and well-connected person I spoke with in Shanghai last month said that as many as 1,000 FDM clone manufacturers may be in operation, in China alone. If he is even half right, our 300+ estimate is quite low.

A lot has happened in the world of FDM since the first machines were sold by Stratasys in 1991. Few envisioned the impact of the expiring patents and the open-source RepRap project. The future is also unclear, especially with so many companies trying to build businesses around FDM. I recall hearing someone say that it’s a race to the bottom. I’m sure that even Crump is amazed by what has happened to FDM over the past 25 years, especially over the past decade.

Investment in AM

December 20, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 11:29

Alcoa is investing $60 million in additive manufacturing and 3D printing methods and materials. Autodesk’s $100 million Spark Investment Fund is in full swing. Early next year, GE will a $32 million R&D facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called the Center for Additive Manufacturing Advancement. Michelin and Fives are collaborating on a EUR 25 million investment involving the creation of a new company and metal AM. The state of New York is investing $125 million in a 3D printing facility in partnership with Norsk Titanium.

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Are these types and sizes of investments the new norm for AM? I believe they are. In some ways, the 27-year old AM industry is just getting started, especially in the context of production applications. Consider the current AM supply chain and how underdeveloped it is. A tremendous amount of work is ahead of us, so I expect that we will continue to see a string of significant investments in AM across many areas. Among them: software and web-based tools for the creation and optimization of 3D content, IT, process controls, automation, materials, postprocessing, inspection, industry standards, education, training, and research.

AM will indeed grow to become a very big industry, up from $4.1 billion in 2014 (Source: Wohlers Report 2015). In fact, we believe it will grow into the tens of billions, and eventually to hundreds of billions. With the attention and investment that it’s finally getting, it is well on its way.

AIRTEC 2015

December 4, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event,Future,Review — Terry Wohlers @ 12:31

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

The annual AIRTEC event was held in Munich, Germany during the first week of November. The international aerospace supply fair offers short business-to-business meetings that give suppliers the opportunity to meet face-to-face with purchasing agents from the largest aerospace manufacturers in the world. This year, 536 companies participated in an amazing 12,823 B2B meetings.

AIRTEC also featured 400 exhibitors from 27 countries and an international congress that consisted of three days of presentations in seven topical areas, ranging from UAVs and helicopters to avionics, aeronautics, and space. For the third consecutive year, Wohlers Associates organized and chaired a session titled “Additive Manufacturing in Aerospace.” This year’s full-day session included 11 presentations with speakers from Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Sweden, and the U.S., and concluded with a lively panel discussion on the developing AM supply chain in the aerospace industry.

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Paolo Gennaro of Avio Aero shared information on the two-year qualification process of titanium aluminide for producing low pressure turbine blades for aircraft engines. Avio operates 20 Arcam EBM systems and has significant powder production capacity on-site. Peter Pinklbauer of Airbus cited many examples from the more than 120 AM projects the Airbus team has completed. He also reiterated his company’s plan to manufacture 30 tons of 3D-printed parts per month by December 2018, which will reduce raw material use by 270 tons per month.

An important takeaway from the day’s program: Avio Aero, Airbus, and Airbus’ Tier 1 supplier Premium Aerotec are currently using AM for serial production of aerospace parts. Production of aerospace parts using AM is no longer a prediction or a future eventuality. It is a reality today, and it is likely to increase significantly in the foreseeable future.

America Makes Three Years Later

November 21, 2015

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.

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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.

Progress in South Africa

November 8, 2015

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.

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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.

3D Printing Startups

October 25, 2015

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 are 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.

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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.

3D-Printed Buildings

October 11, 2015

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

Earlier this year, 3DPrint.com 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.

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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.

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