November 21, 2015

America Makes Three Years Later

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.

Youngstown State University hosted this week’s meetings for America Makes

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.

November 8, 2015

Progress in South Africa

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.

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.

October 25, 2015

3D Printing Startups

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 include 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.

Many young companies exhibited at last week’s Inside 3D Printing

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.

October 11, 2015

3D-Printed Buildings

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

Earlier this year, 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.


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.

September 27, 2015

Last Week’s Euromold 2015

The 22nd annual Euromold event was held last week in Düsseldorf, Germany. Other than a few companies missing from the exhibition floor, it could not have gone better. More than 450 exhibitors from 33 countries showed their latest products and services. More than one-third of them were from the additive manufacturing and 3D printing space, giving visitors a lot to see and learn. A fashion show on Friday featured models with stunning 3D-printed accessories.

Large crowd in awe by the work shown at the Euromold fashion show

This year’s Euromold conference program was expanded to three days, with the support of USA-based SME. Jeff Kowalski, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Autodesk energized a packed room at the opening keynote. His comments were inspiring, and people were discussing them days after his presentation. Kowalski said that quality and reliability are holding back 3D printing. He also explained how we are entering the “imagination age,” but it will require completely new software capabilities to help propel the industry forward. His fresh and forward-thinking ideas gave hope to those who feel that CAD software currently hinders their ability to unlock the full potential of 3D printing.

Left: Jeff Kowalski of Autodesk. Right: Lively panel session on 3D printing software tools and data with Wilfried Vancraen of Materialise, Scott White of HP, Chris Romes of Autodesk, Emmett Lalish of Microsoft, and session chair Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates

Dr. Jules Poukens, a cranio-maxillofacial surgeon, was keynote speaker the second day of the conference. He shared video footage of his team implanting a cranial plate, as well as the world’s first complete mandible (jaw) replacement. Both were custom-designed and 3D-printed in titanium. The full room of people were amazed by this work.

On the final day, Stephen Nigro of HP took center stage as keynote speaker. Nigro is senior vice president at HP and responsible for company’s printing business, which is valued at more than $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. On November 1, 2015, he becomes president of HP’s new 3D printing business. Similar to the previous two days, the room was completely packed, with people lining the walls and queued in the doorways. Nigro said the 2D printing business is $230 billion annually, but 3D printing has the potential to exceed it in size. I was flattered when he used Wohlers Associates’ data to illustrate his point. If 3D printing penetrates just 5% of the global manufacturing economy, it will surpass 2D printing by nearly three times.

The three-day conference concluded with an outstanding keynote by Jason Dunn of Made In Space. The company successfully designed, produced, and placed the first 3D printer on the International Space Station. The excellence of Dunn’s information, along with that of the other speakers and panelists, coupled with the number and quality of people in attendance, were, by far, the best in 17 years of running the conference. Thanks to everyone in attendance, and to the teams at DEMAT and SME, for their involvement. We look forward to Euromold 2016, again in Düsseldorf, which is a great place to spend a few days. Please add December 6–9, 2016 to your calendar. I look forward to seeing you there!

September 12, 2015

HP’s Stephen Nigro

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 11:38

Stephen Nigro is senior vice president of PPS Imaging and Printing at HP. He has worldwide responsibility for the company’s printing business, which includes HP InkJet, HP LaserJet, and HP Graphics. This business is roughly $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. One can easily conclude that Nigro is very important to HP.

Stephen Nigro

It was announced last week that Nigro will focus entirely on 3D printing on November 1, 2015. This news was first reported in an article by Fortune. In my opinion, this is very big news for the company and 3D printing industry. The announcement speaks volumes about the importance of HP Multi Jet Fusion technology and how the company believes it will develop in the future.

Dion Weisler, CEO of HP Inc. (beginning November 1), has stated more than once that the 3D printing industry has not solved the major problems of speed, quality, and cost. HP hopes to address these problems with Nigro’s help. He will continue to report to Weisler as the company expands into 3D printing. “Over the next 5-10 years, I think [3D printing] will be a really big core part of our business,” Weisler stated recently. Nigro will be a key to making it happen.

Update: After the above was originally published, Nigro was named president of HP 3D Printing.

July 18, 2015

AM in Aerospace

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:39

The world of additive manufacturing is experiencing an interesting time in the aerospace industry. The technology holds tremendous promise for the production of both polymer and metal parts. Many aerospace companies are currently qualifying AM processes and materials and certifying designs at an unprecedented pace. What’s more, we expect it to accelerate in the coming months and years. This rapid growth could result in a demand for AM products and services that outpaces the supply, especially for metal parts.

Airbus has said that it plans to 3D print 30 tons of metal parts monthly by 2018, which is less than 30 months away. Already, the company has flown 3D-printed metal on commercial aircraft, and has built many impressive and complex parts that reduce material and weight by 40-50%, and sometimes more. Meanwhile, GE Aviation is working toward the production of tens of thousands of metal parts annually for jet engines with the construction of a $50 million manufacturing facility in Auburn, Alabama.

3D-printed sheet metal parts, which flew on the A350

The demand for AM becomes especially interesting when considering all of the other aerospace companies. Among them are BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, General Dynamics, GKN Aerospace, and Honeywell Aerospace. Other companies include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance. Most of them have built infrastructures within their corporations to evaluate and implement AM.

The aerospace industry is a natural for the series production of parts by AM. The volumes are relatively low and the part complexity and value are high. With new designs that consolidate many parts into one, coupled with methods of reducing material and weight, AM becomes very compelling. Consequently, we can expect an exciting and thriving future for AM in the aerospace industry.

July 4, 2015

Cheap 3D Printers

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:28

Low-end, desktop 3D printers are becoming surprisingly inexpensive and they continue to decline in price. Some say that it’s a race to the bottom. At least three models are priced at under $400, with one—the QB-3D OneUp—selling for $199. The other two are the da Vinci Jr. from XYZprinting for $349 and the Play product from Printrbot for $399. All three are material extrusion “FDM clone” 3D printers.

We have not worked with any of the three, so we can’t say how easy they are to set up and use. And, we hesitate to comment on the quality of the parts they produce. We do know that you more or less get what you pay for. However, with the sub $2,000 3D printers, we see a lot of similarity in the quality of output, compared to the differences in the much higher-priced industrial-grade machines, which have an average selling price of $87,140. Some desktop 3D printers offer surprisingly good quality, considering the price.


Companies are buying many of these low-cost products for early design concepts. In the past, these same companies would spend 10-30 times more for a machine to produce basic concepts models. Put another way, they can purchase 10-30 machines for the same money they spent previously on one machine.

Indeed, the market has changed, and it’s causing many to rethink their modeling and prototyping strategy. At the low-end of the cost spectrum, companies, educational institutions, and hobbyists have an unprecedented number of options. We believe that more than 300 brands of under $5,000 3D printers are now available, with most of them priced at under $2,000. For a review of several 3D printers priced under $1,000, see this product review.

June 21, 2015

3D Printing in Australia

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:20

Last month, the Australian government announced the funding of a new program that could give 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) a boost in the country. On May 26, the Honorable Ian Macfarlane, Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science, announced the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Center (IMCRC). Much of the program is expected to center on AM and related methods and technologies. The focus on AM may have been partly inspired by America Makes, coupled with the investments and alliances associated with the U.S. initiative.

The IMCRC is a collaboration of 14 manufacturing companies, 16 universities, and CSIRO, which is Australia’s top federal agency for scientific research. Four industry bodies will help recruit more than 300 additional small and medium-sized enterprises to serve as “portal partners.” As part of the program launch, the Commonwealth is providing A$40 million (US$31 million). An additional A$210 million (US$163 million) is expected in cash and in-kind contributions from industry, research institutes, and state governments, bringing the total investment to A$250 million (US$194 million).

The announcement lingered for about nine months, so many people welcomed the long-awaited news. Senior consultant Tim Caffrey and I were in Australia when the announcement was made, with the IMCRC being the center of attention. We believe that it will indeed provide a much-needed lift to advanced manufacturing in the country, but as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” It will be interesting to observe how Australia sorts through the maze of challenges associated with coordinating so many people, organizations, and agendas. As with America Makes and other national efforts, the challenge and opportunity is to make a difference, and that’s easier said than done.

The day before the announcement, CSIRO officially launched its new and impressive Lab 22. Tim and I were present to participate in the festivities and meet many of the talented researchers and scientists at CSIRO. Lab 22 was established as center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types.

Lab 22’s Voxeljet VX1000 installation

Equipment in the new lab includes an Arcam A1 electron beam melting machine, a Concept Laser M2 laser-based machine, and a Voxeljet VX1000 machine for producing sand casting molds and cores. The lab was established as a center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types. CSIRO also has an Optomec LENS MR-7 directed energy deposition machine and a cold spray plasma additive process.

Australia is establishing a strong foundation in AM. The adoption of the technology in the private sector may not be as great as it is in some advanced countries, but the pieces are coming together for it to close the gap. The Melbourne area, alone, may well have the highest mix of metal AM systems in the world (in an area of this size), with nine direct metal AM systems. Among them are machines from Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, Optomec, SLM Solutions, and Trumpf. The Concept Laser Xline 1000R at Monash University, and two Trumpf TruLaser 7040 machines, one each at Monash and RMIT University’s Advance Manufacturing Precinct, are very large, both in size and investment.

June 6, 2015

Jobs from 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:47

Government officials have been asking how 3D printing will create jobs in their part of the world. The subject came up again last week in Melbourne, Australia when meeting with people at the state government of Victoria. We explained that some companies and businesses would not exist if it wasn’t for 3D printing. An example is Align Technology, makers of the Invisalign plastic aligners that replace metal brackets and wire to straighten teeth.

Invisalign manufacturing, courtesy of Align Technology

Align takes advantage of additive manufacturing to produce parts used to thermoform sets of custom plastic aligners. The company involves many additional processes, including CT scanning, special software, 5-axis CNC milling, robotics, polishing, and other methods of manufacturing and packaging. Seeing it in action is impressive. Much of it involves a great deal of sophisticated automation, which has dramatically reduced manual labor, but has also created many jobs. The company employs 3,580 people. Consider also all of the people needed to design, produce, sell, and service the machinery and systems that make everything tick at the company. And, consider the many dental professionals that are impacted by the Invisalign product.

As 3D printing penetrates production applications more deeply, it will involve many upstream and downstream processes. Among them: new methods of design and redesign, data management and IT, and cloud computing and web services. Also, it will involve thermal processes and machining operations, materials and material handling equipment, surface treatment and methods of coating, and inspection and process improvement. Consider all of people and jobs behind these machines and processes.

3D printing is what made it possible for Align Technology to create personalized plastic aligners. It is the enabling technology that will help launch many other new companies and businesses. Organizations of all types and sizes will put 3D printing to work to manufacture custom, limited edition, and even relatively high volumes of products, especially in the future. When viewing it from this perspective, it will create many jobs. A manager at GE put it best when he said, “Additive manufacturing won’t create thousands of new businesses; it will create tens of thousands.” And, behind them will be countless jobs.

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