March 29, 2014

Rebranding Manufacturing in America

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:59

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

For many, the word manufacturing conjures images of antiquated factories belching black smoke into our air and chemical-tainted liquids into our waterways. Buildings are cavernous and dangerous, filled with old, energy-guzzling machines. In these images, the workers are unmotivated and unhappy, performing repetitive, menial tasks for countless hours—for entire dead-end careers.

These images are inaccurate and out of date. Modern manufacturing is more likely to be energy efficient and environmentally responsible. Manufacturing companies are continuously improving and innovating to remain competitive and compliant with industrial regulations. And, manufacturing employees are typically well-educated, highly skilled individuals who take pride in their professions and perceive their work as important and virtuous.

Now consider the phrases German engineering and Swiss-made watches. Both elicit very different images than that of the antiquated American factory. We imagine rich traditions, meticulous and exacting craftsmanship, and superior products. We must examine why these perceptions contrast so much. Is this contrast accurate, or is it based on out-of-date beliefs?

Many beliefs are rooted in emotion, rather than reason or logic. Successful brands and marketing campaigns trigger an almost subconscious emotional response in the target audience by confirming—or even changing—what that group believes is good, appealing, valuable, and necessary.

The successful revival of the manufacturing industry in the U.S. must include a similar “rebranding” in the eyes of the public, politicians, and policy makers. Manufacturing is no longer a dirty word. Manufacturing is high-tech, it’s innovative, it’s a great career choice, and it’s the backbone of a thriving economy. And, highly advanced digitally driven processes, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, are helping to change the public’s view. Let’s work together to spread the word.

March 15, 2014

AM Material Pricing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 07:11

Most would agree that materials for additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as 3D printing, are expensive. As a rule of thumb, polymers for industrial AM systems are in the range of $100 to $300 per kg (2.2 lbs), although they can be lower or higher. This pricing is dramatically more than equivalent materials used for injection molding and other plastics processing, which are typically $2 to $4 per kg, depending on the type and quantity of plastic. It is our belief that AM material pricing will decline as competition heats up and AM patents continue to expire.

Two recent developments could drive prices downward. One is the October 2013 introduction of the Freeformer machine from Arburg, a large German manufacturer of injection molding machines. The 3D printer deposits droplets of thermoplastic using the same inexpensive plastic pellets used for injection molding. The second advance is the development of a large machine by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Incorporated. It can produce parts at a rate of 4.5 to 9 kg per hour—orders of magnitude faster than most AM systems. And, it also uses low-cost injection molding plastics in pellet form.

The expiration of key patents will also impact material prices. Foundation patents associated with FDM from Stratasys expired years ago, and this is what allowed the development and commercialization of countless low-cost 3D printers, many for less than $2,000. Materials for these machines are available for less than $20 per kg. As these machines improve, they will put pressure on the more expensive machines, especially for very basic design, concept modeling, and prototyping applications. Meanwhile, the final selective laser sintering patent at the University of Texas at Austin will expire at the end of May 2014. It is also a foundation patent, which is expected to create a flurry of activity around the development of low-cost laser sintering systems and materials.

Expensive AM materials are not a problem for companies that use machines for small quantities of parts. However, with production quantities, the pricing is not only a problem, it’s a “show stopper.” We believe the high AM material prices will largely be resolved through competitive pressures. However, it could become painful to the companies that have been enjoying the high margins on these materials, some for more than two decades.

March 2, 2014

Playing the Bass

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Life,Review — Terry Wohlers @ 06:51

I received the Hive bass guitar from Olaf Diegel, PhD of ODD Guitars in August 2013. The Hive is a striking design and is beautifully manufactured. And, in June 2012, I received the impressive Spider guitar from Olaf, which is one of his first creations. I was surprised to learn that he used SolidWorks for all of this guitar designs. To see all of them, including Olaf’s latest designs, Google “3D printed guitars” and click Images or go to 3D printing was used to produce the main body of these master pieces—one reason they are so special.

I began to take bass lessons a few months ago, with the goal of being able to play the instrument with other musicians. My crazy work and travel schedule have prevented me from keeping up with the lessons, coupled with weeks of little practice. I have not given up, however, and I continue to play and practice whenever I can. I look forward to getting my hands on the Hive bass and learning to play. It may take a year or longer, but I’m determined to master it.

A big thanks to Olaf for what could become a life-changing experience. Already, I’ve had a ton of fun with it, even if I never make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I do want to win a small bet I made with our son and our daughter’s boyfriend. The bet is to play with a band in front of an audience. It’s a darn good thing we didn’t tie a timeframe to the bet because I could be old and gray by the time it happens, although I’d like to prevent that from happening.

Editor’s note: Olaf Diegel is also an associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

February 13, 2014

Hands-on Experience with 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Review — Terry Wohlers @ 18:25

Note: The following was authored by Tyler Hudson, an intern at Wohlers Associates. His comments are related to the UP! 3D printer from Micro Delta Factory Corp.

Before starting at Wohlers Associates, I had no experience with 3D printers. I had heard about them and knew the general idea behind their operation, but I had an idealized vision of how they worked. I thought that you simply gave the printer your CAD model and it would print out perfect parts every time. I’m guessing that many others have a similar view of 3D printing.

In reality, a lot goes on behind the scenes when making a part. I discovered that the prep work before printing is the most important. Prior to building the first part on the machine, I ensured that the build platform was perfectly level. This is done by adjusting leveling screws located under the build platform.

To build a good part, I soon discovered that setting the extrusion nozzle height is not only important, it is critical. I found that if I did not do it correctly, it would lead to a failed part. If the nozzle is too high, the first layer of plastic will not fully stick to the platform and this and subsequent layers would curl upward. It is necessary to adjust the nozzle height before each build because the height of the platform can change from one build to the next.

Another key to successful prints is to properly orient the part. This affects how the support structures are attached, which in turn affects how easy or difficult it is to remove the supports after the build is complete. A part may have bulky support material when oriented one direction, but less support material when rotated 90 degrees.

The quality of the print can also vary depending on the type of object that is being printed. Parts with fine or complex geometric features are difficult to print on low-cost 3D printers. Therefore, I’ve learned to build simpler parts, which increase the chances of a successful build.

When I follow these basic “rules,” the experience has been favorable. I’m sure that as I continue to print parts, I will find more useful tricks that increase the percentage of quality builds.

January 17, 2014

Our Predictions for 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future,Legal — Terry Wohlers @ 09:11

We have created a long list of predictions related to additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. The following are six of them, which were first published by IndustryWeek in an article titled “Technology: What’s Next for 3-D Printing?”

A Wave of Investment: Interest among the investment community will continue through 2014. A new wave of investment will come from individuals, governments at all levels, and educational institutions. Some of the largest investments will be made by the private sector, including large corporations that are new to 3-D printing.

New IPOs: A number of privately owned 3-D printing companies will transform their growth and development through an initial public offering. Timing could not be better due to unprecedented interest in the technology and strengthened economic conditions.

More Talk, More Action: More conferences, workshops, seminars, and expositions will be launched in 2014—even more than in 2013, which set an all-time record.

3-D Printing on Trial: The legal professional will cash in on potential patent infringement related to 3-D printing. We will also see the first wave of litigation associated with legal liability. It will come about as 3-D-printed products are designed by nonprofessionals and their failures cause damage, injury, or worse.

The Hype Goes On: The hype will continue, but as the industry matures in the eyes of the general public, writers, editors, and readers will demand reporting that is based on fact and includes accurate detail on the real problems and challenges associated with the technology.

China Makes a Move: As patents expire, lower-cost laser sintering systems will develop. At least one Chinese manufacturer will test the waters by selling laser sintering products internationally.

January 5, 2014

Top 3D Printing Developments in 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:26

Note: The following was co-authored by senior consultant Tim Caffrey and principal consultant Terry Wohlers, both of Wohlers Associates.

Countless announcements and developments occurred last year. We have selected the following as being among the most interesting and significant in the context of additive manufacturing’s history.

GE Aviation’s Fuel Nozzle: The company announced that it would produce a fuel nozzle by additive manufacturing for its new generation LEAP engine. The new design consolidates 18 parts into one, is 25% lighter, and is five times more durable. The company will begin to manufacture in or around 2016 and will ramp up to about 35,000 nozzles annually.

February State of the Union Address: To the surprise of many, President Obama said, “Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio,” referring to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, also known as America Makes. He went on to say, “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

Stocks on Steroids: Suggesting that 3D printing-related stocks did well last year is an understatement. Arcam was up ~430% at the end of the year. ExOne was up ~130% and 3D Systems improved by ~160%. Stratasys rose by ~68% and Voxeljet was up ~35%, even though its IPO was in October. Adding them together and dividing by five results in an average gain of ~165% for the year.

Stratasys Buys MakerBot: The acquisition had an initial value of $403 million based on Stratasys’ closing stock price of $84.60 on June 19, 2013. MakerBot could also receive earn-out payments valued at up to $201 million, also based on the June 19, 2013 closing price. That’s up to $604 million for a company whose 3D printers are based almost entirely on Stratasys’ FDM material extrusion technology. MakerBot produced $15.7 million in revenue in 2012.

Made in Space: A plastic extrusion-based 3D printer has been certified to operate on the International Space Station. It is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS this year, thanks to NASA and the people at Made In Space.

Arburg Freeformer: This new 3D printer was unveiled at the K 2013 trade fair in October in Düsseldorf, and showcased at last month’s EuroMold 2013 in Frankfurt. Arburg, a large German maker of injection-molding machines, has been developing the technology for several years. The Freeformer accepts standard thermoplastic pellets used in injection molding. The material cost is about 25–100 times less than the materials used with other AM equipment.

December 20, 2013

3D Printing Metal Parts in Space

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:21

We launched an interesting project recently with NASA. The goal is to produce metal parts by additive manufacturing in space. Sound ambitious? A similar project with the same goal was recently launched by the European Space Agency. Our NASA contacts explained that it is a complimentary project rather than competitive.

The idea of 3D printing in space is not that outrageous. A filament-based 3D printer that produces plastic parts by material extrusion has been certified to operate on the International Space Station. It is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS next year. We can thank our friends at NASA and the people at Made In Space for making it happen. See the blog commentary titled Made In Space.

One could argue that metal is much more difficult than plastic due to the feedstock (usually powders), processing temperatures, and potential distortion due to these high temperatures. Most metal-based AM systems use the build material to anchor the part and its features to a build plate to reduce distortion. These anchors are later removed, but the effort can require a band saw, wire EDM, CNC milling, and hand work—machines and activities that are not an option on the ISS. Also, chips and scrap are not desirable in zero gravity.

Our job is to consider all options and recommend approaches that have the best chance of success. We are considering ideas from a range of sources, and if you have an idea, I would like to hear it. Just shoot an email to me at or go to our new 3D Printing in Space LinkedIn Group and share your thoughts. I would appreciate it very much.

Happy holidays to you over the next couple weeks. I hope you can enjoy some quality time away from work. Cheers!

November 25, 2013

3D Print Shops

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:12

Note: The following was co-authored by senior consultant Tim Caffrey and principal consultant Terry Wohlers, both of Wohlers Associates.

From London and Paris to Dayton and Denver, a number of independent brick-and-mortar 3D print shops have opened, offering customers a local resource for 3D printing. These retailers typically offer print-on-demand services using material-extrusion 3D printers. Many also sell 3D printers, offer 3D scanning services, and provide training and demonstrations of the technology for potential customers. For example, the 3D Printing Store in Denver, Colorado operates three MakerBot Replicator 2 machines and one Stratasys uPrint and sells premade and custom 3D items. It also provides the chance for more advanced customers to schedule time on machines for time-consuming projects.

The new Bmore3D is the first retail store in the mid-Atlantic region focused on 3D printing and 3D scanning. Customers can shop a curated gallery of rings, earrings, necklaces, vases, and a range of Baltimore-themed pieces. The store also includes ShapeShot, a fully automated 3D photo booth developed by Direct Dimensions. Customers can order 3D-printed busts, bobbleheads, jewelry, and ceramic coffee mugs that include a scale model of their face. Babies, pets, and entire families are candidates to be scanned and 3D printed.

The business model of using 3D printing (also referred to as additive manufacturing) to build parts for customers is not new. AM service providers, also known as service bureaus, have been around nearly as long the AM industry itself. However, design and manufacturing companies are the typical customers of these industrial-oriented companies. Using high-end professional-grade equipment, they build parts for companies in automotive, consumer products, medical, and many other industries. Contrast this with the new 3D print shops, which are targeting a new type of customer that is much less familiar with the technology.

One has to wonder whether sufficient demand—and 3D content—will develop for these new companies. Long-term success for these independent brick-and-mortar 3D print shops could prove to be a challenge. Meanwhile, corporate heavyweights Staples and UPS have launched trials for local 3D printing services in a select group of stores. It will be interesting to see how this market develops and evolves over the next couple years.

November 10, 2013

15th AM Event

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Event — Terry Wohlers @ 07:21

This year marks our 15th annual conference at EuroMold—an event dedicated to the future of additive manufacturing. The November 5th, 2013 conference is titled Business and Investment Opportunities in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing. It features carefully selected speakers from Belgium, China, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA. I can say without reservation that each speaker brings unique insight and perspective to the event.

Dr. Olaf Diegel, CEO of ODD Guitars in New Zealand, is our keynote speaker. Diegel offers a unique blend of product development and business experience. Over the past 10 years, he has developed more than 60 commercial products for theater lighting, security, marine, and home health monitoring. Most recently, he has designed a family of extraordinary guitars that are made by additive manufacturing and other processes.

Many would agree that EuroMold is the largest and most important exposition that includes AM and 3D printing. And, our conference has grown to become an important part of it. Please review the conference program and plan to attend. I’m sure you will be glad you did.

I hope to see you in Frankfurt, Germany in early December.

October 27, 2013

Crowdfunding Loves 3D Printing

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 05:54

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

3D printer startup companies have enjoyed remarkable success with crowdfunding. No fewer than 40 different campaigns are in progress or have been completed, involving Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding platforms. In fact, five of the top 15 technology funding campaigns on Kickstarter are for 3D printers.

Pledges range from about $5,000 up to nearly $3 million—the amount Formlabs raised on Kickstarter for its Form 1 printer. For most of these projects, the total amounts pledged far exceed the fundraising goals. Formlabs’ goal in its October 2012 campaign was $100,000, yet individuals pledged almost 30 times that amount.

The vast majority of personal 3D printers ($5,000 or less) are material extrusion systems, although two recent projects are for new vat photopolymerization systems. The Peachy printer is a small system with a target list price of $100. Inventor Rylan Grayston set a goal of $50,000 and raised $651,091 on Kickstarter. The fund-raising campaign for LumiFold, a foldable, portable vat photopolymerization printer, has raised 10 times its goal of $1,500. Other 3D printer projects currently raising funds include Aleph Objects’ LulzBot TAZ, Hyrel 3D, and QU-BD.

The interest and level of commitment from the crowdfunding community underscores the popularity and excitement around 3D printing. And, even though a percentage of these startups may fail, we see how two relatively new phenomena—crowdfunding and low-cost 3D printing—are working in tandem to “democratize” product development and manufacturing.

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