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The Wonder of Flight

July 15, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,entertainment,event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 08:07

Note: The following was authored by Joseph Kowen, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

I have always loved to fly. As far back as I can remember, I was always looking upward at the first sound of a plane. I can still feel the excitement of a trip to the airport as a child. I grew up in the southern tip of Africa when air travel was not very popular, so an airport visit might result in seeing only two or three planes. The Concorde came to visit one year, and my cousin was allowed off school to see it. I was not so lucky and had to make do with viewing the pictures he took.

Last month, I visited the Paris Air Show for the first time, a dream come true for an aviation aficionado. The show is a biennial celebration of all things aerospace. It’s a big deal—and big business. Orders valued at $150 billion were announced at the event.

The event is a showcase for new aircraft. It is also an opportunity for more than 2,000 exhibitors to display products and services used to build these complex machines. One of the main reasons for my attendance was to observe how additive manufacturing is advancing in the aerospace industry. AM is indeed playing an increasingly important role in aircraft design and manufacturing. Many AM systems and service providers demonstrated how complex shapes and geometric features can be built additively. Also, they showed how these parts can be made much lighter without sacrificing strength. In the aviation industry, every bit of weight reduction translates into cost savings.

After my professional duties were out of the way, the real excitement was seeing the aircraft on display. The Airbus A380 showed remarkable agility for a craft of its size. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Dassault Rafale performed breathtaking feats in the air.

I have always felt that flying was the ultimate mastery of science over the forces of nature. I never fail to marvel at the ease with which tons of equipment lift off the ground. Having spent a few days soaking up the latest that aerospace has to offer, I am more in awe of the ingenuity of the engineers that have made flight seem so effortless.

When leaving for home, I again luxuriated in the wonder of flight, as I have done since first stepping onto a plane. I suppose I’ll always feel the excitement of flight every time the wheels lift off the runway. It’s not something I will ever take for granted.

Importance of Design for AM

July 1, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:35

Note: The following was authored by Olaf Diegel, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Lasertech, a metal additive manufacturing (AM) company in northern Sweden, asked me to design something that showcased metal AM, so I chose a small still. The company wanted to use it as a special gift for executives. I designed the barrels of the still to measure 117 x 58 mm (4.6 x 2.3 inches).

One of the largest obstacles to broad adoption of metal AM is the significant amount of post-processing that is required. Premium AEROTEC, Daimler, and EOS agree that about 70% of the cost of metal AM is related to pre- and post-processing. For metal parts, support structures are used to anchor them to the build plate when printed. These structures are used to transfer heat to the build plate and prevent features of the parts from warping and distorting.

After the build process, the support structures must be removed—a process that often requires labor, skill, tools, and equipment. After removal, the surfaces of the parts require smoothing, such as hand filing and/or milling. I treated the small still as a design challenge, with the goal of using little or no support structures, other than what is required to attach the still to the build plate.

In general, it is important to avoid overhanging features with a surface area of more than a few square millimeters. Also, it is helpful to avoid features that are produced at angles greater than 45 degrees from vertical because they will require support material. The exact angle can vary depending on the material being used. For this project, I chose aluminum and made certain that features did not exceed a 45-degree angle.

The design resulted in no support structures whatsoever. The still was cut off the build plate and shot-peened and then was ready for use. The design shows that it is possible to reduce or entirely eliminate the need for these structures. It can dramatically reduce the time and cost in producing metal parts by AM.

Click here to see a series of nine images related to this project.

DfAM at Materialise

June 4, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 13:27

What does a major German car manufacturer, surgeon from Brazil, producer of food-making equipment, and large toy maker have in common? All are interested in methods of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). Twenty-five people from five continents came together last week to explore, discuss, and learn how to design products for AM. Also represented were manufacturers of pumps, audio systems for cars, data projection systems, packaging equipment, heavy industrial products, and large vacuum systems. Key service providers from South Africa and China also participated.

The advanced, three-day course from Wohlers Associates took a deep dive into methods of DfAM, including the consolidation of many parts into one to reduce tooling, manufacturing, and inventory costs. The training, held in Leuven, Belgium, provided guidance on design optimization for reducing the use of material and making parts as light as possible. The participants used their own CAD software, along with Inspire from solidThinking for topology optimization and Magics Structures from Materialise for lattices and meshes.

Materialise hosted the event and provided five DfAM experts in a 75-minute panel session. The company also gave an outstanding 90-minute tour of its impressive facilities. It was helpful to those in attendance to see the wide range of machines, parts, and new businesses at Materialise. One example is the production of Yuniku 3D scanning systems for custom eyewear. The prescription eyeglasses are designed so that the optics are located in the optimal location relative to the eyes. They come with beautifully-designed frames that are produced by AM at Materialise.

We are thrilled with the participant feedback and glad the training went so well. Even so, we plan to make a number of adjustments prior to offering it again. A big thank you goes to those who attended from around the world and to the fine people at Materialise for contributing to its success. We could not have partnered with a better company.

Next Generation AM

May 20, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 15:31

I visited Premium AEROTEC this week in Varel, Germany. The company employs more than 8,000 people and is 100% owned by Airbus. The Varel site produces large aluminum, titanium, and carbon-fiber composite parts and assemblies for the Airbus A330neo, A350, A380, A400M, Eurofighter, and other aircraft. The company is also doing very impressive work in the production of metal additive manufactured parts for Airbus.

Last month, Premium AEROTEC, Daimler, and EOS announced the Next Generation AM project. It is focused on large-scale series production applications in aerospace and automotive, with an emphasis on reducing costs through automation. One of the biggest opportunities is to reduce cost in the post-processing and finishing of metal AM parts. It is believed that about 70% of the costs of metal AM parts are tied to the steps that occur before and after building them on AM machines. The Next Generation AM project is also centered on needs associated with aluminum AM parts.

On Tuesday, Premium AEROTEC hosted about 150 people in an elaborate launch of the Next Generation AM project. I was lucky enough to be a part of it, as well as the launch of the company’s first metal AM production facility in Varel one year ago. It was a privilege to witness, first hand, the excitement surrounding these two very important events. We will one day look back at them to better appreciate the role they played in the evolution of AM in the aerospace and automotive industries.

25 Years of RAPID

May 6, 2017

Next week is RAPID+TCT 2017, North America’s largest conference and exposition on additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing. It also includes CAD, 3D scanning, and other design and manufacturing products and services. The event marks the 25th year for me to attend the event. Although I don’t have hard proof, I’m reasonably certain I stand alone in that category, for what it’s worth. SME, the organization that launched the event in May 1993, has generously invited me to speak at RAPID for 25 consecutive years.

RAPID has been the go-to event in this region of the world for all things 3D printing. The multi-day, multi-track conference has always been the strength of the event and a big reason why people attend. With more than 330 exhibitors from around the world, the exposition is now a very serious part of it. UK-based Rapid News Communications Group, with its strong TCT brand, has partnered with SME for the first time. RAPID+TCT has the potential to grow significantly as organizations around the world expand their use of AM.

As usual, I’m looking forward to next week. I like to attend the conference sessions and see new products and services in the exposition. Meeting people, however, is a major reason why many choose to attend. Business is conducted, ideas are explored, and new friendships are forged. The people in attendance have been a big part of why I like to participate year after year. If you’re going to be in Pittsburgh next week to attend RAPID+TCT, I look forward to seeing you there!

How to Design for Additive Manufacturing

April 22, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:40

It is critical for organizations to take a number of factors into account when considering the use of 3D printing for part manufacturing. Among the most important is design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). It can make the difference between success and failure. DfAM focuses on methods and special software that are unique to AM processes, such as the digital consolidation of many parts into one. This can result in significant savings in manufacturing processes, part numbers, material, weight, assembly, labor, inventory, and certification paperwork.

Wohlers Associates is partnering with Materialise to offer a three-day course on DfAM. Materialise is an industry-leading provider of 3D printing software and services. The course is May 31 – June 2, 2017 at the Materialise headquarters location in Leuven, Belgium. Wohlers Associates has twice offered a similar course on DfAM for NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, which received high marks for its effectiveness.

The upcoming course will provide expert instruction on methods of DfAM. It will include topology optimization, a technique of letting mathematics decide where to place material to optimize the strength-to-weight ratio. It can result in organic and “bionic” structures that reduce material and weight by up to 60%, while preserving strength. The following example is a hydraulic manifold for an Airbus A380 spoiler, a wing device that slows or causes an airplane to descend. The version on the left is a conventionally-machined manifold. The one on the right was redesigned using methods of DfAM and produced by AM. It flew on the A380 in March 2017. The AM version reduced weight by 55%—a significant benefit in aircraft manufacturing.

Participants will gain valuable hands-on experience by designing parts using CAD and special software tools for additive manufacturing. Some of the designs will be built on industrial AM equipment at Materialise so that attendees can evaluate the results. 3D scanning for custom product development will be included as an exercise that was popular among NASA engineers.

Associate consultant Olaf Diegel, PhD, will serve as the lead instructor. His rare combination of experience with both conventional design and manufacturing and DfAM makes him one of very few people capable of leading quality DfAM instruction and hands-on learning. Olaf has created more than 80 commercial products and is an engaging instructor, making him ideal for the course. The people at NASA had nothing but great things to say about him.

Click here for details on the course.

22nd Annual Wohlers Report

April 8, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:08

I’m happy to announce this week’s publication of Wohlers Report 2017. I sure wish that after so many years, it would become easier. It does not, mostly because of all the change and new developments in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. The annual effort is still very much related to the technology, but over time, it becomes as much or more about people. Our international network of friends, associates, and business contacts is what makes the report possible. We believe it is the largest and most developed network of its kind.

Our team is responsible for producing what I believe is the best edition of the report in more than two decades of publishing it. Associate consultants and principal authors Ian Campbell, Olaf Diegel, and Joseph Kowen carried much of the weight. With already very demanding schedules, each of them knew what needed to be done and delivered. In my view, they exceeded the standard of quality that customers and readers of the report have come to expect. They are real pros and it is a privilege to work with each of them.

Associate authors Dave Bourell and Ismail Fidan also played key roles. Year after year, they have contributed in ways that may not be fully appreciated by some. Both stepped up their involvement this year and I could not be happier with their efforts. Jenny van Rensburg, most recently at Central University of Technology, with continued involvement in the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa, served as editor and proof reader. Thank you, Jenny, for all of the hard work.

I’m also very appreciative of executive assistant Julie Whitney for handling the details associated with the orders we receive, not to mention almost everything else in the office. Also, I want to thank my wife, Diane, for handling the accounting, and for tolerating me during a challenging time. Without them, the business would not be what it is today. A special thanks to Craig Van Wechel for his outstanding graphics design work year after year, including the cover pictured above, and to Jason Norris for his contribution to our web pages. Thanks to Dan Silva, our IT guy, for his expert support.

And finally, my sincere thanks to the 76 co-authors and contributors in 31 countries that wrote important sections of the report. I appreciate everyone that played a part in producing and delivering Wohlers Report 2017. In just four days of sales, it has been sent to customers in 24 countries on four continents around the world.

3D Printing’s Place in History

February 12, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 06:39

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in or around 1440. Since then, humans have experienced many life-changing technical advances such as electricity, medicine, radio, and the telephone. Henry Ford was credited with popularizing the automobile in the early 1900s. Later came air travel and the semiconductor, which led to computers, robotics, and the Internet.

A subject that I have pondered for some time is whether 3D printing will be viewed as a major technical advancement, similar to these other developments. We may not know for decades into the future, but many agree that it’s certainly headed in that direction.

Forecasting the Future

January 28, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 16:14

Looking ahead is tricky business. Many try, but most can’t do it well. Predicting what might occur in a year from now is one thing, but looking further out, such as years or longer, is difficult. Megatrends author John Naisbitt said, “The most reliable way to forecast the future is to understand the present.” That’s where we put the majority of our energy. We feel that if a company truly understands where things are today, they have a chance at creating a view of the future.

graph

With history and data points, one can extend trend lines to gain a sense for where something is headed. We have collected and analyzed hard data for more than 20 years for the Wohlers Report, and place a lot of weight on extending trend lines. This, alone, is not enough. We also need to do our best at understanding the present state of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. We adjust our views of the future based on a number of factors, including new developments such as GE’s recent investment of about $1.4 billion in additive manufacturing.

The bottom line: do not make business decisions based entirely on forecasts. Factor in views and opinions from people with a lot of experience and history in the subject of interest. It is easy for someone to make a forecast, even the inexperienced, but it’s incredibly difficult to do it accurately. Most people that read these forecasts do not look back to see if they were accurate, which is a mistake.

3D Systems – Healthcare

December 16, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 17:21

I visited 3D Systems’ new healthcare facility in Denver, Colorado for the first time on Monday. The company invited a number of people from the media and investment community to see the facility and get an update on the company’s strategy. Vyomesh “VJ” Joshi, the relatively new CEO at 3D Systems, led much of the discussion, along with other senior managers. We toured the facility and got our hands on some of the medical simulation tools for endoscopic surgery, colonoscopies, and other procedures. The facility employs about 140 people, many of whom process data from medical scanners, such as CT and MRI, and prepare it for 3D printing.

VJ said the company’s new strategy is to focus on vertical markets, such as healthcare, aerospace, automotive, and others. The Denver healthcare site is, by far, the most developed of the verticals and serves as a great example. Andy Christensen, former owner and president of Medical Modeling, deserves much of the credit. 3D Systems acquired the company in April 2014. Andy and his management team were very much a part of the design of the new facility, which opened in March 2016. Christensen was employed by 3D Systems until March 2015 when he left the company. 3D Systems’ management said that it has planned 75,000 surgical cases, although most of them were done by Medical Modeling before it was acquired.

hearts

In my view, the healthcare facility is the “crown jewel” of the company’s verticals. Christensen knew what he was doing when growing Medical Modeling from 2000 to 2014. Likewise, I believe VJ knows what he’s doing in building on this success and using it as an example for other vertical markets. The focus is on specific application solutions for industrial sectors, rather than on the company’s products and services. This shift in focus, coupled with other adjustments VJ is making, is refreshing. He explained that if some of the 50 or so companies and businesses acquired from August 2009 to April 2015 fall by the wayside, that’s okay. The company “may” sell one or more of them, but that’s not the emphasis at this time.

3D Systems is beginning to “feel” like a different company, even though VJ arrived only about eight months ago. Given what he did in his 32 years at HP, I’m optimistic that he will get the company on track. He is an engineer and strong manager and has the respect of former colleagues. His focus on verticals is a good move, and its healthcare business is a great example of how the company could develop in other markets.

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