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30 Years Later

December 4, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 11:02

It does not seem possible, but it’s true: Wohlers Associates has been in business for three decades. I started the company in November 1986 after working at Colorado State University for five years. I was young at the time—not even 30—but it “felt” like the right thing to do. I was inspired by Dr. Joel Orr, a brilliant individual and extremely successful consultant, author, and speaker. I told myself that if I could do even a small fraction of what he does, it would be incredibly interesting and challenging. I don’t know that I’ve even “scratched the surface,” compared to what Joel has achieved, but it has been enormously gratifying, and I’ve been lucky to work with great people and organizations over the years.

The original focus of Wohlers Associates was on CAD tools and their application. I was presented with the opportunity of being the instructor of the first semester credit course on CAD at CSU in 1983. CAD experience and know-how were hard to find back then, so I was approached by three publishers to write a textbook. I accepted the offer from McGraw-Hill in 1985. The work experience and textbook provided a foundation for offering CAD instruction and consulting to local companies, such as HP, Kodak, Waterpik, and Woodward. I also accepted writing assignments from technical journals, which did not pay a lot, but they helped to introduce our startup company to the world. I learned from Joel that if you want to meet people with similar interests, speak at industry events, so I began to participate in technical conference programs.

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Less than a year after starting the company, I came across a short but interesting article in a newsletter published by Joel. It was about a start-up company named 3D Systems, and it discussed a new process called stereolithography. I was fascinated by the concept and envisioned how powerful it could become in combination with CAD solid modeling tools, which were rolling out at around that time. Aries Concept Station was the first to support stereolithography. Dave Albert, a person that Joel and I know, was commissioned to create the CAD interface and file format for 3D Systems. It was called “STL” and it’s still being used extensively today. I don’t know whether Joel knows it, but I credit him for introducing me to additive manufacturing and 3D printing, a class of technology in which our company has spent most of its energy. I’m excited to go to work every day because of the almost endless opportunities that this technology presents.

I have many stories from the journey that began 30 years ago, but I will save most of them for another time. I do want to say that without my wife, Diane, the company would not exist. She has provided mountains of loving support and encouragement over the years. Also, she has graciously tolerated my crazy travel and work schedule. Without her, our accounting system would be a mess. I also give my sincerest gratitude to Joel Orr. Without his inspiration and encouragement, it’s safe to say that Wohlers Associates would not have been launched. Thanks also to countless others around the world for contributing and supporting our company over the past 30 years.

3D Veterans Bootcamp

September 12, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,life — Terry Wohlers @ 08:43

An interesting program for U.S. veterans concluded on Friday of last week in San Antonio, Texas. A start-up organization, named 3D Veterans, was formed to train veterans in CAD and 3D printing for high-tech American jobs. The first six-week “bootcamp” involved 13 enthusiastic veterans out of 70 applicants. I was lucky enough to witness them in action on Wednesday as they were wrapping up several intriguing final class projects—the culmination of expert instruction and hands-on learning. The projects were aimed at designing and 3D printing devices that would help less fortunate fellow veterans. I was moved by this giving of time, creativity, and energy to other veterans.

The 3D Veterans organization was founded by Michael Moncada and David Schnepp, with subsequent involvement from Andy Miller, Wayne Dudding, and others. I first met Moncada, a veteran himself, at Inside 3D Printing in New York City in April, and what he told me about the program got my attention. Among the current partners and sponsors are America Makes, Autodesk, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Google.org, Google’s chartable arm, is the primary sponsor. The veterans completed the program with new skills in using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software, which was used for most of the design work.

3dveterans

I was with the staff and student veterans for about 2.5 hours. I especially wanted to meet the veterans and see their work, and I was lucky enough to get fairly in-depth explanations from six of them. Len, 59, designed a knee brace that he hopes will be more effective and fit more comfortably under a pair of slacks. The available 3D printers and materials did not allow him to complete and test his design, but I like the path he has taken, coupled with his passion. One of his comments to me said it all. “This is the most exciting time of my life,” referring to the class, the knowledge and skills he has gained, and where all of it could take him in the future. Wow!

Another student veteran, Deborah, designed a brace for those with carpal tunnel syndrome. She said the ones on the market work with mixed results. She went on to say, “The course has been challenging and exciting and something I needed.” Other projects involved 1) the use of a transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation device to treat pain, 2) an exoskeleton device for therapy of finger and hand movement, 3) a device to hold a straw in place in a drinking cup or glass, and 4) a versatile cup holder that can be mounted just about anywhere, including onto wheel chairs.

I like this program a lot. Credit goes to Moncada, his colleagues, and the program’s supporters. Gratitude also goes to the participating veterans for enrolling in the program and giving back to fellow veterans. It was a privilege to see, up close, the veterans at work. Plans are underway to expand it into other locations across the U.S. in coming months. If you are interested in supporting this outstanding program or hiring one of the 13 veterans, contact Michael Moncada at michael@3dveterans.com.

RØDE Microphones

August 15, 2016

Two of our consultants and I have had the privilege of visiting RØDE Microphones of Sydney, Australia. RØDE is a manufacturer of world-class microphone products for studio recording, performances, video broadcasts, and live interviews. It also manufactures microphones for presenters (lavalier and button mics) and smart phones. Over the past nearly two years, we have worked with RØDE and learned a great deal about the company and its products. Peter Freedman, managing director and chief executive, has given permission to disclose and discuss our relationship publicly.

RØDE hires some of the best people in Australia and other parts of the world. The company has offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Most of the Australian employees we’ve met are young, bright, and energetic. Freedman is the driver of new products, is constantly pushing the limits, and is the heart and soul of the company. RØDE is running $30 million in precision equipment, including a considerable number of new machines that were installed since we’ve started working together. Freedman seeks to be among the best of the best in the design and manufacturing of microphones. And, it shows by the company’s strong growth in recent years.

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I feel lucky to be able to work with great companies such as RØDE and people like Freedman and his team. He always has a can-do attitude and is constantly looking for new and better ways for product development and manufacturing. Over our 29 years in business, I have worked with a few people and organizations that find reasons why you cannot do something and serve as obstacles to progress. Fortunately, most of the people that we’ve encountered have the right spirit and outlook. Engineering consultant, futurist, and friend Joel Orr once said, “Success breeds success.” I could not agree more, and RØDE is a company that is producing a lot of it.

SME’s RAPID 2016

May 21, 2016

I attended this week’s RAPID 2016 in Orlando, Florida. As usual, the conference and exposition were excellent. An estimated 5,190 attended the event, compared to 4,512 last year. Exhibit space increased to 4,153 sq meters (44,700 sq ft), up from 2,903 sq meters (31,250 sq ft) last year. The following are a few highlights of the event:

● HP introduced and showed its Jet Fusion 3200 and 4200 3D printers for the first time publicly. The machines are capable of addressing 340 million voxels per second in thermoplastic materials, such as PA12. They are 10 times faster and operate at half the cost of competitive systems, according to HP. The systems are mostly open, which means they support third-party materials at competitive prices.

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● Renishaw showed its new RenAM 500M machine that produces metal parts. The engineering is impressive. Meanwhile, 3D Systems displayed its new ProX DMP 320 machine for producing metal parts. It is based on technology developed by Belgium-based LayerWise, which was acquired by 3D Systems in 2014.

● Xjet of Israel introduced its NanoParticle Jetting technology. It uses inkjet printing to produce parts in stainless steel and silver. The parts are small, but the feature detail is good.

● Event organizer SME hosted a fashion show that featured entirely new 3D-printed designs. Many were impressive. I have now attended five fashion shows that highlight 3D-printed products and it’s remarkable how far the designs have advanced in a few years.

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Congrats to SME for another great event, which continues to improve year after year. With increasing applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing for final part production, the event has the opportunity to grow much larger in the future.

RAPID 2017 will be held May 8-11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Add it to your calendar and plan to attend.

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.

thingmaker

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.

NextEngine 3D Scanner

February 13, 2016

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:59

When NextEngine introduced its first 3D scanner at SolidWorks World 2006, it got my attention. The product is based on the company’s patented MultiStripe Laser Triangulation (MLT) technology. At the time, it was the lowest priced scanner of its kind. If my memory serves me correctly, the price of the new Ultra HD version is the same as it was back then (base price of $2,995), yet the scan quality is now far better.

The small Ultra HD unit is capable of 268,000 points per 6.5 sq cm (1 sq inch), which is very good for such a low-cost product. NextEngine publishes an accuracy of +/- 0.125 mm (0.005 inch), although it is capable of +/- 0.025 mm (0.001 inch) accuracy under optimal conditions, according to Dan Gustafson, director of marketing at the Santa Monica, California company. When running the scanner in “Optional Extended Range Mode,” which covers a scan envelope of 55.9 x 41.9 x 27.9 cm (22 x 16.5 x 11 inches), accuracy is +/- 1.14 mm (0.045 inch).

An interesting tool for comparing low-cost 3D scanning options is located here. Click each of the models near the bottom of the window and play around with them. When selecting one, it splits the window into quadrants, as shown in the following example, with each representing a different scanning solution. Click and drag the circle at the center to increase or decrease the size of the quadrants. Click the small circles near the bottom to create different views of the 3D model.

nextengine

The functionality built into the NextEngine website is one of the best and most effective I’ve seen for comparing products. My only suggestion would be to include at least one product that is priced similarly or higher than the Ultra HD scanner. Other than that, the people at NextEngine have nailed it. Congratulations to NextEngine for 10 years of commercializing low-cost 3D scanning products based on MLT technology.

Last Week’s Euromold 2015

September 27, 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.

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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.

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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!

Not for Everyone

March 30, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 10:22

Contrary to what some would like you to believe, owning and operating a 3D printer is not for most consumers. It may be easy to buy one, but it’s definitely not easy to create the 3D model data needed to produce a unique design. Also, getting a satisfactory result from a 3D printer is not fast or straightforward.

I’ve owned a pair of downhill (alpine) ski poles that I cannot easily replace. They have molded grips that the ski industry stopped producing more than 10 years ago. I like the poles, but the plastic parts near the tips (called baskets, as shown in the following) are ripping apart. So, I decided: Why not replace them using our 3D printer?

b1

Student intern Tyler Hudson, who graduates in May 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering, learned SolidWorks some time ago, so he produced a solid model of the basket design. Learning to use SolidWorks or another professional-grade CAD solid modeling product is not trivial. Tyler did an excellent job with the basket design, but my guess is that 99% of average consumers would quickly become frustrated with the effort. And, this assumes that they have access to good CAD software.

Tyler printed the first version of the basket in ABS plastic using our UP! 3D printer. It turned out well (see the following image), but the plastic was much too rigid for this application. The basket design snap fits into place, so it requires a flexible or semi-flexible material. We knew about the NinjaFlex materials and contacted the company, which was kind enough to spend us two spools of 1.75-mm diameter filament. The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) NijaFlex material is very strong and tough, with high tear resistance. We later discovered that our 3D printer does not support the higher temperature requirements of this material, so running it on the machine was not an option.

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Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has an Idea-2-Product lab with several 3D printers, so we contacted the lab to see if it could run TPE material in one of its machines. We learned that it had a LulzBot printer from Aleph Objects that was already running black NijaFlex material. Tyler visited the lab and spent hours getting it to build properly, partly due to his unfamiliarity with the material and its slow build speed. Eventually, he was successful, and he delivered the new baskets to me the evening before our ski weekend. The baskets turned out well and they performed as expected on Saturday and Sunday at Copper Mountain.

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Most consumers would not have been able to produce these relatively simple parts. Creating the data would have been the first obstacle, and then having the right 3D printer and material would have also presented challenges. What’s more, the cost in time would have easily exceeded the cost of buying new poles or buying used ones (with the preferred grips) online. We went into this fairly small and simple project hoping that it wouldn’t require a great deal of time and effort, but also understanding that it could. It turned into a time-consuming effort that spanned more than a week, required a lot of skill and experience, and access to a special 3D printer and material.

Autodesk Tools for 3D Printing

October 26, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 09:47

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

In May 2014, Autodesk acquired the UK’s Within Technologies for $88 million. The acquisition escaped the attention of the media because Autodesk did not announce it. We became aware of the transaction through a conversation with Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s chief technology officer. He said that it is not a secret, and the company will probably announce something when it has more detail to share.

Within Technologies is a London-based software company that developed the Enhance software. Enhance is used to reduce part weight and optimize part design by converting a solid part into skins and internal lattice structures. The software allows users to specify loading requirements, and then it automatically optimizes the topology and unit size of the lattice members. It is also capable of varying the size and density of the lattice and skins.

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Optimized spinal implants, courtesy of Within Technologies

Two weeks before acquiring Within, Autodesk acquired the Nastran solver from NEi Software. Nastran is a proven finite element analysis product for analyzing linear and nonlinear stress, dynamics, and heat transfer characteristics. Autodesk has since added two new products—Nastran and Nastran In-CAD—to its simulation software portfolio.

These developments are a positive sign for the additive manufacturing industry. When and if Autodesk integrates the capabilities of Within Enhance into Inventor, Fusion 360, or another software product, AM designers will have new, powerful tools for designing and analyzing models created for additive processes. Currently, good design tools for AM are lacking, so we believe that these powerful capabilities will help accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing.

Carl’s Workshop

October 12, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,machining — Terry Wohlers @ 16:09

When I first contacted Autodesk in 1983, the vice president of market and sales answered the phone. I doubt the company had more than a couple dozen employees at the time. It was founded just a year earlier. Fast forward to October 2014. Autodesk now employs 10,000 people, generated $2.3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and has a market cap of $12.2 billion. Not bad for a company that started with software for computer-aided drafting.

I had the privilege of spending 1.5 hours, one-on-one, with Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO, last Thursday. He is not your prototypical corporate chief executive. Carl dresses casually, is down to earth, and gives his full attention to you. Not once did he check his phone or seem preoccupied, even though he was going to greet and present to U.S. Navy admirals directly after my departure.

We were less than two minutes into our meeting at the impressive Autodesk Gallery when Carl asked if I wanted to see the company’s Pier 9 Workshop. Gonzalo Martinez of Autodesk had told me about the facility around the time it was being launched, so it has been on my “must see” list since then. Getting to visit it was a treat, but having Carl serve as my personal guide made it even more special.

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Entrance to Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop, courtesy of Metropolis and Ryan Hughes

I was surprised by the size and amount of equipment at the facility. The place is filled with large and advanced CNC machinery, and nearly everything you’d need to manufacture a product in metal, wood, or plastic. The number of high-end 3D printers, alone, was unexpected. See this video and these images to get a look inside. The 120 mostly young and energetic employees at the site made the place buzz with activity. The workshop includes some of Autodesk’s own photopolymer-based 3D printers, which are being developed as a part of the Spark 3D printing effort. The resolution and detail that is possible with the small machine is impressive.

When leaving the Autodesk buildings, I bumped into some business acquaintances on the street and they reminded me that Carl himself uses a lot of the workshop equipment. He knows how to program the CNC machines and run the 3D printers. In fact, he has been running a 3D printer at his home for many years. I asked Carl if he knew how to operate his company’s software products, such as Inventor and 3ds Max, and he replied with a firm Yes. With so much going on and so many people wanting his attention, I don’t know where he finds the time. If I worked for a company, such as Autodesk, I’d want to be close to the Pier 9 Workshop, and have Carl as my boss.

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