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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.

Metals at formnext

November 20, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 16:03

I attended last week’s formnext, powered by TCT, in Frankfurt, Germany. The four-day event, involving an international exhibition and conference, was outstanding, especially given that it was the second year. Most major companies in additive manufacturing and 3D printing were present, and many had very large and impressive exhibits. One could easily make the case that it was the most elaborate and striking display of AM products and services ever.

As with most events, the people in attendance were as important as anything else. Organizations around the world sent their best and most informed employees. This is especially important for visitors wanting to schedule meetings and have discussions about AM and where it is headed. If the schedules of others were anything like mine—and I’m sure many were—they had little spare time through the week because of all that formnext had to offer.

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If the event had a theme, it was metal AM. Additive Industries, Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, ReaLizer, Renishaw, 3D Systems, and SLM Solutions had large displays with machines and parts. Companies relatively new to metal AM that showed their machines were AddUp (a collaboration between Michelin and Fives), Farsoon, OR Laser, Sentrol, and Sisma. Fraunhofer ILT displayed a small and relatively low-cost metal AM machine that may be commercialized at some point.

Some of the mature companies showed automated metal powder removal and handling capabilities and concepts. As their customers ramp up for production quantities, this automation will become important. Absent was the automation of most other downstream operations, such as thermal stress relief (with the exception of Additive Industries), hot isostatic pressing, and the removal of parts from the build plate. Also absent was automating the removal of supports/anchors from the parts, CNC machining, and surface treatment.

Regardless of your interest in AM, formnext had something for everyone and was the place to be last week. One exhibition hall included a large and impressive concentration of technology and know-how. It was completely filled, so Messe Frankfurt and TCT employees are planning to expand into a second hall for the 2017 event, which is set for November 14-17. The four days of conference sessions were also very good and well attended. I only wish I could have attended more of them. Maybe next year.

Proto Labs

October 8, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:30

Yesterday, Proto Labs celebrated the grand opening of its new 7,154 sq meter (77,000 sq ft) 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina, located at the west edge of Raleigh. Proto Labs is best known for quick turn injection molding and CNC machining, with headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota. The company entered the 3D printing business when it acquired FineLine Prototyping of North Carolina in April 2014. FineLine, headed by Rob Connelly, had a strong reputation for quality over a period of many years. Whenever I would hear something about FineLine, it was positive.

Connelly told me that the new site is running 48 stereolithography, 10 laser sintering, and 13 metal powder bed fusion machines. With its Germany and Finland sites, Proto Labs is operating 121 industrial 3D printing systems and growing. This represents a tremendous amount of prototyping and manufacturing capacity and is now one of the largest in the world.

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Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs since 2014, and Connelly generously gave me a personal tour on Thursday after I arrived into Raleigh. I received a second tour yesterday as part of the grand opening. As expected, I was impressed by the organization and sheer number of machines and jobs running through the facility. The company’s software for scheduling and tracking jobs, produced entirely in-house, is at the core of the operation. Large monitors in many places graphically show new and existing jobs that are making their way through the system. On average, about 275 customer projects are quoted daily for 3D printing. The site’s 150 employees handle everything from customer inquiries to scheduling jobs and shipping. For a premium, customers can obtain parts that are produced and shipped the same day.

Holt explained to me that the company’s “sweet spot” is its very quick turn around. Proto Labs is not competing on cost, but rather on consistently delivering high quality parts in the shortest amount of time possible. As a chemist and veteran in polymers and manufacturing, she knows what it takes to make customers happy. From 1979 to 2013, Holt held various positions at Monsanto, Solutia (a Monsanto spin-off), PPG Industries, Spartech Corp. (owned by PolyOne), and other companies. Holt and Connelly’s attention to detail, and that of their employees, coupled with their strengths in interacting with people, play a big role in attracting and keeping customers. Congrats to Proto Labs for its new and very impressive facility.

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.

Premium AEROTEC

May 6, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:30

Last week, I visited Premium AEROTEC, a 10,000-employee company that is 100% owned by Airbus. The company has several locations in Germany, including Varel, the site that I visited. This is where Premium AEROTEC has installed its first four metal additive manufacturing machines, including the large X line 1000R system from Concept Laser. It served as the backdrop for the stage, as shown in the following picture. The machine was running, along with two M2 machines from Concept Laser during the one-day event. The large machine is being swapped for the newer X line 2000R later this month.

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Premium AEROTEC is serving a key role in the series production of AM parts for cabin, fuselage, and other systems for Airbus. The approval by the authorities for air worthiness, a major milestone, was achieved in March 2016. Thus far, Premium AEROTEC has secured suppliers with total capacity of about 40 metal AM machines. Companies, such as Materialise, have set up manufacturing facilities nearby and are buying metal AM equipment with the hope of serving as a supplier. I had the chance to visit the new Materialise AM production facility in Bremen and was impressed by what’s already in place, coupled with its near-future growth plans. Many more machines will need to be added to the Airbus supply chain for it to meet its goal of producing 30 tons of metal AM parts monthly by December 2018.

More than 100 people attended the special Premium AEROTEC event. I was asked to speak on the state of the additive manufacturing industry and provide highlights and details from the recently published Wohlers Report 2016. I spoke 70 minutes to an enthusiastic crowd, followed by questions from many people in the room. Click here if you are interested in reading a recent article on Premium AEROTEC and the April 26 event.

Peter Sander, Head of Emerging Technologies & Concepts at Airbus, was my host during my stay in Bremen and Hamburg. The day after visiting Premium AEROTEC, Peter arranged to have me speak to a group of about 150 Airbus employees in Hamburg. The one-hour presentation was also broadcast live to an additional 150 people at Airbus sites in Bremen (Germany), Toulouse (France), Getafe (Spain), and Filton (UK). I was surprised but happy to see so many young people in the audience, several of which introduced themselves to me after the presentation. I could tell that they are clearly very excited about the potential of AM. The presentation was held in the new and impressive ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research at Airbus, which is pictured below.

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My time in Germany could not have gone better, thanks to Peter Sander and his team. Thanks also to Dr. Thomas Ehm, Chairman of Premium AEROTEC, and Gerd Weber, Site Manager for the Varel location, for their warm welcome and kind words. They rolled out the red carpet for my visit and I appreciate it very much.

AIRTEC 2015

December 4, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,future,review — Terry Wohlers @ 12:31

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

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

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

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

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

America Makes Three Years Later

November 21, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:46

I had the privilege of attending this week’s America Makes Program Review and Members Meeting in Youngstown, Ohio. America Makes is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a public-private partnership launched in 2012. More than 250 people from many organizations across the U.S. were in attendance. Among the newest members: Autodesk, FAA, GM, Intel, Toyota, and the United Launch Alliance. I last wrote a blog commentary on America Makes in September 2014.

America Makes currently has 159 members, compared to 119 a year ago. Strong membership is important because the members provide direction and support the research, development, and many other activities, such as roadmapping. Recurring revenues from membership dues and in-kind support help to make America Makes sustainable. A current list of members is found here. If my memory serves me correctly, Wohlers Associates became the fifth Platinum Member, and America Makes now has a total of 18 of these top level members.

I could not attend the previous (April 2015) bi-annual meeting, although senior consultant Tim Caffrey attended, so a year had passed since meeting with the members and government and America Makes employees. I’ve tried to stay up-to-date with the major developments at America Makes, but there’s no substitute to face to face meetings. What I experienced and learned this week was that America Makes had advanced faster and further than anticipated, positioning the national partnership in a league of its own.

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The types of companies and people in attendance this week, coupled with the many projects and progress reports presented, showed impressive growth over the past year. A number of national programs on additive manufacturing have been launched around the world over the past couple years, but the work of America Makes stands out. The advanced nature of the projects, and the strong spirit of cooperation and collaboration among so many organizations, is exciting. America Makes serves as a model for the other six innovation institutes that are a part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

We are proud to be a part of America Makes. In my opinion, it has already made a difference in our nation’s position in AM. Given what I witnessed this week, it could accelerate in the coming months and years. My hat goes off to the great people at the Youngstown headquarters, NCDMM in Pennsylvania, government affiliates and agencies, and other organizations. With such a strong foundation formed over its first three years, I believe that America Makes will continue to help set the U.S. apart from the rest of the world. As the AM industry grows to tens of billions of dollars, and eventually to hundreds of billions, the U.S. will be glad it made this investment—one that I believe will pay back many times over.

Progress in South Africa

November 8, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 10:25

The Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) held its 16th annual conference near Pretoria last week. Growth in attendance mushroomed from around 135 people last year to 230 this year. Strong development activity and investment around additive manufacturing and 3D printing over the past year have expanded in many parts of the world, including South Africa.

One interesting development is the growth of the Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs in South Africa. The I2P lab concept is the brainchild of Deon de Beer, now at North-West University in Potchefstroom. The labs offer a low-cost setup where people of all ages, especially youth, can go to create, invent, and development new product ideas using design software, 3D printers, and related tools and equipment. Today, 20+ I2P labs are in operation in 10 countries, with about half them in South Africa.

Professor de Beer, largely responsible for putting South Africa on the “AM map,” was previously at Vaal University of Technology (VUT) where he launched a large and impressive science and technology park. The facility now employs 80 people and houses high-end machines from EOS, Stratasys, Voxeljet, and other companies. Before that, he started and grew the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing at Central University of Technology (CUT), a world-class facility with some the best people, experience, machines you will find anywhere. When de Beer touches something, it typically turns into gold, although you would never know it when talking with him. His relatively quiet and humble demeanor is invigorating.

Another interesting activity in South Africa is the Aeroswift project, which is focused on the development of a large powder bed fusion AM machine. It is being developed by the National Laser Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Aerosud, an aerospace company located in Pretoria. Funding is coming from the South African Department of Science and Technology. The system has an impressive build volume of 2.0 x 0.6 x 0.6 m (79 x 24 x 24 inches) and employs a powerful 5-kilowatt laser.

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Airbus VP Peter Sander standing beside the Aeroswift machine
located at CSIR in Pretoria, South Africa

The Aeroswift process is capable of consolidating 60 mm3 (0.0037 in3) of metal per second. From the outside, the machine looks 100% complete, but the process is not yet making parts. The development of the machine was launched in early 2012 and about R107 million (~$8 million) has been invested thus far.

Industry adoption of AM in South Africa is not nearly as wide or deep as it is in the U.S. and many parts of Europe. However, the growth in attendance at RAPDASA 2015, coupled with technology transfer efforts, particularly at CUT and VUT, will help accelerate South Africa’s position. The country is working to better leverage its vast mineral reserves for making titanium—second only to Australia—by producing powders and AM machines that can process titanium. One goal is to reduce the shipping of titanium minerals to other countries for processing into usable materials and to transition that business to South Africa. If this occurs, the country could become a much bigger player in AM internationally.

3D Printing Startups

October 25, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:00

What does EmberSurge, 3d Evolution Printer, 3Dom, and 3Dponics have in common? And, Avatarium, bondswell, Chemcubed, and Chimak3D? They are startup companies in the fast-growing 3D printing industry. Others are Cubibot, Dongguan Pioneertr, Fathom, 3D Filkemp, Growshapes, and HoneyPoint3D. The list goes on and on. Have you heard of them? I had not, until recently. These small companies exhibited at last week’s Inside 3D Printing event in Santa Clara, California.

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The surge in startups is part of a seemingly endless sequence of unprecedented events in the 3D printing industry. It’s an indication that 3D printing has been, and continues to be, ripe for innovation. The excitement surrounding the technology and circulating information—coupled with a lot of hype—is leading to the introduction of many new ideas, companies, businesses, business models, and products.

Will most of them survive and thrive? History strongly suggests that they will not. A September 2014 article in Fortune states that nine out of 10 startups fail. Also, it’s important to note that many 3D printing companies have come and gone in the past. Even so, it’s encouraging to see so many enter the business. It shows that scores of entrepreneurs and investors are betting on it, even when the odds are stacked against them. This is yet another sign that 3D printing will be an important part of our future.

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!

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