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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.

The PA Profession

March 26, 2017

Filed under: event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 15:32

According to Yale School of Medicine, a physician assistant or associate (PA) is a state-licensed or federally-credentialed healthcare professional that practices medicine with physician supervision. Yale goes on to say that in clinical practice, PAs perform an extensive range of services in nearly every medical and surgical specialty and healthcare setting.

The profession has grown dramatically in the U.S. In fact, CNNMoney ranked it as the number one fastest-growing field, with a 49.7% job growth over a period of 10 years. Yet PAs are not well known outside the U.S. When speaking to friends and business associates in other countries, I find that most are not familiar with the profession. Even with such impressive growth, it is almost non-existent beyond U.S. and Canadian borders.

On Friday, our daughter, Heather, graduated from South University (Tampa, Florida) as a PA after a very intense program. We are very proud that she made it into the program and graduated. Only 24 out of 1,000+ applicants were accepted into the program. As part of the graduation ceremony, each of the graduates received a long white coat, a tradition that signifies completion of a PA program. While working as a student, they wore waist-length white coats, so receiving the longer version is very special.

All 24 students successfully completed the program and graduated on Friday, but all of them have one more very important step: to take the national exam. Those who pass it become a certified PA and can practice medicine. Those who do not can try again in three months.

While working at a medical clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital, a PA typically becomes increasingly autonomous. They see patients, prescribe medicine, and perform medical procedures such as suturing open wounds and surgically removing tissue. PAs do a large percentage of what a doctor does, but without the legal liability and sometimes odd and challenging hours. For many PAs, it can be more of an “8-5” job, although many work in urgent care, ER, or surgery where hours can be long and irregular.

We are incredibly proud of Heather, not only for completing the PA program, but also for going into a profession that truly helps others. Graduation ceremony keynote speaker Elliott Cazes, MD, said the most important instrument a medical professional can use is not a stethoscope or ophthalmoscope, but rather his or her ears. It is vitally important to carefully listen to a patient to fully understand their situation. Given what I’ve learned about the PA profession and Heather’s outlook on practicing medicine, she and her 23 fellow PAs will follow his advice and contribute a great deal to the field of medicine and the U.S. healthcare system.

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.

30-years

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.

engine-block2

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.

proto-labs

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.

heart

● 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.

fashion-show

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.

premium-aerotec

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.

zal

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.

ralph

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.

williamson

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.

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