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Extraordinary Times

March 21, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 13:21

Countless organizations have shut down indefinitely. The economy is tanking while the stock market declines to unthinkable levels. United Airlines cut 95% of its international flights and most business travel has halted. Meeting with others, even close friends and relatives, is discouraged. Except for getting out to pick up food and medicine, we are mostly trapped in our homes. Most of the world is in various levels of chaos, with no end in sight.

I cannot remember a time when life was so uncertain. So much has changed in a few short days. As a nation, we were slow to recognize the threat, so we may pay a very high price. My wife and I consider ourselves lucky because we have a warm home and enough supplies. I cannot imagine the fear among those who are less fortunate. All of us need to see some light—and hope—at the other end.

The crisis did not slow us down in the last few days of developing Wohlers Report 2020, a project that began to ramp up in December 2019. We published it on Wednesday—a week earlier than the past two years. I owe tremendous gratitude to our core team of nine consultants and authors, and our 79 co-authors and contributors in 33 countries. So many great people pulled together to make it happen.

Now, we need to pull together for other reasons. In today’s edition of The New York Times, I read about a group of volunteers who are working day and night to develop an open-source ventilator to help save lives. A crisis will sometimes bring out the best and worst in people, and this is an example of the best. Others in the U.S. and abroad are 3D printing masks and other devices to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

If you have ideas on how we can work together to combat the virus and support our healthcare providers, please contact me. We stand ready to help.

Investment

February 23, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,event,future,money — Terry Wohlers @ 10:03

In the recent past, we have tracked investments totaling nearly $1.5 billion in additive manufacturing (AM) products and services worldwide. These dollars are critical to the future of AM and its developing ecosystem. Without it, countess companies offering machines, materials, software, and services would not survive. Investment dollars do not ensure success, but it gives companies, especially startups, a fighting chance.

We believe it is important, even critical, for AM-related companies to have a strong understanding of the latest developments and trends in this industry. Likewise, it is vital for investors to have accurate information on AM at their fingertips. Without it, they cannot make the best possible decisions. That’s why we are conducting the Wohlers Associates Investor’s Dinner Sponsored by RAPID + TCT.

The April 20 event coincides with RAPID + TCT 2020, the largest and most successful gathering on AM in North America. The evening program is designed for institutional, private equity, venture capital, angel, and individual investors. If you or your company is investing in AM, consider this special opportunity. It promises to set you in the right direction. Space is limited, so register now.

Recycling with AM

January 26, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:50

Note: Ray Huff, associate engineer at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

No one is surprised to hear that people produce copious amounts of waste every day. A 2017 study found that over 300 million tons of waste plastic is generated annually. The question of how to reuse this material, rather than leaving it to degrade over millions of years, may be tiresome. Fortunately, AM is bringing new options much closer to home in a variety of ways.

Companies are looking at methods of using some of this waste material for AM. GreenGate3D produces and sells plastic filament from 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG). I recently bought a spool and I am making useful home goods with it. Filamentive, NefilaTek, Refil, RePLAy 3D, and others have produced fully or partially recycled filaments. Research shows that recycled filament is slightly weaker than virgin plastic, but this is predictable, which means that it can be accounted for in design. As proof of this, the U.S. military has used recycled plastics to build bridges that supported Abrams tanks in at least two cases.

In a recent article, 30,000 water bottles were recycled to 3D print a public structure in Dubai. The pavilion, called Deciduous, showcases how AM can be applied to creative structures using materials that would otherwise be waste. An advantage to using AM is the option of repurposing locally produced materials. With cleaning, grinding, and extruding technologies, such as those advocated by Netherland-based Precious Plastic, nearly anyone can recycle plastics in their hometown.

Recycling initiatives are not restricted to polymers. Newly renamed 6K (formerly Amastan Technologies) of North Andover, Massachusetts has developed a method of grinding and melting recycled metals into spherical powder particles for AM. The company is expected to commercially launch its materials soon. Similar techniques can be applied to produce wires and sheet materials for metal AM. The AM supply chain has not developed sufficiently for recycled materials to economically replace virgin materials. Growing interest, investment, and global conscience is sure to tip the scale, hopefully within a few years.

Revving the Engine with AM

November 2, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:46

Note: Ray Huff, associate engineer at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

The automotive industry has been a major player in the use of AM over the past 30 years, beginning with rapid product development and prototyping. In the past few years, we have begun to glimpse the possibilities of AM as a tool for end-use production parts in automotive. Among the parts we have seen are custom trim pieces, HVAC components, parking brake brackets, and lightweight convertible top mounts. We’ve also seen power window guide rails, high-performance brake calipers, and even fully printed car bodies.

Many of these parts are made in low- or medium-production quantities. BMW touted its polymer guide rail production speeds of 100 parts per day using HP Jet Fusion technology. The guide rail, shown above, is installed in the i8 Roadster sports car, a limited-production vehicle. The same can be said for Bugatti’s Chiron brake caliper and the Olli self-driving shuttle, which are both low-volume products. Perfecting these production methods could certainly translate to higher-volume models in the future, and the proving of the technology with these use cases builds a strong argument for doing so.

At a recent National Manufacturing Day round-table discussion, Ford chief technology officer Ken Washington clearly stated his hope for AM-driven innovation in the automotive sector. “We’re going to see an adoption of the mindset of designing for additive, which is going to unlock all kinds of new innovations, new ways to bring products to life, and new experiences for customers. You couldn’t do this before because you didn’t have the tools.”

As companies such as Ford, Volkswagon, and others continue to adopt AM for production, we expect to see a new range of parts. Lightweight and topology-optimized frame members, handles, and wheels are on the horizon. As metals and high-temperature polymers are perfected and tested for long-term use, we will see engine blocks, pistons, valves, pumps, pulleys, and other parts made by AM. These parts have been seen in testing, with promising performance gains and weight savings. Only time will tell where the intersection of production cost and speed by AM will meet market demand.

AM Investors

October 19, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,money — Terry Wohlers @ 10:32

Investors of additive manufacturing (AM) come in many forms. Among them are institutional, private equity, venture capital, angel, and individuals. Increasingly, investors are in pursuit of AM-related companies with a promising future. The challenge is to know, with reasonable certainty, what that future looks like and how AM developments will unfold in the coming years.

To date, few events on AM have been designed specifically for the investment community. This is why we are conducting the Wohlers Associates Investor Dinner Sponsored by Formnext. This exclusive evening event is November 20, 2019 in Frankfurt, Germany. It is being held at Grandhotel Hessischer Hof, an elegant five-star hotel with gourmet cuisine located within walking distance of the exhibition center (Messe Frankfurt) where Formnext is being held.

The program will concentrate on the future of AM and what investors need to know to make the best possible decisions. The Wohlers Associates’ core team of consultants will be present to express their thoughts and opinions. The following will be among the questions answered:

  • What has changed over the past 30 years?
  • Why has the investment focus shifted from AM systems to applications?
  • What are the “killer apps” of AM? Will it really take a human generation for some of them to develop?
  • Which AM processes show the most promise?
  • Why are we seeing countless partnerships and what do they mean?
  • AM growth has averaged 26.6% over the past five years. Will it continue at this rate over the next five years?

If you are an investor and attending Formnext, register now for this inaugural event. Seating is limited. Our hope is that it helps you identify timely opportunities for AM-related investments.

World Economic Forum

June 18, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:49

I attended a first-ever 3D printing and additive manufacturing event organized and hosted by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco. The June 3, 2019 workshop, titled 3D Printing and Trade Logistics: Impact on Global Value Chains, involved 18 invited company executives, government officials, and others from many countries.

The World Economic Forum is an independent and non-profit international organization that engages political, business, and other leaders to shape global, regional, and industrial agendas. It serves as a platform to bring together public and private sector stakeholders to tackle global issues. In this context, the workshop was organized in two phases. The first explored significant issues that may be raised by the proliferation of 3D printing, followed by ways in which they might be addressed with many working together.

Venkataraman “Sundar” Sundareswaran of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. did a fine job at organizing the workshop. He is currently serving as a fellow at the World Economic Forum to bring 3D printing to the forefront. The group of 18 participants split into three workgroups on three separate occasions to identify and prioritize major issues, followed by the generation of ideas for addressing them.

“Workforce displacement and skill gaps” was identified as the top issue. University and industry training, coupled with retraining programs and government incentives, were named as likely solutions. “Governance of IP, legal issues, cyber, trade, and customs” was ranked as the second biggest issue. Among the possible solutions: national strategies, new laws, technology, and self-regulation. “Supply chain disruption” was determined as the third most important issue. The group cited new taxation models from government and standards development, principally by industry, as ways to address it.

The next challenge and opportunity for the World Economic Forum is to tackle these issues. A good foundation has been set. I’m looking forward to staying engaged and helping however we can to advance the development and adoption of 3D printing technology worldwide.

Lee Kuan Yew

June 4, 2019

Filed under: future,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 16:15

I recently finished a book titled Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Lee Kuan Yew, commonly referred to as LKY, was the first Prime Minister of Singapore and served in this capacity for three decades. I am unaware of another person with such clarity of understanding in so many parts of the world. His knowledge and insight are extraordinary.

In easy to understand language, LKY drilled down deeply into the past, present, and future of China, India, the U.S., and other parts of the world. His wide-ranging discussions included geopolitical, social, economic, healthcare, education, and religion. He even discussed how a dominant language in a given country, such as China, will impact its future.

The book is written in question/answer format, which is a little unusual. The content, however, made up for it. Amazon customer reviews—103 total—gave it 4.9 out of 5 stars. I recommend it highly.

DfAM in Germany

May 18, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,future — Terry Wohlers @ 05:33

Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is not easy. That’s why we have been offering DfAM courses since 2015. Our first two were for NASA Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. We have since conducted courses in other parts of the U.S., as well as in Australia, Belgium, Canada, and South Africa. Our most recent course was held with Protolabs 2.5 weeks ago near Raleigh, North Carolina. It could not have gone much better.

Our first DfAM course in Germany will occur next month in cooperation with Airbus and ZAL Center of Applied Aeronautical Research. ZAL is hosting the event in Hamburg and we are very excited about it. Already, people from many countries in Europe and North America have registered to attend.

Other DfAM courses are being planned. Our second annual Design at Elevation DfAM course is September 2019 in Frisco, Colorado. Elevation: 2,774 meters (9,097 feet). Attend the course in Hamburg, but if you cannot, visit the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado in September—the most colorful month of the year.

AM Adoption in Aerospace

February 23, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 17:18

At an impressive pace, companies in the aerospace industry are building in-house capacity and expanding the number of certified suppliers in additive manufacturing. The Federal Aviation Administration and others have indicated to me that a half dozen or more metal AM parts have been certified for flight. In the 2014 to 2016 time frame, I saw more than 30 new designs for metal AM at Airbus and its subsidiary Premium AEROTEC. It is believed that hundreds of different polymer AM parts (i.e., part numbers) are flying on aircraft around the world. Boeing, alone, had more than 60,000 parts flying on a minimum of 16 different military and commercial aircraft in June 2018.

The following bracket design, created by MBFZ Toolcraft GmbH for Airbus, was produced in titanium. The 14 parts in the original design were consolidated into two and weight was reduced by about half. Go to this page for a much larger version of the bracket. Scroll down to near the bottom to see it.

One aerospace company that asked not to be named claimed it would be flying 25 different AM designs by the end of 2018. It expected to have an astounding 300 new designs certified for AM by the end of this year. It is believed that most are for metal AM. When considering that thousands of aerospace companies are in operation around the world, the potential for AM parts in this industrial segment is significant. As Michael Gorelik of the FAA stated at the America Makes MMX in Youngstown, Ohio in October 2018, “The transition to safety-critical AM parts will occur sooner than initially expected.”

Additive Manufacturing in 2019

January 13, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:23

In recent months and years, the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry has been anything but dull, with stirring news nearly every week. Last week, for example, footwear product company Dr. Scholl’s announced a partnership with Wiivv to produce custom insoles by AM. I own a pair of the Wiivv-branded custom insoles (see the left image in the following) and wrote about them here.

The next 12 months will offer a wide range of interesting, even exciting, developments in AM. We will see companies of all types bridge the chasm from stand-alone AM systems to developing end-to-end solutions for final part production. A few companies have made a lot of progress, but most others are in the early phase. One challenge is to organize many systems at multiple sites. This means managing capacity, sending the right jobs to the correct facilities, and tracking progress. It’s one thing to do it for prototypes, but it is dramatically more difficult to conform to manufacturing quality standards and procedures.

Methods of post-processing will further develop this year. Post-processing involves support material removal, clearing access material from holes and cavities, surface finishing, coloring, coating, texturing, and inspection. Metal parts may also require stress relief, hot isostatic pressing, CNC machining, additional heat treatment, and polishing. Automating some or most of these steps will contribute greatly toward justifying the cost of using AM for production volumes. Post-processing is an area in which each company is developing what it believes to be distinct know-how and IP—and keeping it to themselves—yet much of the work is similar from one company to the next.

Materialise founder and CEO Fried Vancraen said recently that 2019 will be a year of incremental steps and a continuation of a slow revolution. He also stated that applications, not technology, will drive the AM industry in the form of investment. I could not agree more with his views. The year may not bring anything that is completely game-changing. Yet, the collective effort of thousands of organizations worldwide will help to bring AM closer to maturity for production applications, such as the custom insoles from Dr. Scholl’s and Wiivv.

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