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3D Printing’s Place in History

February 12, 2017

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

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

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

Forecasting the Future

January 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

Big AM Investments Continue

August 27, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,money — Terry Wohlers @ 06:44

The additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry is not short on money. Since early June, we’ve stumbled across five new investments that total more than $260 million. For example, French investment bank Bpifrance announced that it is investing €45+ million over the next five years in an initiative to develop advanced processes in the country’s AM industry. The government of the Netherlands said that it will invest €134 million into research projects focused on AM.

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In late June, it was announced that Norway’s Norsk Titanium secured $25 million in a round of funding to help expand operations. The investment follows the inclusion of $125 million in the 2016 New York State budget to support the development of Norsk Titanium’s Plattsburgh, New York factory. In early July, Desktop Metal stated that it had received commitments for investments from GE Ventures and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures. Little is known publicly about the company’s technology, but the company has secured a total of $52 million from investors thus far. About a month later, Formlabs said that it had raised $35 million, with Autodesk being one of the investors.

Much of the $260+ million spans multiple years and represents a significant amount of money in just two months of announcements from five organizations. It is possible, even likely, that many additional large investments have occurred recently, but have been kept private. This activity is stimulating, especially given that we did not see anything like it many years ago. What’s more, I have every reason to believe that it will continue, especially given the insight we are receiving from our client companies, many representing some of the largest brands in the world. It is an exciting time to be a part of this industry.

Wohlers Report Published

April 9, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 17:13

I’m happy to announce that Wohlers Report 2016 was published this week. It is the 21st annual edition of our state of the industry report on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. We received tremendous support from many people and organizations, including 80 co-authors and experts in 33 countries. They contributed very important sections and provided great insight from their regions of the world.

Senior consultant and principal author Tim Caffrey was vital to this year’s report (once again). He has a special ability to efficiently find “nuggets of gold” from an avalanche of “news” that is often questionable. Associate consultant and new principal author Ian Campbell played an important role for the second consecutive year. I sincerely thank both of them for helping to produce a report that offers depth, breadth, and detail unmatched by others.

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I am also grateful to the 98 service providers, 51 system manufacturers, and 15 third-party material producers for responding to our requests for detailed information. Year after year, companies provide quantitative, and sometimes sensitive, data that we compile and use to produce industry-wide totals and trend lines that benefit the entire industry. Without their support, we could not produce many of the more than 100 charts, graphs, and tables that are spread across the report’s 335 pages. We did our very best again this year to be short on words but long on information.

The report has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. We are flattered when people refer to it as the “bible” of 3D printing. I am grateful to them, our customers, and the many people that supported the development of this edition. We are very lucky to have what we believe is the largest group of friends and contacts in the 3D printing industry—a network that spans 28 years.

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.

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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.

Nano Dimension

February 2, 2016

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

Nano Dimension is an Israeli company that is producing a 3D printer for making printed circuit boards. The machine and sample PCBs are on display at SolidWorks World 2016 here in Dallas, Texas. The dual printhead machine uses material jetting technology to deposit photopolymer as the base material and a silver nanoparticle ink for the conductive traces.

The printhead deposits the silver in layers that are 2 microns in thickness. It took about 75 minutes to print the circuit board pictured in the following. Light is used to fully cure the photopolymer and sinter the silver.

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The build volume of the machine is 20 x 20 x 0.3 cm (7.9 x 7.9 x 0.12 inches). In the future, the company hopes to increase the Z dimension to permit the printing of circuits that are fully integrated into a design.

Nano Dimension’s software accepts standard PCB Gerber design files, as well as STEP, JPG, and TIFF files. The company is hoping that SolidWorks Corp. and other companies will develop software that takes advantage of the machine’s capabilities.

The company expects to commercialize and ship machines later this year.

Popularity of FDM

January 17, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:29

Since the early 2000s, fused deposition modeling (FDM)—more formally referred to as material extrusion by ASTM and ISO—has been the most popular additive manufacturing and 3D printing process worldwide. In 2003, Stratasys sold nearly as many FDM machines as all other AM machines combined, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2004. In 2006, Stratasys was responsible for 54.7% (1,723) of all AM systems sold.

2007 was a turning point for FDM technology, although few people knew it at the time. This was when the RepRap project, an open-source effort on FDM technology, began to gain traction. It coincided with the expiration of key FDM foundation patents held by Stratasys. We believe that 66 low-cost (under $5,000) FDM clones were sold in 2007, but the number of these products grew to an estimated 139,584 by 2014, based on our research for Wohlers Report 2015. To give some appreciation for this growth, 12,850 industrial AM machines, priced at more than $5,000, were sold in 2014.

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Two people are responsible for the popularity of FDM technology. First is Scott Crump, the inventor of FDM and co-founder of Stratasys. His pioneering work in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the commercialization of the technology. Without his efforts, the industry might look quite different than it does today. Second is Adrian Bowyer, the person that started the RepRap project. No one knew at the time that it would serve as the foundation for hundreds of start-up companies that would produce and sell FDM clones around the world.

Earlier this month, it was announced that RepRapPro, a company that Bowyer founded, was shutting down. In some ways, Bowyer was a victim of his own success. Over the recent past, we have told others that we believe 300+ companies are producing and selling FDM clones worldwide. A knowledgeable and well-connected person I spoke with in Shanghai last month said that as many as 1,000 FDM clone manufacturers may be in operation, in China alone. If he is even half right, our 300+ estimate is quite low.

A lot has happened in the world of FDM since the first machines were sold by Stratasys in 1991. Few envisioned the impact of the expiring patents and the open-source RepRap project. The future is also unclear, especially with so many companies trying to build businesses around FDM. I recall hearing someone say that it’s a race to the bottom. I’m sure that even Crump is amazed by what has happened to FDM over the past 25 years, especially over the past decade.

Investment in AM

December 20, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 11:29

Alcoa is investing $60 million in additive manufacturing and 3D printing methods and materials. Autodesk’s $100 million Spark Investment Fund is in full swing. Early next year, GE will a $32 million R&D facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, called the Center for Additive Manufacturing Advancement. Michelin and Fives are collaborating on a EUR 25 million investment involving the creation of a new company and metal AM. The state of New York is investing $125 million in a 3D printing facility in partnership with Norsk Titanium.

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Are these types and sizes of investments the new norm for AM? I believe they are. In some ways, the 27-year old AM industry is just getting started, especially in the context of production applications. Consider the current AM supply chain and how underdeveloped it is. A tremendous amount of work is ahead of us, so I expect that we will continue to see a string of significant investments in AM across many areas. Among them: software and web-based tools for the creation and optimization of 3D content, IT, process controls, automation, materials, postprocessing, inspection, industry standards, education, training, and research.

AM will indeed grow to become a very big industry, up from $4.1 billion in 2014 (Source: Wohlers Report 2015). In fact, we believe it will grow into the tens of billions, and eventually to hundreds of billions. With the attention and investment that it’s finally getting, it is well on its way.

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.

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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