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AM Material Pricing

March 15, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 07:11

Most would agree that materials for additive manufacturing (AM), also referred to as 3D printing, are expensive. As a rule of thumb, polymers for industrial AM systems are in the range of $100 to $300 per kg (2.2 lbs), although they can be lower or higher. This pricing is dramatically more than equivalent materials used for injection molding and other plastics processing, which are typically $2 to $4 per kg, depending on the type and quantity of plastic. It is our belief that AM material pricing will decline as competition heats up and AM patents continue to expire.

Two recent developments could drive prices downward. One is the October 2013 introduction of the Freeformer machine from Arburg, a large German manufacturer of injection molding machines. The 3D printer deposits droplets of thermoplastic using the same inexpensive plastic pellets used for injection molding. The second advance is the development of a large machine by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Incorporated. It can produce parts at a rate of 4.5 to 9 kg per hour—orders of magnitude faster than most AM systems. And, it also uses low-cost injection molding plastics in pellet form.

The expiration of key patents will also impact material prices. Foundation patents associated with FDM from Stratasys expired years ago, and this is what allowed the development and commercialization of countless low-cost 3D printers, many for less than $2,000. Materials for these machines are available for less than $20 per kg. As these machines improve, they will put pressure on the more expensive machines, especially for very basic design, concept modeling, and prototyping applications. Meanwhile, the final selective laser sintering patent at the University of Texas at Austin will expire in mid June 2014. It is also a foundation patent, which is expected to create a flurry of activity around the development of low-cost laser sintering systems and materials.

Expensive AM materials are not a problem for companies that use machines for small quantities of parts. However, with production quantities, the pricing is not only a problem, it’s a “show stopper.” We believe the high AM material prices will largely be resolved through competitive pressures. However, it could become painful to the companies that have been enjoying the high margins on these materials, some for more than two decades.

Our Predictions for 2014

January 17, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,legal — Terry Wohlers @ 09:11

We have created a long list of predictions related to additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. The following are six of them, which were first published by IndustryWeek in an article titled “Technology: What’s Next for 3-D Printing?”

A Wave of Investment: Interest among the investment community will continue through 2014. A new wave of investment will come from individuals, governments at all levels, and educational institutions. Some of the largest investments will be made by the private sector, including large corporations that are new to 3-D printing.

New IPOs: A number of privately owned 3-D printing companies will transform their growth and development through an initial public offering. Timing could not be better due to unprecedented interest in the technology and strengthened economic conditions.

More Talk, More Action: More conferences, workshops, seminars, and expositions will be launched in 2014—even more than in 2013, which set an all-time record.

3-D Printing on Trial: The legal professional will cash in on potential patent infringement related to 3-D printing. We will also see the first wave of litigation associated with legal liability. It will come about as 3-D-printed products are designed by nonprofessionals and their failures cause damage, injury, or worse.

The Hype Goes On: The hype will continue, but as the industry matures in the eyes of the general public, writers, editors, and readers will demand reporting that is based on fact and includes accurate detail on the real problems and challenges associated with the technology.

China Makes a Move: As patents expire, lower-cost laser sintering systems will develop. At least one Chinese manufacturer will test the waters by selling laser sintering products internationally.

3D Printing Metal Parts in Space

December 20, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:21

We launched an interesting project recently with NASA. The goal is to produce metal parts by additive manufacturing in space. Sound ambitious? A similar project with the same goal was recently launched by the European Space Agency. Our NASA contacts explained that it is a complimentary project rather than competitive.

The idea of 3D printing in space is not that outrageous. A filament-based 3D printer that produces plastic parts by material extrusion has been certified to operate on the International Space Station. It is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS next year. We can thank our friends at NASA and the people at Made In Space for making it happen. See the blog commentary titled Made In Space.

One could argue that metal is much more difficult than plastic due to the feedstock (usually powders), processing temperatures, and potential distortion due to these high temperatures. Most metal-based AM systems use the build material to anchor the part and its features to a build plate to reduce distortion. These anchors are later removed, but the effort can require a band saw, wire EDM, CNC milling, and hand work—machines and activities that are not an option on the ISS. Also, chips and scrap are not desirable in zero gravity.

Our job is to consider all options and recommend approaches that have the best chance of success. We are considering ideas from a range of sources, and if you have an idea, I would like to hear it. Just shoot an email to me at tw@wohlersassociates.com or go to our new 3D Printing in Space LinkedIn Group and share your thoughts. I would appreciate it very much.

Happy holidays to you over the next couple weeks. I hope you can enjoy some quality time away from work. Cheers!

The Future of Additive Manufacturing

September 28, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:36

GE Global Research sponsored a web broadcast yesterday titled The Future of Additive Manufacturing. The company used Google+ Hangout to provide audio and video of the four panelists and moderator to about 2,000 attendees. It was GE’s first “hangout,” and mine too. The event took some advance preparation and setup, but GE pulled it off beautifully. Click here to see the program in its entirety.

The broadcast covered many interesting topics including the opportunities and challenges associated with additive manufacturing, also referred to as 3D printing. Panelists included Rob Gorham of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, Ryan Wicker of the University of Texas at El Paso, Avi Reichental of 3D Systems, and me. Chrstine Furstoss of GE Global Research served as moderator and did an excellent job.

Overall, I thought that Google+ Hangout worked very well for this one-hour program. It won’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it’s a good alternative for these types of events. Nice work, GE.

Made In Space

September 1, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:31

I had an interesting conversation last week with three guys from Made In Space. CEO Aaron Kemmer, CTO Jason Dunn, Mike Chen, and 17 others have come together to put a 3D printer on the International Space Station. The group has completed an impressive 400 zero gravity parabolic “cycles” (known to some as the Vomit Comet) totaling more than two hours of 3D printing research in microgravity. Members of the team have worked on many different ISS missions in the past.

In its quest to get a 3D printer into space, the company tried many machines at the Made In Space lab at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The team was hoping to use a commercially available 3D printer and then modify it for space. After extensive testing, they found that problems such as surface tension, thermal characteristics, and off-gassing created a need to design and build a machine specifically for zero gravity. Commercially sold 3D printers, for example, are dependant upon gravity to hold materials in place.

A couples days prior to talking with the guys at Made In Space, I read in the August 26, 2013 issue of Plastics News that an estimated 30% of the small plastic parts and tools on the ISS could currently be produced by the company’s new 3D printer. The machine is based on material extrusion, an additive manufacturing process that was invented more than 23 years ago by Stratasys. The “30%” estimate sounded optimistic to me, but after talking with the Made In Space guys, it may not be too far from realistic. They said that the interior of the ISS includes many small plastics parts that they believe could be reproduced by its 3D printer.

One problem with gravity-based 3D printing systems is the need for support structures, and their subsequent removal. In space, this problem does not exist, so there’s no need to support overhanging features or produce a “foundation” for the part. The part itself is printed and nothing more, eliminating the need to wash away or manually remove the support material. This also eliminates scrap and the need to dispose of it.

NASA, which invested about $1.4 million into Made In Space, expects to launch the new 3D printer in June 2014. The use of the 3D printer on the ISS will be experimental, but the goal is to eventually print parts and tool as the astronauts need them. I am impressed by the progress that the small company has made in such a short time. A number of recent articles have been published on Made In Space, but one should always question what he/she reads (see 3D Printing Misinformation), so it was good to receive information directly from Kemmer, Dunn, and Chen.

Wohlers Report 2013

May 25, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:59

This new market study was published earlier this week, marking the 18th consecutive year of its publication. The report focuses on new 3D printing and additive manufacturing (terms we use interchangeably) applications, developments, and trends worldwide. The report was produced with help from 70 co-authors in 21 countries, as well as 74 service providers and 31 system manufacturers from around the world. Principal co-author and associate consultant Tim Caffrey and I are grateful for the kind support from so many experts and organizations that supported this large effort.

Wohlers Report 2013 provides an in-depth look at market forces, competitive products and services, and industry growth. According to our research for the report, the market for products and services in 2012 grew 28.6% (CAGR) to $2.204 billion. This is up from $1.714 billion in 2011, when it grew 29.4%. The average annual growth (CAGR) of the industry over the past 25 years is an impressive 25.4%. The CAGR is 27.4% over the past three years (2010–2012).

Growth of the low-cost (under $5,000) “personal” 3D printer market segment averaged 346% each year from 2008 through 2011. In 2012, the increase cooled significantly to an estimated 46.3%, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2013. Most of these machines are being sold to hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers, engineering students, and secondary and postsecondary educational institutions.

The industry is expected to continue strong double-digit growth over the next several years. By 2017, we believe that the sale of 3D-printing products and services will approach $6 billion worldwide. By 2021, we forecast growth to reach $10.8 billion. It took the 3D printing industry 20 years to grow to $1 billion in size. In five additional years, the industry generated its second $1 billion. It is expected to double again, to $4 billion, in 2015.

Urbanization of China

April 1, 2013

Filed under: future,life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:15

I spent three days in China last week and it was one of the most interesting trips in a long time. It was my fifth visit to the country, and I found that change continues in a big way. I spent time in Hefei, Anqing, and Huaining—all in the Anhui Province, home to 67 million people. The three cities are relatively close to one another and located about 500 km (310 miles) west of Shanghai. Hefei to Shanghai is one hour by jet, three hours by high-speed train, and five hours by car.

Hefei has a population of more than 7.5 million and is the capital of the Anhui Province. About 500 million people live within a 500-km radius of Hefei, and the area represents 48% of China’s gross domestic product, so it is a very important region to the country. Hefei’s 2012 GDP was RMB 416 billion ($67.1 billion), which is a 13.6% increase over 2011. A new international airport, with non-stop service to New York and Frankfurt, will open near Hefei at the end of May.

I was especially impressed by the construction of high rise apartment complexes. Clusters of 20 or more buildings are going up about everywhere you look. I doubt more than five minutes passed between seeing a new group of them when traveling by train from Hefei to Shanghai. The expansion is nothing short of astounding.

Urbanization is occurring at a rapid pace. At the end of last year, 52.6% of China’s people lived in urban areas, up from 26% in 1990, according to Wikipedia. A Chinese government official told me that about 10% of the entire population of China (135 million) would move from rural areas to urban communities over the next several years.

China’s success in manufacturing has created tremendous wealth in the country and this has led to much of the development in real estate. When I visited Beijing in 1998, the streets were filled with bicycles. Now, they are filled with trucks and cars, including many expensive European brands. You will see some bikes and three-wheel vehicles, still without lights or reflectors at night, but they are disappearing. Meanwhile, clusters of high rises are covering the landscape and I’ve not seen development like it anywhere else.

3D Printing at Retail Stores

December 10, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:26

Good friend Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology told me something about five weeks ago that got my attention. He said that Incredible Connection, a retail chain of consumer electronics and computer stores in South Africa, had purchased many Fabbster personal 3D printers to sell in its stores. The German designed and built Fabbster product is somewhat like other low-cost material extrusion systems, except that the company supplies material in the form of injection-molded “sticks” instead of plastic filament on a spool. Incredible Connection also has stores in Botswana and Namibia.

About a month later, during the recent EuroMold 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, the office supply chain Staples announced that it would make 3D-printing services available in stores in the Netherlands and Belgium beginning in Q1 2013 using Mcor’s IRIS product. The Mcor 3D printer uses a paper lamination process to produce shapes. Over the past year, the company introduced the IRIS product with multi-color printing. This is expected to broaden the range of applications for the Mcor product.

The news from Africa and Europe is surprising. Some may see these developments as being more progressive than what is occurring in the U.S. Maybe, but I would not jump too quickly to this conclusion. Organizations in the U.S. are also exploring new channels for reaching new markets. Others are pushing the limits at the high end, especially among aerospace and defense-related organizations. The U.S. is not sitting still.

I wish the very best for Incredible Connection and Staples. It will be interesting to see how average retail customers react to these offerings. I’m not optimistic because I don’t believe the general public is ready for either one. Regardless, I give both companies credit for giving it a shot and for being the first to deliver 3D printing in this way.

3D Printing the Filet of the Future

October 27, 2012

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

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

One of the more unusual and attention-grabbing applications for additive manufacturing is the 3D printing of food. A team at Cornell University has been pioneering “edible additive manufacturing” in collaboration with the French Culinary Institute since 2009. Food items, ranging from chocolate, cheese, and hummus, to turkey and scallops, have been pureed and successfully printed into 3D shapes on the syringe-based Fab@Home 3D printer.

Essential Dynamics introduced the Imagine 3D printer in early 2012. The Imagine product employs the material extrusion process, using syringes to dispense edible items and other materials. In August, Essential Dynamics announced a second generation of the Imagine. It has a 228 x 228 mm (9 x 9 inch) build platform and is priced just under $2,000 for an assembled system.

Another recent announcement caught our interest. The Thiel Foundation, associated with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, is investing $350,000 in Modern Meadow, a startup company in Columbia, Missouri. The company is developing 3D bioprinting to create leather products made from animal cells. After that, the company plans to develop a 3D-printed, a ready-to-eat meat alternative. The CEO of Modern Meadow is Andras Forgacs, whose father Gabor Forgacs is one of the early developers of bioprinting, which uses cells to build living tissue in 3D.

Modern Meadow aims to produce food grade animal protein using proprietary tissue engineering technologies. It will initially target the leather industry and then the food industry with hide and meat products.

It’s no doubt that food is big business. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spent $1.3 billion on food in 2011. It’s too early to speculate how much Modern Meadow and other food-related 3D printing can capture in this large industry, but it will certainly be interesting to watch over the next several years.

Idea 2 Product Labs

September 2, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,future,life,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:30

The Idea 2 Product (I2P) series of labs is an initiative that was launched in South Africa last year. The labs consist of CAD workstations and 3D printers for hands-on learning, experimentation, invention, and new product development. The primary goal of the labs is to offer opportunities for professional and economic development, especially in underdeveloped regions of South Africa and other parts of Africa.

The I2P initiative is the brainchild of professor Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology (Vanderbijlpark, South Africa). I have known Deon for 17 years and he has a track record of success with about everything he touches. If there’s a single individual responsible for helping to launch and grow additive manufacturing and 3D printing in South Africa, it is Deon. He has gained the respect of countless people from industry, academia, and government in South African and around the world.

Deon launched the first I2P lab at VUT in mid 2011 with the installation of 20 personal 3D printers—a historic first worldwide. (A personal 3D printer is one that sells for less than $5,000, but more typically $1,000 to $2,000.) He also created a smaller I2P lab with two 3D printers in a rural area of South Africa. He has ordered 70 additional 3D printers (20 have been received thus far) for four new I2P labs at educational institutions that are similar to community colleges here in the U.S. In parallel, he is creating I2P labs at three VUT satellite campuses and two more at science centers.

Deon has big future plans for I2P labs. Based on his past and current support from the South African government, I have no doubt that he will succeed. Deon envisions I2P labs across the African continent and already has tentative plans for labs in Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana. In the meantime, he sees the potential for labs at up to 22 universities, 50 community colleges, 25 private institutions, 20 science centers, and many secondary and primary schools in South Africa. He is also gaining support for the first I2P 2Go mobile unit that would take 3D printers on the road to remote areas.

The impact that the I2P labs could have is almost beyond calculation. Each lab could introduce hundreds of people of all ages to CAD, design, product development, and manufacturing. This could lead to a dramatic increase in new ideas, new products, and new mini economies that would lead to improving economic conditions in underdeveloped regions. Rural areas living in poverty conditions could develop products that they could sell on “main street” within their community, as well as to neighboring communities. I applaud Deon’s efforts and fully expect that he and his I2P labs will make a dramatic and unprecedented difference.

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