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July 20, 2014

Stelarc is a performance artist and designer that has lived much of his life in a Melbourne, Australia suburb. He was born in Cyprus as Stelios Arcadiou and changed his name in 1972. His work focuses mostly on the belief that the human body is obsolete, but its capacity can be enhanced through technology.

I first met Stelarc in 2005 at the VRAP 3D printing event in Leiria, Portugal. Travel prevented me from attending his presentation, although he was kind enough to provide me with an eye-opening set of printed images and a DVD. Many of his technical developments and works of art are unusual—some of which you’d have to see to believe. Entering “Stelarc” into Google and clicking Images will give you an interesting sampling.

I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Stelarc again nine days ago in Brisbane, Australia. He gave an intriguing presentation at a one-day 3D printing event organized by Griffith University. People in the audience of 170 were visibly stunned by his work. An example was the 2007 video footage showing a team of surgeons constructing an ear on his left forearm.


The skin was suctioned over a scaffold, which was made of porous biomaterial. Tissue in-growth and vascularization then followed over a period of six months. This resulted in a relief of an ear. The helix needs to be surgically lifted to create an ear flap and a soft ear lobe will be grown using his stem-cells. A small microphone will then be inserted and the ear electronically augmented for Internet connectivity. Thus, the third ear will result in a mobile listening device for people in other places.

I was especially impressed by Stelarc’s knowledge and understanding of biomedicine, robotics, prosthetics, and 3D printing. The content that he presented and discussed and the questions he answered showed that he is not only an artist, but a designer and maker of complex machines and systems. In recent years, he has used 3D printing extensively to support much of his work.

Stelarc is a Distinguished Research Fellow and the Director of the Alternate Anatomies Lab, School of Design and Art, at Curtin University, which is located in Perth, Australia. He has many awards and honors to his credit, including an honorary doctorate from Monash University in Melbourne.


AM Demand Will Exceed Supply

July 3, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 09:43

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates. It was originally published July 3, 2014, and updated and republished July 9, 2014.

Over the past decade, several major trends have emerged in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. Two of them are 1) the rapid growth of metals, and 2) a marked increase in production applications. Yet, outside of dental copings and acetabular (hip cup) implants, these two key developments have not converged in a significant way. That changed in May 2013 when GE Aviation announced its plan to manufacture all fuel nozzles for its LEAP engine using metal AM. With 19 fuel nozzles per engine, production is scheduled to reach 40,000–45,000 units annually in six or seven years.

The announcement was one of the most significant milestones in the history of the AM industry. A major corporation publically declared its confidence in AM for a demanding production application in a hostile and critical operating environment. At the same time, this development created a new concern: Will supply keep up with demand? According to Greg Morris of GE Aviation, the fuel nozzle production would require about 60 systems working around the clock using today’s AM metal technology.

A July 1 story on the German news website Wirtschafts Woche reported that GE Aviation intends to order 100 metal systems from EOS. An official announcement is expected during the Farnborough International Airshow later this month. We have since learned that this story is inaccurate. According to GE Aviation, no order has been placed. A vendor has not been selected and the number of systems to be ordered has not been determined. While unit sales of metal AM systems increased 75.8% last year, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2014, production capacity at AM system manufacturers is still relatively low. An order of this magnitude would certainly jolt EOS’s production capability and tax its resources. It will also produce a ripple effect for other metal AM system manufacturers.

One can assume that the GE fuel nozzle is the first of many metal production parts launched, and more from the aerospace, medical, dental, jewelry, and (eventually) automotive sectors will follow. Can the AM industry meet this demand? We believe that the metal AM supply chain—consisting of system manufacturers, material suppliers, and certified service providers—will not be able to keep pace with demand.

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 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.

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