Blog Menu

Small Batch Production at Avid

May 8, 2018

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:35

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

Two weeks ago, I visited Avid Product Development, a design, prototyping, and small batch manufacturing firm in Loveland, Colorado. In recent years, Avid has strategically invested in additive manufacturing equipment to scale part production for its customers. Among these technologies are material extrusion machines from Stratasys, photopolymer-based printers from Formlabs, and Multi Jet Fusion machines from HP.

The number of end-use parts being manufactured by Avid makes the company stand out. Doug Collins, co-owner of Avid, commented that the addition of the HP equipment has greatly increased the company’s capacity for building production parts. Recently, Avid received an order for 100 parts that were designed for injection molding. CNC machining the parts was an option, but it would have taken too much time, been very expensive, and wasted a lot of material. Instead, they were 3D printed overnight, dyed black, and shipped the next day. Nesting software from Materialise was used to reduce print time, and fast cooling on the HP post-processing station helped to speed things along. With some added sweat and hustle, the team had the parts out the door as promised.

Doug was eager to show us parts made for Vestas, a leading manufacturer of large wind turbines for power generation. Vestas ordered a batch of polymer brackets that are permanently attached to the wind turbine blades to aid in the alignment and assembly of the parts. Wanting to test the designs before production, Vestas sent multiple iterations for Avid to build. Once the designs were finalized, orders were placed for hundreds of parts to bridge the gap of time while injection-mold tooling was being produced.

Weeks before the visit, a friend had sent me a threaded leveling foot for her new kitchen stove. The feet were designed for low countertops, and were 50 mm (2 inches) too short for the stove to be level with her countertop. I redesigned the foot, sent the model to Avid, picked up the four parts when I visited, and mailed them to my friend in California. The parts fit perfectly. The project showed me that in a matter of days, parts can be designed for a new application, produced, and tested across multiple cities and teams. In future cases like this one, we could further iterate based on feedback, if necessary, and then produce a small production batch of the part. We could even market the product and manufacture it on demand, without a need to keep a single physical part in stock.

Avid and other companies are making workflows like this possible for single product designers and companies of all sizes. Many organizations have been doing this for 20+ years, but easier access to good tools and machines, combined with a decline in cost, is what makes it different today. 3D printing is opening the door to countless new business opportunities and startup companies that were previously unthinkable.

Important Events in AM

April 22, 2018

Last week, I attended the 20th Annual FIRPA Conference in Espoo, Finland, which is about 20 km (12 miles) from Helsinki. The event included some excellent presentations, including one from Jonas Eriksson of Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery AB. Eriksson discussed the production of parts by additive manufacturing for land-based gas turbine engines. To date, the company has redesigned many parts for metal AM and used the technology to produce more than 1,000 burner tips. The use of AM has resulted in a time reduction from 26 weeks to just three. As many as 60 people are now focused on AM at the company, with a goal of making metal AM as simple as 2D printing on paper.

Another very interesting presentation was given by Jyrki Saarinen of the University of Eastern Finland. His group worked closely with Dutch company Luxexcel to produce an AM machine with 1,000 inkjet nozzles for the printing of optical lenses in PMMA. The surface finish of the printed lenses is <2 nm RMS (less than 2 billionths of a meter), so no post-processing is required. The machine is capable of producing 40 lenses per hour, each measuring 10 mm in diameter x 2.5 mm in height, so the process is relatively fast.

I also had the privilege of visiting two world-class companies in Finland. The first was KONE, an $11 billion manufacturer of elevators, escalators, exterior revolving doors, and security entrances for commercial buildings. The company and its products are impressive. I also visited UPM, a $12.3 billion company with a strong position in paper, pulp, plywood, composites, and bio products. The company recently entered the AM industry by introducing a material extrusion filament product consisting of cellulose fiber and PLA.

Last week’s trip to Finland could not have gone better, thanks to the fine people that organized the meetings and very successful 20th annual conference. This week, the focus is on RAPID + TCT 2018, which begins tomorrow and goes through Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. This event marks the 26th annual conference and exposition, and I’m proud to say that I have not missed a single one of them. Attendance has grown by ~2.3 times over the past four years and exhibit space has grown by ~4.5 times over the same period. If you are interested in attending one of the very best events in all things additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and 3D scanning, go to Fort Worth this week. You will not regret it.

formnext 2017

November 18, 2017

In only its third year, formnext has quickly become the additive manufacturing event in Europe to see and to be seen. I attended last year’s formnext and shared here the impression it made. In my view, it was the most impactful additive manufacturing industry event in Europe that I had attended in my 30+ years of going to them. This week’s four-day event, held again in Frankfurt, Germany, has topped it. Three of us from Wohlers Associates were there.

With few exceptions, the most important AM companies worldwide exhibited their products and services at the Messe Frankfurt Convention Center. The exhibition filled most of two large halls. Conspicuous by its absence, one fast-growing AM system manufacturer did not exhibit, and I’m reasonably certain that it is regretting the decision.

Similar to last year, all things metal was in force at formnext. Desktop Metal, EOS, GE Additive, Renishaw, SLM Solutions, and many others showed their latest machines and parts in large, elaborate exhibits. Even HP showed parts from a metal 3D printing technology it is planning to introduce next year.

The scale of some of the new machines is striking, along with the large and complex parts coming from them. The quality of exhibits, people, and announcements at formnext signaled how far the AM industry has developed and matured in the recent past. It was great to meet so many engineers, top managers, and visitors from around the world.

Congrats to Mesago for the impressive formnext exhibition and to the TCT Group for the expertly-organized four-day conference. The formnext event grew from nothing to something very special in three short years. Other events have taken a decade or longer to reach this point and many never have. Next year’s formnext is November 13-16, again in Frankfurt, so add it to your calendar now and begin to make plans. It has become THE place in Europe to conduct business in the AM industry.

Vestas Wind Turbines

October 20, 2017

Filed under: manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:49

Have you ever wondered how wind turbine blades are made? I have. Luckily, I was a part of a special tour initiated by SME Chapter 354 that gave a good view into the manufacturing process. I was one of 27 that toured the Vestas blade factory in Windsor, Colorado earlier this week. The blades produced at the impressive facility are 54 meters (178 feet) in length, weigh seven tons, and amazingly complex. When a blade is at work, the speed at its tip is an astounding 251 kph (156 mph).

Denmark-based Vestas began to make wind turbines in 1979 and leads in the production and worldwide sales, with more than 16% of the market. GE, Siemens, and many relatively small companies are also in the business. Vestas has factories in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, India, and Colorado. The Windsor and Brighton, Colorado factories produce a significant number of all blades from the company. Windsor, alone, produces about 2,000 annually.

The visit began with an excellent presentation by Hans Jespersen, vice president and general manager of the Vestas blade factory in Windsor. Six other employees were on hand to answer questions and serve as our tour guides. Molds used to produce the blades are the largest—and definitely the longest—I have seen in 30+ years of visiting manufacturing facilities worldwide. The molds are made of a composite material, and the blades, themselves, are made predominantly of fiberglass and epoxy. On the surface, it may sound relatively straightforward, but sophisticated methods, intellectual property, and decades of experience go into the production of the blades.

Thanks to SME Chapter 354 for setting up the tour, and special thanks to the people at Vestas for sharing their time and expertise. Our tour guide, Phil McCarthy, senior production manager at the company, did an outstanding job in showing and explaining the many manufacturing steps and processes at the company. The tour was among the best I have taken in recent years. Vestas rolled out the “red carpet,” spent a lot of time with us, and answered many questions. I now have an even greater appreciation for wind turbines and their contribution to clean energy.

Time in Silicon Valley

September 23, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:44

I spent some time in the San Francisco Bay area this week, including the illustrious Silicon Valley. My first stop was Jabil, which is one of the largest and most interesting contract manufacturers on the planet. The company employs 175,000 people at 100+ sites in 23 countries. I visited the Jabil Blue Sky Center located in San Jose. The facility includes an impressive customer showcase of products, along with some of the best equipment and people available. The work that Jabil is doing in additive manufacturing has progressed significantly in a relatively short period of time. Already, many employees at the company are dedicated to AM. The Blue Sky facility has extensive labs with ~100 subject experts. It was a privilege to visit the site and spend time with two key employees.

My next stop was Carbon in Redwood City. The company produces the M2 machine that’s based on a stereolithography-like technology called CLIP—short for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. The process uses light to set the shape of a part and heat to set its mechanical properties. Whenever a new process or product is introduced by any young company, I’m somewhat sceptical until it’s proven and used by customers. Carbon has found one in adidas. Machines from Carbon are being used to manufacturer the sole for the new Futurecraft 4D running shoe from the footwear and clothing giant. About 10,000 units will be produced this year, 400,000 near year, 2 million in 2019, and 5 million in 2020. The commitment that adidas has made to Carbon speaks volumes.

My final stop was the TRX+ event organized by America Makes and held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. (TRX is short for Technical Review and eXchange.) The event was co-sponsored by San Rafael-based Autodesk. The company opened up its Pier 9 workshop and Autodesk Gallery to a sold-out crowd of 175 attendees. The two Autodesk sites are in easy walking distance from the Hyatt. I had visited both three years ago, so it was good to see what had changed. Since first making contact with Autodesk in 1983, I have been impressed by the achievements of the company, which is said to be the largest 3D modeling software company in the world.

Together, America Makes and Autodesk did an outstanding job with the organization of the TRX+ meetings and events. For the first time, an America Makes event was dedicated entirely to the subject of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). The first day provided the audience with reports on many DfAM-related R&D projects being conducted by the members of America Makes. The second day was an opportunity for speakers and panellists to share experiences, perspectives, and challenges associated DfAM. I found the presentations, discussions, and Q&A to be extremely interesting and worthwhile.

There’s no place like Silicon Valley. It’s crowded and expensive, but some of the largest and most successful corporations in the world are located there, along with thousands of start-up companies. One-third of all venture capital in the U.S. is spent in Silicon Valley. The talent and resources in the area are truly astounding. And, it’s a great place to see some of the most advanced AM-related technology, products, and services.

It’s All About the People

August 14, 2017

Filed under: education,life,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:27

Note: The following was authored by Doug Rhoda, CEO of DMS (Colorado Springs, Colorado). Rhoda was directly responsible for hiring more than 200 interns while CEO of Wolf Robotics (Fort Collins, Colorado). Today, an estimated 75% of Wolf’s permanent employees came from internships.

In my personal leadership and management journey, people that make up a team are the distinguishing factor of any business. My former mentor, now deceased, would coach me as I was growing a struggling robotic welding company, and he would say “It’s all about the people.”

Getting the right people “on the bus” is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Although not quick or expedient, I have found that building long-term mutual beneficial relationships with local universities and developing internship programs have been critical to getting the best people.

In spite of some of the headlines today, I have found reason for optimism with today’s young people. I have had the privilege of hiring and coaching so many millennials that are bright, hard-working, and capable. Like anyone, they are looking for autonomy (not to be micro-managed), mastery (to learn), and purpose in their work.

Our recipe, refined over the years, challenges young people. Our student interns start on the factory floor, getting their hands dirty, and learning our machines from the ground up. While they are in the factory, they are being evaluated by senior factory floor leaders to determine whether the individual has the right work ethic, attitude, and ability to learn.

An internship is like an extended interview. It’s an interview of the student by our staff, and it’s an interview of the company by the student. During the internship, the intern can determine whether the company and industry are of interest for long-term employment.

If the person is right and the economics justify it, we will hire graduating interns into full-time positions. In the case of engineering students, they are hired into a field service role, where they learn how the machines are applied and what customers value. We have found that after their customer service stint, the former interns discern where their passion and interests lie, and self-select—with our involvement—key roles in the business. Among them are design engineering, project management, and software development. Because of their strong foundation in the business, they contribute in unique and precious ways.

Talent recruited and developed through internships have been critical success factors in the businesses in which I have had the honor of being responsible. We will continue to invest in our internship programs to grow our business because it’s all about the people.

Next Generation AM

May 20, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 15:31

I visited Premium AEROTEC this week in Varel, Germany. The company employs more than 8,000 people and is 100% owned by Airbus. The Varel site produces large aluminum, titanium, and carbon-fiber composite parts and assemblies for the Airbus A330neo, A350, A380, A400M, Eurofighter, and other aircraft. The company is also doing very impressive work in the production of metal additive manufactured parts for Airbus.

Last month, Premium AEROTEC, Daimler, and EOS announced the Next Generation AM project. It is focused on large-scale series production applications in aerospace and automotive, with an emphasis on reducing costs through automation. One of the biggest opportunities is to reduce cost in the post-processing and finishing of metal AM parts. It is believed that about 70% of the costs of metal AM parts are tied to the steps that occur before and after building them on AM machines. The Next Generation AM project is also centered on needs associated with aluminum AM parts.

On Tuesday, Premium AEROTEC hosted about 150 people in an elaborate launch of the Next Generation AM project. I was lucky enough to be a part of it, as well as the launch of the company’s first metal AM production facility in Varel one year ago. It was a privilege to witness, first hand, the excitement surrounding these two very important events. We will one day look back at them to better appreciate the role they played in the evolution of AM in the aerospace and automotive industries.

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.

22nd Annual Wohlers Report

April 8, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:08

I’m happy to announce this week’s publication of Wohlers Report 2017. I sure wish that after so many years, it would become easier. It does not, mostly because of all the change and new developments in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. The annual effort is still very much related to the technology, but over time, it becomes as much or more about people. Our international network of friends, associates, and business contacts is what makes the report possible. We believe it is the largest and most developed network of its kind.

Our team is responsible for producing what I believe is the best edition of the report in more than two decades of publishing it. Associate consultants and principal authors Ian Campbell, Olaf Diegel, and Joseph Kowen carried much of the weight. With already very demanding schedules, each of them knew what needed to be done and delivered. In my view, they exceeded the standard of quality that customers and readers of the report have come to expect. They are real pros and it is a privilege to work with each of them.

Associate authors Dave Bourell and Ismail Fidan also played key roles. Year after year, they have contributed in ways that may not be fully appreciated by some. Both stepped up their involvement this year and I could not be happier with their efforts. Jenny van Rensburg, most recently at Central University of Technology, with continued involvement in the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa, served as editor and proof reader. Thank you, Jenny, for all of the hard work.

I’m also very appreciative of executive assistant Julie Whitney for handling the details associated with the orders we receive, not to mention almost everything else in the office. Also, I want to thank my wife, Diane, for handling the accounting, and for tolerating me during a challenging time. Without them, the business would not be what it is today. A special thanks to Craig Van Wechel for his outstanding graphics design work year after year, including the cover pictured above, and to Jason Norris for his contribution to our web pages. Thanks to Dan Silva, our IT guy, for his expert support.

And finally, my sincere thanks to the 76 co-authors and contributors in 31 countries that wrote important sections of the report. I appreciate everyone that played a part in producing and delivering Wohlers Report 2017. In just four days of sales, it has been sent to customers in 24 countries on four continents around the world.

Next Page »