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The Future of 3D Printing

December 2, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,future — Terry Wohlers @ 09:39

Like many, I’m intrigued by the prospects of the future. For 30 years, I have put thought into the developments and applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably. For most of this time, Wohlers Associates has focused its consulting, speaking, and publications on 3D printing technology. We are proud to have worked with 260 client organizations in 26 countries, with more in the queue.

In recent years, we have been asked to give even greater thought and consideration into what the future might hold. We believe that 3D printing will lead to far more product variety, coupled with entirely new types of products, many that are unthinkable today. Generative design and other software tools will contribute. Product inventories will shrink as companies transition toward cost-saving, digital inventories and on-demand manufacturing.

Biomimicry is a fascinating field that will inspire many to produce 3D-printed products that are lighter and stronger with enhanced performance characteristics. Our industry has barely scratched the surface of the almost endless list of possibilities. The opportunity is to learn from nature and then apply it to design for additive manufacturing. If I were to begin an advanced degree program today, it would focus in this area.

For the 13th time this year in a public setting, I will present thoughts and ideas surrounding the future of 3D printing. If you would like to be a part of the discussion, attend Inside 3D Printing at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. I speak at 9:00 am on Monday, November 4. I hope to see you there.

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.

CSU’s Idea2Product Lab

October 9, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education — Terry Wohlers @ 09:53

Note: The following was authored by Ray Huff, manager of the I2P lab at Colorado State University. He is an intern at Wohlers Associates.

At universities worldwide, 3D printing is unlocking doors previously unavailable to students, staff, and others. Five years ago, David Prawel introduced Colorado State University to 3D printing with a single RepRap 3D printer in the mechanical engineering department. News of the new technology spread quickly, and soon Prawel spun off a dedicated lab providing 3D printing education and services. The lab was modeled after Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs originally launched in South Africa by professor Deon de Beer.

I was introduced to the I2P lab in mid 2014. I had spent the first half of that year managing a fledgling web marketing startup in Denver, and was looking to shift into a more dynamic industry. After some preliminary research into the 3D printing industry in Colorado, I came across an open house at Colorado State hosted by the I2P lab. It included a symposium featuring Terry Wohlers, Andy Christensen, and others in Colorado. I was blown away by the amazing, cutting edge developments in my backyard. It was then I knew I had to find a way into this industry. A year later, while working at then 3D-printing startup Aleph Objects, I was encouraged to pursue a degree in engineering, and that brought me back to Colorado State and the I2P lab.

I accepted an offer to serve as lab manager during my first year and was immediately exposed to more developmental projects than I could have imagined. Entrepreneurs came to the lab seeking help in 3D modeling and proof-of-concept development. Researchers designed custom apparatuses for their experiments and fabricated them on the spot. Educators learned to think creatively in completely new ways to clearly demonstrate difficult concepts. Artists came to modify and replicate their models digitally and physically using 3D scanning and printing. Veterinary surgeons brought CT scan data to create bone and organ analogies in preparation for surgical procedures. Countless engineering students began to produce models of their designs from classes and projects. I found that with a little bit of education and guidance, people of all backgrounds can go further and faster with their ideas and innovations than ever before.

Today, the I2P lab looks vastly different than it did in the days of a single student running one 3D printer. Over the past two years, the I2P lab customer base has doubled to more than 700 registered users. The lab boasts 20 3D printers of both material extrusion and vat photopolymerization technologies. Users come from across campus and the community to make their dreams into realities.

As these technologies mature and become less expensive to implement, labs like I2P are developing and multiplying in nearly every corner of education. Already, maker spaces, schools at many levels, and even libraries are benefiting from the creative freedom offered by 3D printing, 3D scanning, and design software to empower the community. They are being challenged to transform ideas into realities that affect and improve lives.

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.

Importance of Design for AM

July 1, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:35

Note: The following was authored by Olaf Diegel, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Lasertech, a metal additive manufacturing (AM) company in northern Sweden, asked me to design something that showcased metal AM, so I chose a small still. The company wanted to use it as a special gift for executives. I designed the barrels of the still to measure 117 x 58 mm (4.6 x 2.3 inches).

One of the largest obstacles to broad adoption of metal AM is the significant amount of post-processing that is required. Premium AEROTEC, Daimler, and EOS agree that about 70% of the cost of metal AM is related to pre- and post-processing. For metal parts, support structures are used to anchor them to the build plate when printed. These structures are used to transfer heat to the build plate and prevent features of the parts from warping and distorting.

After the build process, the support structures must be removed—a process that often requires labor, skill, tools, and equipment. After removal, the surfaces of the parts require smoothing, such as hand filing and/or milling. I treated the small still as a design challenge, with the goal of using little or no support structures, other than what is required to attach the still to the build plate.

In general, it is important to avoid overhanging features with a surface area of more than a few square millimeters. Also, it is helpful to avoid features that are produced at angles greater than 45 degrees from vertical because they will require support material. The exact angle can vary depending on the material being used. For this project, I chose aluminum and made certain that features did not exceed a 45-degree angle.

The design resulted in no support structures whatsoever. The still was cut off the build plate and shot-peened and then was ready for use. The design shows that it is possible to reduce or entirely eliminate the need for these structures. It can dramatically reduce the time and cost in producing metal parts by AM.

Click here to see a series of nine images related to this project.

DfAM at Materialise

June 4, 2017

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 13:27

What does a major German car manufacturer, surgeon from Brazil, producer of food-making equipment, and large toy maker have in common? All are interested in methods of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM). Twenty-five people from five continents came together last week to explore, discuss, and learn how to design products for AM. Also represented were manufacturers of pumps, audio systems for cars, data projection systems, packaging equipment, heavy industrial products, and large vacuum systems. Key service providers from South Africa and China also participated.

The advanced, three-day course from Wohlers Associates took a deep dive into methods of DfAM, including the consolidation of many parts into one to reduce tooling, manufacturing, and inventory costs. The training, held in Leuven, Belgium, provided guidance on design optimization for reducing the use of material and making parts as light as possible. The participants used their own CAD software, along with Inspire from solidThinking for topology optimization and Magics Structures from Materialise for lattices and meshes.

Materialise hosted the event and provided five DfAM experts in a 75-minute panel session. The company also gave an outstanding 90-minute tour of its impressive facilities. It was helpful to those in attendance to see the wide range of machines, parts, and new businesses at Materialise. One example is the production of Yuniku 3D scanning systems for custom eyewear. The prescription eyeglasses are designed so that the optics are located in the optimal location relative to the eyes. They come with beautifully-designed frames that are produced by AM at Materialise.

We are thrilled with the participant feedback and glad the training went so well. Even so, we plan to make a number of adjustments prior to offering it again. A big thank you goes to those who attended from around the world and to the fine people at Materialise for contributing to its success. We could not have partnered with a better company.

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.

30 Years Later

December 4, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,life — Terry Wohlers @ 11:02

It does not seem possible, but it’s true: Wohlers Associates has been in business for three decades. I started the company in November 1986 after working at Colorado State University for five years. I was young at the time—not even 30—but it “felt” like the right thing to do. I was inspired by Dr. Joel Orr, a brilliant individual and extremely successful consultant, author, and speaker. I told myself that if I could do even a small fraction of what he does, it would be incredibly interesting and challenging. I don’t know that I’ve even “scratched the surface,” compared to what Joel has achieved, but it has been enormously gratifying, and I’ve been lucky to work with great people and organizations over the years.

The original focus of Wohlers Associates was on CAD tools and their application. I was presented with the opportunity of being the instructor of the first semester credit course on CAD at CSU in 1983. CAD experience and know-how were hard to find back then, so I was approached by three publishers to write a textbook. I accepted the offer from McGraw-Hill in 1985. The work experience and textbook provided a foundation for offering CAD instruction and consulting to local companies, such as HP, Kodak, Waterpik, and Woodward. I also accepted writing assignments from technical journals, which did not pay a lot, but they helped to introduce our startup company to the world. I learned from Joel that if you want to meet people with similar interests, speak at industry events, so I began to participate in technical conference programs.

30-years

Less than a year after starting the company, I came across a short but interesting article in a newsletter published by Joel. It was about a start-up company named 3D Systems, and it discussed a new process called stereolithography. I was fascinated by the concept and envisioned how powerful it could become in combination with CAD solid modeling tools, which were rolling out at around that time. Aries Concept Station was the first to support stereolithography. Dave Albert, a person that Joel and I know, was commissioned to create the CAD interface and file format for 3D Systems. It was called “STL” and it’s still being used extensively today. I don’t know whether Joel knows it, but I credit him for introducing me to additive manufacturing and 3D printing, a class of technology in which our company has spent most of its energy. I’m excited to go to work every day because of the almost endless opportunities that this technology presents.

I have many stories from the journey that began 30 years ago, but I will save most of them for another time. I do want to say that without my wife, Diane, the company would not exist. She has provided mountains of loving support and encouragement over the years. Also, she has graciously tolerated my crazy travel and work schedule. Without her, our accounting system would be a mess. I also give my sincerest gratitude to Joel Orr. Without his inspiration and encouragement, it’s safe to say that Wohlers Associates would not have been launched. Thanks also to countless others around the world for contributing and supporting our company over the past 30 years.

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