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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.

Metals at formnext

November 20, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:03

I attended last week’s formnext, powered by TCT, in Frankfurt, Germany. The four-day event, involving an international exhibition and conference, was outstanding, especially given that it was the second year. Most major companies in additive manufacturing and 3D printing were present, and many had very large and impressive exhibits. One could easily make the case that it was the most elaborate and striking display of AM products and services ever.

As with most events, the people in attendance were as important as anything. Organizations around the world sent their best and most informed employees. This is especially important for visitors wanting to schedule meetings and have discussions about AM and where it is headed. If the schedules of others were anything like mine—and I’m sure many were—they had little spare time through the week because of all that formnext had to offer.

engine-block2

If the event had a theme, it was metal AM. Additive Industries, Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, ReaLizer, Renishaw, 3D Systems, and SLM Solutions had large displays with machines and parts. Companies relatively new to metal AM that showed their machines were AddUp (a collaboration between Michelin and Fives), Farsoon, OR Laser, Sentrol, and Sisma. Fraunhofer ILT displayed a small and relatively low-cost metal AM machine that may be commercialized at some point.

Some of the mature companies showed automated metal powder removal and handling capabilities and concepts. As their customers ramp up for production quantities, this automation will become important. Absent was the automation of most other downstream operations, such as thermal stress relief (with the exception of Additive Industries), hot isostatic pressing, and the removal of parts from the build plate. Also absent was automating the removal of supports/anchors from the parts, CNC machining, and surface treatment.

Regardless of your interest in AM, formnext had something for everyone and was the place to be last week. One exhibition hall included a large and impressive concentration of technology and know-how. It was completely filled, so Messe Frankfurt and TCT employees are planning to expand into a second hall for the 2017 event, which is set for November 14-17. The four days of conference sessions were also very good and well attended. I only wish I could have attended more of them. Maybe next year.

South Africa

November 6, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:10

I spent last week in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, at RAPDASA 2016. It was the 17th annual conference and exhibition of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. I’ve been lucky enough to attend all 17 of them. Like fine wine, the event continues to improve with age, and this one was the best, thanks to organizer and host Vaal University of Technology. VUT’s Science and Technology Park, the venue for the event, completes more than 1,000 industrial projects annually with machines and facilities that rival the very best in the world.

On Monday, a few of us visited a company that VUT is working with it. The company produces cast impellers for large industrial compressors. VUT is using Voxeljet additive manufacturing technology to produce sand molds and cores for the impellers. It is not yet into production with the process, but it is expected to cut the cost in half, saving R2 million ($147,000) per casting. What’s more, the delivery will improve dramatically from an excruciating 9-12 months to just one month. The impellers spin at 3,000 rpm and operate in a harsh environment. Company management is ecstatic about what the technology will do for it.

cast-impellers

Much of South Africa’s work began many years ago at the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at Central University of Technology. Today, CRPM is extremely active, with more than 600 commercial projects annually. The group is running a wide range of industrial machines, including several metal AM systems that are at work building high-end parts used in an array of industries. One area of focus is around medical devices and implants. Earlier this year, CRPM received ISO certification, which shows that the people, processes, and work at CUT are among the best you’ll find anywhere.

A platinum project was launched recently with Lonmin, one of the world’s largest producers of the precious metal. I had the privilege of meeting and having dinner with several managers from the company. The effort is serious, although early in its development. The largest market for platinum, by far, is catalytic converters, followed by jewelry as a distant second. Time will tell whether the company can use AM to create entirely new markets for this special material, but it looks like the people are going into it with a lot of enthusiasm and determination.

What do these and other developments in South Africa have in common? Professor Deon de Beer. He began his work in AM at CUT where he helped launch the CRPM. He then went to VUT to establish the Science and Technology Park, which is mostly focused on AM. He’s now at North-West University, but has continued strong ties with CUT and VUT. His humble and somewhat quiet demeanor will fool you because he’s like a spark plug. He ignites an avalanche of activity wherever he goes and brings out the very best of people that surrounds him. Without Deon and his inspiration, AM progress would be VERY different in the country.

South Africa is home to many Idea 2 Product (I2P) labs, with more than 25 operating worldwide. They consist of facilities full of equipment for hands-on learning of CAD, 3D printing, and other design and manufacturing technology. The I2P labs were also a brainchild of Deon de Beer. With him and a growing number of colleagues and others, South Africa has grown to become a leader in additive manufacturing. The adoption of the technology is not as deep and widespread as it is in the U.S. and parts of Europe, but the work is just as advanced and impressive. I credit de Beer and the formation of RAPDASA (both the association and annual event) for the on-going ideas, programs, strategy, and education that are provided country-wide.

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