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Proto Labs

October 8, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:30

Yesterday, Proto Labs celebrated the grand opening of its new 7,154 sq meter (77,000 sq ft) 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina, located at the west edge of Raleigh. Proto Labs is best known for quick turn injection molding and CNC machining, with headquarters in Maple Plain, Minnesota. The company entered the 3D printing business when it acquired FineLine Prototyping of North Carolina in April 2014. FineLine, headed by Rob Connelly, had a strong reputation for quality over a period of many years. Whenever I would hear something about FineLine, it was positive.

Connelly told me that the new site is running 48 stereolithography, 10 laser sintering, and 13 metal powder bed fusion machines. With its Germany and Finland sites, Proto Labs is operating 121 industrial 3D printing systems and growing. This represents a tremendous amount of prototyping and manufacturing capacity and is now one of the largest in the world.

proto-labs

Vicki Holt, CEO of Proto Labs since 2014, and Connelly generously gave me a personal tour on Thursday after I arrived into Raleigh. I received a second tour yesterday as part of the grand opening. As expected, I was impressed by the organization and sheer number of machines and jobs running through the facility. The company’s software for scheduling and tracking jobs, produced entirely in-house, is at the core of the operation. Large monitors in many places graphically show new and existing jobs that are making their way through the system. On average, about 275 customer projects are quoted daily for 3D printing. The site’s 150 employees handle everything from customer inquiries to scheduling jobs and shipping. For a premium, customers can obtain parts that are produced and shipped the same day.

Holt explained to me that the company’s “sweet spot” is its very quick turn around. Proto Labs is not competing on cost, but rather on consistently delivering high quality parts in the shortest amount of time possible. As a chemist and veteran in polymers and manufacturing, she knows what it takes to make customers happy. From 1979 to 2013, Holt held various positions at Monsanto, Solutia (a Monsanto spin-off), PPG Industries, Spartech Corp. (owned by PolyOne), and other companies. Holt and Connelly’s attention to detail, and that of their employees, coupled with their strengths in interacting with people, play a big role in attracting and keeping customers. Congrats to Proto Labs for its new and very impressive facility.

RØDE Microphones

August 15, 2016

Two of our consultants and I have had the privilege of visiting RØDE Microphones of Sydney, Australia. RØDE is a manufacturer of world-class microphone products for studio recording, performances, video broadcasts, and live interviews. It also manufactures microphones for presenters (lavalier and button mics) and smart phones. Over the past nearly two years, we have worked with RØDE and learned a great deal about the company and its products. Peter Freedman, managing director and chief executive, has given permission to disclose and discuss our relationship publicly.

RØDE hires some of the best people in Australia and other parts of the world. The company has offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Most of the Australian employees we’ve met are young, bright, and energetic. Freedman is the driver of new products, is constantly pushing the limits, and is the heart and soul of the company. RØDE is running $30 million in precision equipment, including a considerable number of new machines that were installed since we’ve started working together. Freedman seeks to be among the best of the best in the design and manufacturing of microphones. And, it shows by the company’s strong growth in recent years.

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I feel lucky to be able to work with great companies such as RØDE and people like Freedman and his team. He always has a can-do attitude and is constantly looking for new and better ways for product development and manufacturing. Over our 29 years in business, I have worked with a few people and organizations that find reasons why you cannot do something and serve as obstacles to progress. Fortunately, most of the people that we’ve encountered have the right spirit and outlook. Engineering consultant, futurist, and friend Joel Orr once said, “Success breeds success.” I could not agree more, and RØDE is a company that is producing a lot of it.

GE’s New AM Center

August 1, 2016

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 09:45

In April 2016, GE opened its new Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA), located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 11,613-sq meter (125,000-sq ft) facility was designed to drive innovation and adoption of additive manufacturing across the company’s major businesses. They include Aviation, Energy Connections, Healthcare, Oil & Gas, Power, Renewable Energy, Transportation, and Current, powered by GE. CATA houses multiple AM machines from EOS, SLM Solutions, Stratasys, and ExOne. They are complimented by many CNC machining centers, EDM, heat treatment chambers, and other equipment. Space is available that would essentially double the number of machines and processes at the facility.

I toured CATA last Thursday and found it to be jaw-dropping impressive. It will almost guarantee an acceleration of knowledge and understanding of AM for production applications within the company. Having spent time with GE employees from several businesses over the years, I can say without reservation that many have solid AM experience. Even so, company management would be first to admit that the opportunity to grow and expand expertise across the 305,000-employee corporation is vast. CATA will help the company get there more quickly. Work at the facility is focused on mid technology readiness levels (i.e., TRL 4-7).

cata

GE advanced its position in AM when it acquired Morris Technologies, and its sister company, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, in November 2012. Greg Morris, then CEO and owner of the company, is the leader of Additive Technologies at GE Aviation. In 2013, GE Aviation announced that it had developed a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for its new LEAP engine. The attention received by the nozzle, which is now in production, has been an inspiration to countless organizations worldwide. Airbus was the first to receive LEAP engines, each with 19 nozzles, in April 2016 for the A320neo aircraft.

GE is making a big investment in additive manufacturing. However, it has shown few new designs since the public announcement of the fuel nozzle program. In my view, it is time for the company to show another advanced and exciting design for AM to serve as further inspiration inside and outside the company. It would make a bold statement and show the company’s leadership in the adoption and advancement of AM technology.

CATA is located about an hour from America Makes, which is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. Other key organizations close to CATA are Alcoa, ATI, Carpenter Technology, ExOne, Lincoln Electric, and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. Universities include Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Pennsylvania State, University of Pittsburgh, and Youngstown State. These organizations were a factor in choosing the location for CATA, a $40-million facility that signals how important AM has become at GE. The world-class facility will likely serve as a model for other large corporations globally.

SME’s RAPID 2016

May 21, 2016

I attended this week’s RAPID 2016 in Orlando, Florida. As usual, the conference and exposition were excellent. An estimated 5,190 attended the event, compared to 4,512 last year. Exhibit space increased to 4,153 sq meters (44,700 sq ft), up from 2,903 sq meters (31,250 sq ft) last year. The following are a few highlights of the event:

● HP introduced and showed its Jet Fusion 3200 and 4200 3D printers for the first time publicly. The machines are capable of addressing 340 million voxels per second in thermoplastic materials, such as PA12. They are 10 times faster and operate at half the cost of competitive systems, according to HP. The systems are mostly open, which means they support third-party materials at competitive prices.

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● Renishaw showed its new RenAM 500M machine that produces metal parts. The engineering is impressive. Meanwhile, 3D Systems displayed its new ProX DMP 320 machine for producing metal parts. It is based on technology developed by Belgium-based LayerWise, which was acquired by 3D Systems in 2014.

● Xjet of Israel introduced its NanoParticle Jetting technology. It uses inkjet printing to produce parts in stainless steel and silver. The parts are small, but the feature detail is good.

● Event organizer SME hosted a fashion show that featured entirely new 3D-printed designs. Many were impressive. I have now attended five fashion shows that highlight 3D-printed products and it’s remarkable how far the designs have advanced in a few years.

fashion-show

Congrats to SME for another great event, which continues to improve year after year. With increasing applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing for final part production, the event has the opportunity to grow much larger in the future.

RAPID 2017 will be held May 8-11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Add it to your calendar and plan to attend.

Last Week’s Euromold 2015

September 27, 2015

The 22nd annual Euromold event was held last week in Düsseldorf, Germany. Other than a few companies missing from the exhibition floor, it could not have gone better. More than 450 exhibitors from 33 countries showed their latest products and services. More than one-third of them were from the additive manufacturing and 3D printing space, giving visitors a lot to see and learn. A fashion show on Friday featured models with stunning 3D-printed accessories.

fashion
Large crowd in awe by the work shown at the Euromold fashion show

This year’s Euromold conference program was expanded to three days, with the support of USA-based SME. Jeff Kowalski, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Autodesk energized a packed room at the opening keynote. His comments were inspiring, and people were discussing them days after his presentation. Kowalski said that quality and reliability are holding back 3D printing. He also explained how we are entering the “imagination age,” but it will require completely new software capabilities to help propel the industry forward. His fresh and forward-thinking ideas gave hope to those who feel that CAD software currently hinders their ability to unlock the full potential of 3D printing.

euromold
Left: Jeff Kowalski of Autodesk. Right: Lively panel session on 3D printing software tools and data with Wilfried Vancraen of Materialise, Scott White of HP, Chris Romes of Autodesk, Emmett Lalish of Microsoft, and session chair Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates

Dr. Jules Poukens, a cranio-maxillofacial surgeon, was keynote speaker the second day of the conference. He shared video footage of his team implanting a cranial plate, as well as the world’s first complete mandible (jaw) replacement. Both were custom-designed and 3D-printed in titanium. The full room of people were amazed by this work.

On the final day, Stephen Nigro of HP took center stage as keynote speaker. Nigro is senior vice president at HP and responsible for company’s printing business, which is valued at more than $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. On November 1, 2015, he becomes president of HP’s new 3D printing business. Similar to the previous two days, the room was completely packed, with people lining the walls and queued in the doorways. Nigro said the 2D printing business is $230 billion annually, but 3D printing has the potential to exceed it in size. I was flattered when he used Wohlers Associates’ data to illustrate his point. If 3D printing penetrates just 5% of the global manufacturing economy, it will surpass 2D printing by nearly three times.

The three-day conference concluded with an outstanding keynote by Jason Dunn of Made In Space. The company successfully designed, produced, and placed the first 3D printer on the International Space Station. The excellence of Dunn’s information, along with that of the other speakers and panelists, coupled with the number and quality of people in attendance, were, by far, the best in 17 years of running the conference. Thanks to everyone in attendance, and to the teams at DEMAT and SME, for their involvement. We look forward to Euromold 2016, again in Düsseldorf, which is a great place to spend a few days. Please add December 6–9, 2016 to your calendar. I look forward to seeing you there!

HP’s Stephen Nigro

September 12, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 11:38

Stephen Nigro is senior vice president of PPS Imaging and Printing at HP. He has worldwide responsibility for the company’s printing business, which includes HP InkJet, HP LaserJet, and HP Graphics. This business is roughly $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. One can easily conclude that Nigro is very important to HP.

nigro
Stephen Nigro

It was announced last week that Nigro will focus entirely on 3D printing on November 1, 2015. This news was first reported in an article by Fortune. In my opinion, this is very big news for the company and 3D printing industry. The announcement speaks volumes about the importance of HP Multi Jet Fusion technology and how the company believes it will develop in the future.

Dion Weisler, CEO of HP Inc. (beginning November 1), has stated more than once that the 3D printing industry has not solved the major problems of speed, quality, and cost. HP hopes to address these problems with Nigro’s help. He will continue to report to Weisler as the company expands into 3D printing. “Over the next 5-10 years, I think [3D printing] will be a really big core part of our business,” Weisler stated recently. Nigro will be a key to making it happen.

Update: After the above was originally published, Nigro was named president of HP 3D Printing.

3D Printing in Australia

June 21, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:20

Last month, the Australian government announced the funding of a new program that could give 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) a boost in the country. On May 26, the Honorable Ian Macfarlane, Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science, announced the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Center (IMCRC). Much of the program is expected to center on AM and related methods and technologies. The focus on AM may have been partly inspired by America Makes, coupled with the investments and alliances associated with the U.S. initiative.

The IMCRC is a collaboration of 14 manufacturing companies, 16 universities, and CSIRO, which is Australia’s top federal agency for scientific research. Four industry bodies will help recruit more than 300 additional small and medium-sized enterprises to serve as “portal partners.” As part of the program launch, the Commonwealth is providing A$40 million (US$31 million). An additional A$210 million (US$163 million) is expected in cash and in-kind contributions from industry, research institutes, and state governments, bringing the total investment to A$250 million (US$194 million).

The announcement lingered for about nine months, so many people welcomed the long-awaited news. Senior consultant Tim Caffrey and I were in Australia when the announcement was made, with the IMCRC being the center of attention. We believe that it will indeed provide a much-needed lift to advanced manufacturing in the country, but as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” It will be interesting to observe how Australia sorts through the maze of challenges associated with coordinating so many people, organizations, and agendas. As with America Makes and other national efforts, the challenge and opportunity is to make a difference, and that’s easier said than done.

The day before the announcement, CSIRO officially launched its new and impressive Lab 22. Tim and I were present to participate in the festivities and meet many of the talented researchers and scientists at CSIRO. Lab 22 was established as center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types.

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Lab 22’s Voxeljet VX1000 installation

Equipment in the new lab includes an Arcam A1 electron beam melting machine, a Concept Laser M2 laser-based machine, and a Voxeljet VX1000 machine for producing sand casting molds and cores. The lab was established as a center of excellence for organizations wanting to explore metal AM, so it welcomes participation by organizations of all types. CSIRO also has an Optomec LENS MR-7 directed energy deposition machine and a cold spray plasma additive process.

Australia is establishing a strong foundation in AM. The adoption of the technology in the private sector may not be as great as it is in some advanced countries, but the pieces are coming together for it to close the gap. The Melbourne area, alone, may well have the highest mix of metal AM systems in the world (in an area of this size), with nine direct metal AM systems. Among them are machines from Arcam, Concept Laser, EOS, Optomec, SLM Solutions, and Trumpf. The Concept Laser Xline 1000R at Monash University, and two Trumpf TruLaser 7040 machines, one each at Monash and RMIT University’s Advance Manufacturing Precinct, are very large, both in size and investment.

Jobs from 3D Printing

June 6, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:47

Government officials have been asking how 3D printing will create jobs in their part of the world. The subject came up again last week in Melbourne, Australia when meeting with people at the state government of Victoria. We explained that some companies and businesses would not exist if it wasn’t for 3D printing. An example is Align Technology, makers of the Invisalign plastic aligners that replace metal brackets and wire to straighten teeth.

invisalign
Invisalign manufacturing, courtesy of Align Technology

Align takes advantage of additive manufacturing to produce parts used to thermoform sets of custom plastic aligners. The company involves many additional processes, including CT scanning, special software, 5-axis CNC milling, robotics, polishing, and other methods of manufacturing and packaging. Seeing it in action is impressive. Much of it involves a great deal of sophisticated automation, which has dramatically reduced manual labor, but has also created many jobs. The company employs 3,580 people. Consider also all of the people needed to design, produce, sell, and service the machinery and systems that make everything tick at the company. And, consider the many dental professionals that are impacted by the Invisalign product.

As 3D printing penetrates production applications more deeply, it will involve many upstream and downstream processes. Among them: new methods of design and redesign, data management and IT, and cloud computing and web services. Also, it will involve thermal processes and machining operations, materials and material handling equipment, surface treatment and methods of coating, and inspection and process improvement. Consider all of people and jobs behind these machines and processes.

3D printing is what made it possible for Align Technology to create personalized plastic aligners. It is the enabling technology that will help launch many other new companies and businesses. Organizations of all types and sizes will put 3D printing to work to manufacture custom, limited edition, and even relatively high volumes of products, especially in the future. When viewing it from this perspective, it will create many jobs. A manager at GE put it best when he said, “Additive manufacturing won’t create thousands of new businesses; it will create tens of thousands.” And, behind them will be countless jobs.

Major Brands Adopt 3D Printing

February 2, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 14:07

Commercial 3D printing has been around since 1988, but change over the past two years is unlike anything we’ve seen in the industry’s first 25 years. Major corporations are making commitments to 3D printing. The earliest adopters of the technology were the likes of Chrysler, GM, Pratt & Whitney, and Texas Instruments, but the recent wave of big companies and brands fall into another category.

Among the new companies are Autodesk, Adobe, and Microsoft. Led by CEO Carl Bass, Autodesk is planning to play a role in easing the flow of 3D model data, from concept to 3D printing. Pre-processing steps can include the cleanup and “healing” of 3D models, the creation of support structures, slicing, and optimizing the orientation of parts. Autodesk aims to simplify these steps. Adobe has added features to Photoshop CC that it hopes will help users streamline the preparation of data for 3D printing. Microsoft is promoting its new 3MF file format as an alternative to the STL and AMF formats.

brands

Wohlers discussed these brands in an “analyst outlook” presentation
at CES in January 2015 in Las Vegas

Other major brands that have entered the 3D printing industry are Amazon, eBay, and Dell. Amazon has created a new 3D printing store that competes, to some degree, with Shapeways. About 1.5 years ago, eBay launched a new app for creating custom print-on-demand products, and Dell is selling 3D printers and materials. Meanwhile, Office Depot, Staples, Home Depot, Toys “R” Us, and UPS have gotten into 3D printing market at various levels. The two office supply stores and Home Depot are attempting to sell 3D printers. Toys “R” Us is installing kiosks for creating and printing toys in two of it stores. UPS is offering 3D printing services at 100 of its stores across the U.S.

What does all of this mean? A vote of confidence from major software companies, large e-commerce sites, and retail outlets has propelled 3D printing to a new height. It’s uncertain whether these companies will succeed with their initiatives, but the technology is finally getting the attention and respect it deserves.

HP Multi Jet Fusion

December 7, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 19:21

On two separate occasions in October 2014, I saw HP Multi Jet Fusion machines running and building parts. The new technology uses HP thermal inkjet arrays to print fusing and detailing agents onto thin layers of thermoplastic powder. An energy source is used to fuse the areas where the agents were deposited. What I saw was extraordinary. The build speed is 10 times faster than other 3D printers and additive manufacturing systems, according to HP, and what I witnessed supports this claim.

The quality of the parts I saw and held also got my attention, especially since the technology that produced the parts will not become a product until 2016. The edges of the parts were crisp, the features were well defined, and areas that are supposed to flat were indeed flat. Also, a number of them were multi-colored. Bringing together this speed, part quality, and multi-color using thermoplastic materials is a first.

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Left: HP senior vice president Stephen Nigro and USA Today reporter on October 29, 2014 in New York City. Middle: Vase and flower printed in color. Right: 3D-printed mechanism for use on the Multi Jet Fusion machine. According to HP, it out-performed a similar mechanism that was machined in metal.

Strength properties of parts made on the machine, I was told, are good. However, until we see independent test data, it’s too early to say how they compare to laser-sintered parts. A car weighing 4,536 kg (10,000 lbs) was lifted using a 113-gram (0.25 lb) chain link printed on the HP machine.

We will better understand the impact that Multi Jet Fusion will have on the market after we hear from customers using the machine. Until then, it’s difficult to know what it will be. However, I believe it could compete with conventional plastics processing, such as injection molding, for certain types of parts and quantities. This would disrupt both the 3D printing and plastics processing industries.

HP has not yet discussed pricing, but the company has referred to “breakthrough economics” on multiple occasions when describing its possible impact. If the machine is priced aggressively and the consumables are competitive for manufacturing quantities, I truly believe it could not only be a game-changer, but it could rewrite the rules of 3D printing.

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