2018 was an undeniably huge year for the additive manufacturing industry. Not only did we see more 3D printed firsts and new product launches, but the industry also showed clear signs of advancing towards industrialization. Another key trend this past year seems more than appropriate to highlight at this time of year: we saw many companies in AM, both large and small, teaming up and learning to work together (through partnerships, acquisitions and the like) for the advancement of the industry. This demonstrates that companies understand that both competition and collaboration will be essential to driving the industry ahead.
All in all, this has been a great year for additive manufacturing and, as we enter the new year, we have little doubt that the momentum from 2018 will carry through into 2019 for an even more exciting year of growth. Here’s a quick look back over some of 2018’s top additive manufacturing highlights.
In October 2018, Swiss technology group Oerlikon brought together over 1000 international experts from the additive manufacturing industry as well as high profile speakers and industry stakeholders for its MTC2 conference. At the event, Oerlikon made clear its intention to take a leading role in promoting collaboration with key partners such as GE, Siemens, and all major AM hardware manufacturers toward completing the industrialization process of AM in various areas of industrial manufacturing.
MIT has made a number of significant impacts on the AM industry, largely through its innovative research projects. This year, however, the school seems to have consolidated its focus on the AM industry by launching a new industry-facing consortium, the Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (aptly named ADAPT). The ultimate goal of ADAPT is to combine the resources and efforts of several key AM industry stakeholders to leverage MIT’s unique research and development experience and capabilities.
Notably, MIT also launched a new 11-week online course in additive manufacturing which has potential to be one of the most important initiatives for reaching professionals who have an interest or a stake in AM all over the world.
The biggest 3D printing event of the past year, Formnext, is owed a place on this list for a number of reasons. Not only has the show itself grown to amazing proportions (it welcomed 550 exhibitors from all over the world this year) but its own success reflects the growth and evolution of the AM industry on the whole. The event also provided a fertile environment for new industry partnerships and announcements, most of which can be found here.
Earlier this month, Siemens inaugurated its 15th factory in the UK with the launch of its new Materials Solution facility for additive manufacturing. In the facility, you can find some of the most cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, like metal 3D printing systems, post-production machines, state-of-the-art 3D scanners and fully automated robots. The new Materials Solutions facility will serve a range of sectors, including oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, automotive, tooling and process industries and motorsport.
This past September, HP Inc. put much industry speculation to rest with the announcement of its new metal 3D printing platform: HP Metal Jet. Similar to its Multi Jet Fusion printing technology, HP’s new metal AM platform makes big promises, including the capacity to print mechanically functional metal parts for mass production at up to 50 times greater productivity and at half the cost of competing binder jetting systems. The company will officially be launching the HP Metal Jet Production Service in 2019 to fill orders for production-grade metal parts. We also got the chance to speak to HP’s Tim Weber about the new metal AM technology in an in depth interview.
AM giant EOS introduced its new LaserProFusion AM technology for polymers at Formnext 2018, a technology that promises such a high level of productivity it could compete with injection molding processes. The process itself consists of using nearly one million diode lasers to melt the polymer material, building up the part layer by layer. The new technology not only reinforces EOS position in the polymer AM segment but also demonstrates that polymer additive manufacturing is moving into a new, more industrial stage.
Another notable product launch of this past year has been the Figure 4 modular production system from 3D Systems. 3D Systems’ Figure 4 is one AM technology that has the potential to radically change how plastic parts are produced. The Figure 4 Production system enables digital molding for low- and medium-volume plastic parts. Unlike traditional injection molding, Figure 4 digital molding doesn’t require time-consuming, costly tooling processes.
Within the realm of new technologies, Stratasys also set its sights on more industrialized polymer AM processes with the new Selective Toner Electrophotographic Process (STEP) process, to be developed and commercialized through its new company Evolve Additive Solutions. After nearly 10 years as an incubation project, the new company will focus on bringing the proprietary STEP technology to market. The tech itself is aimed at delivering high-volume production additive manufacturing at breakthrough speeds compared to other commercially available additive processes. Even more recently, Evolve announced a new partnership with Kodak to utilize its imaging technology to improve the STEP process.
In the automotive sector, BMW made some big gains in additive manufacturing. Not only did the company announce a huge investment of €10 million in its new BMW Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleissheim, but it also marked an important milestone: its millionth 3D printed part in ten years. The new facility will allow the company to continue developing and further expand its expertise in the automotive sector with AM.
Turning to aviation, one of the year’s biggest stories came from GE Aviation which took significant steps in the adoption and industrialization of metal AM for aircraft manufacturing. Notably, the company certified its Concept Laser metal AM systems for the production of a metal bracket for the GEnx engine. The part, which was also approved by the FAA, went into full scale production at GE Aviation’s facility in Auburn, Alabama in October.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of 2018’s top stories, as the year was chock full of boundary pushing product launches, research breakthroughs and new startups. Other notable mentions come from XJet, which is taking its ceramic and metal direct jetting technology to the next level and Paramatters which just launched CogniCAD, its smart generative design software for AM.