Will 7-axis 3D printing drive the Factory of the Future? Can we take the labor out of composite materials? And what exactly is a ‘3D Demonstrator’?
We caught up with Simon Brandon, UK Marketing Manager for Stratasys, at the recent TCT show in Birmingham for answers. With pressure from newcomer giants HP and Ricoh to the additive manufacturing market, current industry leader Stratasys knows 2016 is no time to rest on its laurels. Instead, its been pushing 3D printing into production by designing highly tailored solutions for customers and partners – beginning with the multi-material J750 3D printer earlier this year, and more recently, with the unveiling of two step-change technologies known as ‘3D Demonstrators.’
Larger and Lighter 3D printed Parts
“These are really technology demonstrators – not products that are for sale yet, but ones that are looking at where attitudes in additive manufacturing are headed,” explained Simon, referring to Stratasys’ Infinite-Build and Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrators. “When you’re working with companies like Siemens, Ford, and Boeing on these projects, it’s a really good indication that AM has moved way beyond prototyping and into the manufacturing world.”
The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator is a new take on Stratasys’ proven FDM technology that turns 3D printing on its side, printing on a vertical plane for practically unlimited part size in the build direction. The ‘infinite’ refers to both size and scalability, as the technology can be used to 3D print extremely large and lightweight composite parts with repeatable mechanical properties – something Boeing is already exploring.
Robotic 3D Printing of Composite Materials
We’ve said it before: the future of 3D printing may very well be in continuous composites, robotic arms, and even more likely, both technologies combined.
That’s precisely where Stratasys and Siemens PLM Software are headed with the development of the Robotic Composite Demonstrator, which combines 3D printing with an 8-axis motion system for the extrusion of continuous fiber composites. By automating the process for making complex composite parts, it eliminates the current need for manual labor, and enables truly strong yet lightweight AM parts.
“People are talking about the ‘Factory of the Future,’ so we have to think ‘what steps can we take to get there?’” said Simon.
“The robotic arm, 7 axes 3D printing is one possibility. For companies like Ford, like Boeing, these types of applications are going to be important. So we’re looking at these long-term demonstrators to define where manufacturing is headed in the future.”
By Customers, For Customers
Rather than providing a generalized solution, Stratasys’ 3D Demonstrators were created for the specific needs of very specific partners, and can be tailored to nearly any vertical’s needs.
And as Simon led on during our interview, this customer-centric approach is integral to Stratasys’ commercial products as well. Namely, the Fortus 3D production systems, and advanced materials research multi-material 3D printers.
“With the Fortus, we’re increasing the speed and developing new materials. It’s an evolving platform that has been a mainstay in the manufacturing world for 3D printing figs, fixtures and tooling,” said Simon.
“More importantly than the machines themselves is the material. We get feedback from customers that want more tensile strength, temperature resistance, flame retardance, food certification… so we’re working on all of that. It’s really vital for the production world.”
Speaking of new materials, of course, brought us to the subject of the J750 6+1 material, full-color polyjet 3D printer. Here again, Simon highlighted Stratasys’ customer-driven process:
“I remember back in April when we launched [the J750], we got a lot of excitement about the models we had designed and printed. But even then, we knew what would be more exciting, is giving it a year, and seeing what people do when they push it to its capabilities. A lot of the best applications that we’ve seen have actually come back to us from customers.”
Progression in Production
To cap off the interview, Simon brought up an ongoing case study: Schneider Electric’s ‘Factory of the Future.’ The French multi-national energy company has been working with Stratasys to integrate 3D printing into its production workflow. “The story is sort of a great example of innovation within a company,” said Simon.
Schneider began prototyping products, then moved into prototyping jigs and fixtures using Stratasys technology. Now, they’ve slashed production costs even further by 3D printing injection moulds for prototype designs.
“That goes back to what we were saying about materials: new materials allow that to happen. They are now starting to link everything together and say, ‘we want the Factory of the Future, and we want to use whatever technology there is to get there.’”