The AM industry is unique in many ways but one of those ways is how innovation is not just coming from the very top of the pyramid but also from the base. This young industrial segment is still far from consolidating in the hands of just a few major players as most mature industrial segments have for several decades. We are at the dawn of a new industrial revolution, however a revolution of this magnitude takes decades to complete. The best part in the beginning anything new is the galactic chaos formed by a growing number fragments which will eventually disappear or gravitate toward larger stars and galaxies. On this front there were many good news from formnext 2017.
While the biggest news at formnext were exciting, dozens of other companies are now finding their own niche businesses, not just by building and using new 3D printers but also by developing new solutions for everything that surrounds the digital, additive manufacturing process, from design and workflow software to post processing and finishing solutions.
Moving on Up to Production
Not just the biggest companies in the industry are looking at implementing production capabilities. A growing number of mid-size players are also continuing to introduce new concepts and evolving their technologies and materials toward a more automated AM workflow targeted at final part production.
Perhaps one of the most impressive new products seen at formnext is DWS‘s XCELL system. This automated production cell integrates a 3D printing unit as well as a washing and curing uint into a single automated platform, which also stands out for DWS’s unique and stylish design. voxeljet another mid-sized company specializing in binder jetting technology presented its much awaited vx200HSS system, for high speed thermal sintering (in direct competition with HP’s MJF approach). The company also showed off its ceramic capabilities in partnership with Johnson Matthey. Turkish 3D printer distributor Teknodizayin also introduced an original new approach for part removal in its continuous LOOP 3D printer.
While a number of affordable extrusion systems are now focusing on PEEK and PEI capabilities, Roboze has established a leadership in this segment which the company is now seeking to build upon with the new Argo 500 system. This enclosed large size system gathered a lot of interest from many of the show’s professional visitors.
Finding the SLS Sweet Spot
In no other technological segment is this convergence clearer than in SLS. While industrial systems are becoming more affordable (with Prodways offering the P1000 for around €100K and XYZprinting introducing its MfgPro230 xS for around $60K), benchtop systems are becoming more efficient and reliable. Sinterit is probably the company that is furthest ahead, selling its highly proficient and versatile Lisa for just under $5K, however Sharebot and Sintratec are also further consolidating their expertise while Formlabs has now set next March for presentation of the Fuse 1 and even brought some of the first parts to see at formnext (which however still need some improvement). Nevertheless, as Formlabs moves into this segment, raising awareness through its marketing muscles, adoption of benchtop SLS is likely to pick up significantly.
A few samples of the very first Fuse 1 3D printed parts:
Top-driven Bottom-up Innovation
Bottom up innovation also comes in terms of material. Sometimes the largest companies are the enablers of new bottom driven applications. BASF’s introduction of Ultrafuse 316LX metal polymer composite filament will enable a number of metallic 3D printing applications, in a similar fashion to Desktop Metal’s studio and Markforged MetalX systems.
Another example comes from Formlabs and the new ceramic resin material for its highly affordable Form 2 systems. Announced as a research project within the FormX initiative, the new Ceramic FLCEWH01 is now ready for commercial release (by the end of 2017 as scheduled). Destined for a purely decoration and basic consumer product use, the new ceramic photopolymer mix is going to open up an impressive range of new high-resolutions, complex ceramic product possibilities, immediately driving access cost down from several tens of thousand to just a few thousand dollars.
The smallest new 3D printer on display at formnext was the Russian built Cybermicro system, starting at $350. Several Russian companies were present at formnext. Cybermicro was sharing the booth with 3D scanner manufacturer Thor3D (where I got to try the impressively easy to use Drake 3D scanner). The Russian answer to Micro3D promises much more reliability and print quality than its lower prices american counter part. The company is now seeking to enter the educational market.
The XYZprinting booth was basically a one stop shop for every major technology in 3D printing. The company showed off its new binder jetting, SLS, DLP and full color FDM systems demonstrating it is more than capable to deliver reliable professional technologies at a lower price than just about anyone else in the industry.
Its plaster based full binder jetting systems is fast, affordable and easy to use, so much so that the company was almost “letting” visitors take objects from its display shelves. The same goes for the DLP system. EMEA marketing manager Cin Yee told us laughing that people took the castable resin 3D models more than the silver 3D printed final rings. Thinking back about how only a couple of years ago most companies guarded their 3D printed products on display at shows as if they were made of gold, this may be one of the biggest changes and key evolutionary trend that has taken place.
The date is already set for next year: 13-16 November 2018