While the presence of large multinational companies such as RICOH and HP at TCT in Birmingham is contributing to fuel future growth and AM awareness, one additional benefit is that these companies supplied an incentive for current market leaders, such as EOS and Stratasys, to step up their innovation and communication policies.
HP, RICOH, Arcam and SLM Solutions (Powered by GE) and even Carbon (powered by Google and GE) may end up having a harder time establishing a leading role the industry than initially thought. After dominating Drupa, Rapid and In3Dustry in Barcelona, HP’s was the largest stand on the show floor at TCT however it was not necessarily the most visited. For Carbon the situation was even more complicated as the system was reportedly held at customs and was not even available to view in operation.
Nevertheless, these large players are proving doubly beneficial for the industry as a whole. One reason can be found in their marketing power and ability to raise awareness; the second and perhaps most significant reason is that they have pushed current market leaders such Stratasys and EOS to change some of their approaches and significantly step up in their communication and innovation activities.
Competitive SLS Production
Apparently, SLS is going to continue to be competitive on several thousand parts production runs. EOS Area Sales Manager Garth Stevenson (in a meeting set up by EOS’s newly appointed external press office), one thing that appeared very clearly is that the company is extremely confident about its production capabilities, both in metal and polymers. EOS may not be very flashy but looking closely at its products and materials it is easy to agree. The new M400-4 with four lasers is likely to become a reference for high-speed laser powder bed fusion, while the smaller M100 is going to increase unit sales numbers. We’ll find out more about that at formnext.
No other company has the material capabilities that EOS has today in powder bed fusion (or even extrusion) of thermopolymers (including PEEK, which Mr. Stevenson and the company view as “a very big opportunity”). Two leading UK-based 3D printing services, 3DPrintUK and Digits2Widgets, made it a point to clearly demonstrate that SLS can already be competitive with injection molding on several thousand parts (up to 20,000) if considering small, relatively complex and very precise geometries. While HP’s planar technology is ultra-fast, it will not be able to do that at launch.
Setting FDM Free at TCT
On the professional extrusion side, Stratasys is already building the future of thermoplastic (and composites) manufacturing with Siemens. The current market leader announced it at IMTS however TCT gave the opportunity to the European public to understand exactly what the company means by its new Infinite Build, 7 axes based approach to thermoplastic production and composites. It’s not just about hardware, although the use of a Kuka robotic arm with a thermoplastic extrusion head does mean that FDM could enjoy SLS-like geometrical freedom without the powder-bed size. Stratasys’ vision is more about the software.
With its ability to read native files from over 20 CAD programs, GrabCAD print is truly a revolution (which may make the new 3DF file format obsolete even before it launches). At the same time the ability to build on an infinite size platform means that its thermoplastic technology could be used for building very large objects, including airplane wings. This and more emerged from a talk with Vynce Paradise, Senior Director Mold Die and Complex Machining at Siemens, who also confirmed that possible future applications include the use of multiple robotic arms and, perhaps even more importantly, long fiber composites through continuous, adjustable extrusion size and deposition rates.