Revelations from Rapid 2016

Envisiontec launched this SLCOM1

The 26th edition of the Rapid event took place in Orlando, Florida recently where a number of 3D printing and additive manufacturing companies elected to reveal the manifestations of some long-awaited industry developments. There was also at least one reveal that came from left field and could potentially stir things up.

Being in its 26th year Rapid 2016 is an event that can claim some longevity on the 3D printing calendar. Organised and run by the US SME (an acronym that originated from the name Society of Manufacturing Engineers, which was dropped a few years ago) its independence and motivation in promoting advanced manufacturing and engineering in the US has seen the event enjoy solid year on year growth.

This year was the biggest yet and with the number of new announcements that came out during the event, it seems to be gaining traction as the place to unveil new 3DP/AM products. Here we highlight the big announcements that came out of Rapid 2016 with the potential to disrupt the 3D printing landscape significantly.

New (as opposed to upgraded) industrial 3D printing hardware tends to generate a great deal of media and industry excitement, and it rarely comes without some warning — usually in the form of carefully curated press releases and well-orchestrated press briefings. This was the route that HP took in the delivery to market of its new Jet Fusion 3D printing platforms. Originally announced to the world in 2014, the commercial release of Jet Fusion was promised by the end of 2016 — which is why nobody was shocked to learn that this long-awaited 3D printing development made its debut at Rapid this year.

HP’s presence at Rapid 2016 was big, by all accounts, and the two HP Jet Fusion machines were front and centre to promote the company’s claims of ‘advancing the industry’ with ‘improved print speed and part quality’, ‘new color capabilities’ and ‘reduced energy and waste’ — all at a significantly lower cost of ownership. There is little doubt in my mind that Jet Fusion is a disruptive new additive process that will find a place in industry — the sheer scale of the behemoth tech company behind it will likely make it so. However, what is clear following HP’s Rapid announcement is that this is just the beginning of HP’s intent in the 3D printing sector and right now the reality does not match the marketing. But it is definitely one to watch over the next couple of years as the reality catches up.

HP’s stake in the ground is also likely to see the dynamics of the industry shift somewhat but it won’t have any impact on the growing metal sub-sector of the 3D printing industry, unless HP has a secret competitor to XJet or Oce that no one knows about.

Talking of XJet, this Israeli company also chose Rapid to visibly introduce its new metal jetting machine platform. Once again many industry people knew this was coming, but with a shorter lead-in than HP. XJet went public with its plans earlier this year when it also announced an additional round of funding of $25 million.

However, the machine itself was debuted for the first time at Rapid, demonstrating a metal additive platform that is very different to the established sintering/melting/fusing processes of metal powders. Again, it’s early days, but for the incumbents in the metal 3D printing sector, this process could have some serious implications for the future. The NanoParticle Jetting process involves the precise placement of metal nano particles, held in a liquid suspension, to build 3D metal parts, reportedly enabling unprecedented accuracy and complexity for metal parts. For anyone interested, this video explanation is a great starting place.           

Another primary, but not wholly unexpected, announcement from Rapid 2016 came from French 3D printing company Prodways. The company chose the US event to unveil its new industrial Laser Sintering (LS) 3D printing platform. The expectation for this machine was largely the result of Prodway’s acquisition of Norge Systems last year. What did come as more of a surprise, though was the price point of Prodways’ new industrial laser sintering printer, the ProMaker P1000. Developed and designed to complement and extend the ‘Prodways powered by Farsoon’ LS range for industrial applications, the ProMaker P1000 is key to Prodways’ multi-faceted strategy to offer multiple processes to its customers and, in this case, at an accessible price, which at launch is under €100,000 (excl. tax).   

As I highlighted in my interview with Group Gorge Chairman Raphael Gorge recently, the company is pushing really hard to offer a multi-process approach to industrial AM. This is a significant step in that direction and will, I suspect be followed up with a metal platform.   

One big announcement from Rapid that had not been previously marketed or even teased came from long-standing 3D printing company Envisiontec with the unveiling of its new proprietary SLCOM1 platform. The acronym, describes the additive process, namely Selective Lamination Composite Object Manufacturing and the “1” would suggest this is just the beginning. The word that demands attention here though is composite and what Envisiontec presented at Rapid is an industrial-scale composites 3D printer — which I suspect may have blindsided more than a few people in the industry. 3D printing with composite materials is not original in and of itself. MarkForged took the lead in this area a couple of years ago however, with the SLCOM1 Envisiontec has scaled things up dramatically and does it a bit differently.

According to the company, SLCOM technology allows for the building of composite parts using layer-by-layer laminated thermoplastic composite fabric sheets from a roll with a build size up to 24” x 30” 24”; moreover, at launch the SLCOM 1 can process a wide range of custom made thermoplastic reinforced unidirectional or multidirectional woven fibers — composite matrix materials include woven glass fibre, woven carbon fibre, or other woven aramid fibres reinforced with a choice of Nylon 6, Nylon 11, Nylon 12, Peek, Pekk, Polycarbonate and many others.

Finally, moving away from the 3D printing hardware, another significant announcement made at Rapid 2016 came from Stratasys with the introduction of GrabCAD Print. This software release had been teased for some months via the GrabCAD blog and with the first public beta version due imminently for North American users, it speaks volumes of Stratasys’ 3D printing ecosystem strategy. The full intent behind GrabCAD Print is to streamline the pre-print workflow — an often over-looked but time-consuming problem. The way Stratasys sees things, it should be as simple as ‘File>Print’, and that’s the ultimate goal with GrabCAD Print being the first significant step in that direction.

For me, these are potentially the most disruptive announcements from Rapid 2016 — as in they are the ones to watch as they move from their show debut and out into the real world.


About Rachel Park

Rachel is a passionate advocate of additive manufacturing/3D printing technologies and the industry that has sprung up around it. However, as the hype and hyperbole has gathered momentum, her aim is always to offer a reasoned voice in the midst of inflated expectations and to cut through the noise in order to provide a realistic outlook of how things are.