Disruptive Insight editorial comment, Issue 3

Additive manufacturing (AM) for production applications continues to garner a great deal of attention in the press, at gatherings large and small focused on the technology as well as across industry. Developments with metal additive processes tend to dominate conversations about production, but recent announcements from some of the bigger players involved in the plastic additive processes illustrate how this technology is advancing apace. News from 3D Systems, Stratasys and Carbon in the last few weeks illustrates this trend.

Carbon introduced the modular SpeedCell AM system in mid-March. The key here is the modular nature of the system which enables connected manufacturing unit operations for repeatable production of end-use parts at any scale. The system includes an upgraded 3D printer, the M2, which utilizes Carbon’s continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) technology like its predecessor the M1, but scaled up to double the build volume, together with an automated post-processing unit called the Smart Part Washer. As the name suggests, this automatically performs clean-up operations on the parts out of the 3D printer. There are other post-processing stages for this technology platform, so one suspects this is just an initial offering.

This increasing modularity and automation, in combination with the range of materials that the CLIP process can handle, are opening up new production applications—as evidenced by Carbon’s more recent announcement which sees adidas operating what it's calling ‘the largest application of AM’ in the world. To clarify, this is in terms of volume of parts, not part size.    

3D Systems and Stratasys, again almost in tandem, released news of commercial production applications of their respective plastic AM platforms following introductory announcements in 2016.

In the summer of last year, Stratasys introduced two new industrially-focused production systems, which they termed ‘3D Demonstrators’—the Composite and the Infinite Build. With the Infinite Build system, Stratasys showed its commitment to offering a large-format manufacturing system and stated it was working with a number of partners to drive the concept into a real-world manufacturing environment. One of these partners is the Ford Motor Company. Results are starting to emerge, with Ford revealing that it has been using the system at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

3D Systems, meanwhile, announced that it had delivered its first customized Figure 4 system—introduced at IMTS in Chicago last year—to a Fortune 50 industrial customer for an as-yet unspecified production application. The platform is set up to provide modular, scalable and fully-integrated AM capabilities and produce plastic parts ‘more than 50 times faster than current systems’, while dramatically lowering the total cost of operations through automation. If it sounds familiar, that's because it’s a similar approach to Carbon.

As of today, I think 3D Systems has a more comprehensive and holistic manufacturing solution, while Carbon likely still has the edge on production grade materials. Those trade-offs still feature strongly!

3D Systems also showed a vertical specific set-up of the Figure 4 this past month at the International Dental Show (IDS), in Cologne, running NextDent dental-specific materials.

Commercial solutions come at you fast in this industry; watch out for what’s next from Envisiontec with the RAM123 and HP.

Another company that has made serious noises about AM for production is Siemens. For this global conglomerate, the emphasis is on widespread ‘digitalization for industrial manufacturing’. I take a closer look at what that means in a feature article in this issue of Digital Insight.

A recent visit to Xaar’s new Xaar 3D Centre afforded deeper insights into this UK-based global technology company’s commitment to AM technology, centered around the high-speed sintering (HSS) process.

Skills for AM remain on the agenda. It’s an issue that requires ongoing attention. Candice Majewski follows up on her University-focused article from last month, with broader insights from industry and government as discussed at a conference held at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry.

On the events front, this issue covers a review of the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) event in Chicago last month from Jez Pullin, AM director at Sartorious, and a preview of the upcoming Materialise World Summit in Belgium in a couple of weeks. Both of these events are cornerstone fixtures on the AM calendar for users looking for serious and in-depth information, not to mention excellent networking opportunities. 

If you are not able to leave the office, I hope that you continue to find value in the information here at Disruptive. Always happy to receive constructive feedback either way. 

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.