Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition

North America’s annual Rapid event has for 27 years been the region’s leading exhibition on Rapid Prototyping and Additive Manufacturing technologies. This year’s event, Rapid + TCT 2017, took place in Pittsburgh from May 8-11 and attracted a record 6,000 attendees from more than 45 countries. Metal AM magazine’s Emily-Jo Hopson attended the event and reports on a theme that is becoming ever more important to the industry as it looks towards new markets - affordability and accessibility. [First published in Metal AM Vol. 3 No. 2, Summer 2017 | 20 minute read | View on Issuu | Download PDF]

Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 1 Terry Wohlers was among a number of eminent conference speakers

In May this year Metal Additive Manufacturing magazine headed to the Rapid + TCT 2017 conference and exhibition, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Taking place in the John Lawrence Convention Center, the event saw a 35% increase in attendees compared to the previous year, while the exhibitor count alone grew by 42% to 329 exhibiting companies – no doubt aided by a 124% increase in overall floorspace. The event also hosted a number of eminent speakers, among them America Makes’ Rob Gorham, GE’s Philippe Cochet and renowned industry analyst Terry Wohlers.

Exhibiting on booth 951, the Metal AM magazine team was consistently impressed by the quality of visitors received, with both senior industry leaders and an array of newcomers to the technology stopping to talk. A common theme amongst many of those who spoke with us when picking up a copy of the magazine shared the same need; a gateway to understanding and adopting metal Additive Manufacturing into their processes. Those who approached us did so from varied engineering and product development backgrounds, recognising the advantages potentially offered by metal Additive Manufacturing over other materials and processes.

Also encouraging was the number of student visitors on the Metal AM booth, from PhD candidates involved in high-level research projects with industry suppliers and producers to high school and undergraduate students seeking advice on career paths into AM.

In a panel discussion on new frontiers in metal 3D printing, Ric Fulop, Founder and CEO of Desktop Metal, stated, “In five to ten years, major universities will offer comprehensive courses on Design for Additive Manufacturing.” Philippe Cochet, GE’s Chief Productivity Officer, echoed this prediction with his statement in the keynote presentation, ‘Brilliant Factory: A new era of manufacturing’, that any fulfilment of AM’s potential for ‘Industry 4.0’ must be supported by a learning framework for students and staff.

Whether these predictions are to come to fruition or not, it is clear that the ease of access to metal Additive Manufacturing technology is a primary concern for established businesses and would-be engineers alike. This is an issue which of course extends beyond education alone; the overall accessibility and affordability of metal AM was a theme that was seen reinforced across the week’s event, with an increasing number of companies competing to provide the most fluid, easy-to-use technologies at the most affordable price.

Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 2 A view of the Rapid 2017 exhibition. The event saw a 35% increase in attendees compared to the previous year

Desktop Metal: making waves at Rapid debut

According to Desktop Metal, its forthcoming Studio and Production systems mark a ‘fundamental shift’ in the way products will be developed and brought to market, reducing production costs and increasing speed, safety and flexibility. Designed as the first ‘office-friendly’ metal Additive Manufacturing system, the Studio System is claimed to be significantly cheaper than existing technologies and is sold as a complete platform, including a printer, debinder and microwave-enhanced sintering furnace.

The Production System, meanwhile, is designed for the volume Additive Manufacturing of metal parts and, according to Desktop Metal, will be the fastest AM system available for large volumes of high-resolution metal parts. Using the company’s proprietary Single Pass Jetting technology, the Production System is claimed to operate at speeds up to one hundred times faster than most laser-based Additive Manufacturing systems, having the potential to dramatically reduce cost-per-part and allow metal AM to compete with high volume production processes such as casting.

Metal AM magazine spoke to Jonah Myerberg, Desktop Metal’s Co-Founder and CTO, about the company’s Rapid debut. “The Desktop Metal team is very excited to be at Rapid,” he stated. “This was a very long time coming and I think we’ve made a big first impression on the industry – we really wanted to put our brand out there. What we’ve shown here really is reflective of our vision from when we started the company, and even before.”

Accessibility and affordability: bringing AM to a wider market

By using what it calls Bound Metal Deposition technology, Desktop Metal states that its Studio System will eliminate the need to restrict metal Additive Manufacturing systems to large industrial facilities. In addition, by using cloud-based software to link stages of the workflow, the system could help eliminate the need for dedicated operators, making it possible to print designs directly from PC-based CAD software.

The system also features Desktop Metal’s proprietary Separable Supports, a type of support structure which can be removed safely and easily by hand, along with swappable print cartridges for rapid material changes. It is reportedly compatible with a large variety of metal alloys, making it possible to prototype parts in the material that will be used in mass production, for example.

Each of these features is designed to contribute to bringing metal AM to the wider market. This is a mission fueled in no small part by Myerberg’s frustrations as an end-user of the technology as far back as 2005 when he and Ric Fulop, Desktop Metal’s CEO, worked together at battery company A123 Systems, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, producing batteries for use in Formula 1 cars, power tools and hybridised power plants, among other applications.

Rapid + TCT 2017:  Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 3 Desktop Metal’s Studio system

When the team first began investigating the metal AM market with a view to developing their own technology, Myerberg told Metal AM magazine, “the scaling of metal Additive Manufacturing was taking place on kind of a different plane; the machines were getting larger and they were getting more expensive, and to mass-produce metal parts by AM you had to buy thousands of machines, instead of buying one machine that produced thousands of parts. We thought it was headed in the wrong direction. That wasn’t the right type of technology to get involved in. So, we said we should start a company and do it right.”

“We went into MIT’s Material Science Labs and grabbed really smart, bright professors, including Yet-Ming Chiang, Chris Schuh, John Hart, Ely Sachs and a number of strong PhDs of engineering and materials, and started looking at all of the processes that could make additive with metal really accessible to engineers; steering it in the other direction – let’s make the machines smaller, let’s make them safer, less complicated, let’s make something that would fit in your office.”

The company’s name evokes the same accessible, user-friendly experience. “Ric wanted it to be a desktop environment,” explained Myerberg. “He wanted it to be familiar to the user, and safe, and for engineers to feel that they could have the system next to their desk and work on prints throughout the day, not have to suit up and go down to the lab each time a prototype was being built.”

Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 4 Components on display on the Desktop Metal booth that demonstrate the company’s unique support technology

Desktop Metal was founded in October 2015 with a strong group of initial investors, including GE and Stratasys. “Thanks to the funding and because of the amount of pre-existing technology, we were able to move very quickly,” stated Myerberg. “In the past eighteen months we’ve been able to put together a brand new printer, a new furnace, a debinding centre and new software.”

Providing a fully integrated workflow, Myerberg said, is key. “It’s very important. We didn’t want to just launch a printer, or give people the ability to print green bodies and not finish them. That was a frustration for us with the laser bed fusion processes. These metal AM processes alone don’t give you the full range of products that you need to finish the part. As an end user of 3D printing, I hated that. Tell me the whole story – in addition to this DMLS machine, what else do I need? A furnace to heat treat? HIP to densify? It was the same with other processes – if you don’t tie the furnace and the sintering process to the geometry of the part you print, you could be in trouble. We wanted to change the way people looked at and worked with metal Additive Manufacturing,” Myerberg concluded. “We built the company around that.”

Working with established AM leaders

During Rapid, Desktop Metal announced a new partnership with Sandvik Osprey and extended its existing partnership with Stratasys.Sandvik Osprey Ltd, based in Neath, UK, was named as a preferred supplier of metal powders and will supply the company with high performance alloys for each of its systems, “We are excited to be working with Desktop Metal and its world-class team of experts,” stated Richard Park, Managing Director of Sandvik Osprey. “We look forward to supporting the growth in demand for consumers of the new Desktop Metal technology who we expect to come from all major industrial sectors. Our strength in materials science and atomising technology is a perfect complement to Desktop Metal’s strengths in machine design and process knowledge.”

Sandvik Osprey has a production capacity of over 4.5 million kg (10 million lbs) and a product database exceeding 3,000 alloys. The company offers a comprehensive range of products from stainless steels to nickel base super alloys, cobalt alloys, tool steels, low alloy steels, copper and aluminium alloys and is also able to customise materials according to customer preferences.

Desktop Metal also extended its existing partnership with Stratasys, designed to accelerate accessibility and adoption of metal Additive Manufacturing. Following the release of the Stratasys FDM-based F123 Series, Stratasys stated it believed that customers would benefit from the complementary nature of its technology and Desktop Metal’s – including the ability to expedite product development cycles by producing both plastic and metal prototypes in an office-friendly environment.

“Stratasys has always been focused on providing customers with cutting-edge Additive Manufacturing innovations,” stated Ilan Levin, CEO, Stratasys. “Today our offerings are used by customers worldwide – across automotive, aerospace, healthcare, education and consumer products – to achieve rapid prototyping, tooling and manufacturing processes. As one of the early investors in Desktop Metal, we realise customers are seeking additional ways to incorporate metal into their essential design and manufacturing processes. Today’s announcement takes this commitment one step further – empowering global manufacturers and engineers to expedite product development cycles by producing both plastic and metal parts in office-friendly and production-based environments.”

System shipments

The first round of Desktop Metal’s Studio System machines will be shipped to their users in September 2017. “The next thing we want to do is support our customers,” Myerberg told Metal AM. “It would be really tempting to dive right into the next technology that we have; our team back in Boston, including Ely Sachs, is working on the next big thing in metal AM and they’re very excited about it – but the team that designed this printer is not going to be transitioned onto those projects until our customers are happy. Over the course of the next six months, we’re going to build printers, refine software and launch the products, and support the customers throughout.”

Xact Metal: Targeting R&D centres and SMEs with an afforable laser-based system

Established as a metal Additive Manufacturing systems provider in early 2017, Xact Metal debuted with the XM200 machine at Rapid, joining the list of companies competing to make their metal AM systems affordable for small-to-midsized companies, research labs and universities. “Priced at $120,000, the XM200 is our first industrial 3D printer, offering outstanding performance and affordability,” stated Juan Mario Gomez, Xact Metal’s CEO. “We believe it will make a big impact on customers’ Additive Manufacturing needs.”

Matt Woods, Xact Metal’s Chief Technology Officer, laid the foundation for the venture when he recognised the need for higher performance, more sustainable and more affordable Additive Manufacturing. Xact Metal, states the company, will change the perception that AM is only for capital-rich companies. The company has received funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners and operates out of Penn State University’s Innovation Park, Pennsylvania, USA.

Rapid + TCT 2017:  Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 5 Xact Metal debuted with the XM200 machine at Rapid + TCT 2017

Metal AM visited Xact Metal at Rapid to view the system. The XM200 features a build volume of approximately 2,048 cm3 (12.7×12.7×12.7 cm / 5x5x5 in), a 250 W fibre laser and a patent-pending high-speed scanner which fuses at speeds of up to 1.5 m/s. In addition, Woods explained that its laser beam is fitted so as to be constantly orthogonal across the entire powder bed surface, enabling the system to produce consistent fusing characteristics throughout the complete build area.

“The XM200 is designed with the needs of customers in mind,” stated Woods. “The large build volume gives great flexibility to print a variety of parts. The system is highly accessible and easy to use and its modern software architecture is streamlined, intuitive and supportive of visual workflows. And with a compact footprint, the XM200 allows customers to put one or several systems in their work areas.” Orders for the XM200 printer are now being taken, with shipments starting September 2017.

Xact Metal also offers an on-demand direct metal printing service, Xact Fusion, allowing end-users to source custom-designed parts. Using Xact Fusion gives customer access to the XM200’s build volume for printing in 316L stainless steel, while Inconel 718 superalloy, titanium 6AI 4V, aluminium Si10Mg and maraging steel are in development.

Link3D: Using RFQ technology to reduce the barriers to AM

After two years of research and development, software company Link3D, New York, USA, used Rapid 2017 for its official launch. The company’s secure internet-based platform, also titled Link3D, aims to help connect engineers to Additive Manufacturing service providers. Its proprietary technology provides engineers with a fully automated Request-for-Quote (RFQ) process to identify vetted Additive Manufacturing partners from around the world and, according to Link3D, offers the largest network of AM machine and material representation available.

Link3D believes that the ever-expanding growth of metal AM creates a crucial need for companies to have access to the right partners when designing and producing AM parts. Using intelligent data-driven algorithms, the new platform aims to facilitate these connections, with a particular focus on the larger industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, consumer goods, defence and electronics. “Our mission is to make Additive Manufacturing accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time,” stated Shane Fox, Link3D’s CEO. “We serve a diverse group of industries, focused on metal and polymer production.”

The LinkD team is comprised of several additive experts who have built and maintained global partnerships with AM service providers in more than twenty countries, giving engineers access to over 241 unique metal and polymer materials and 163 unique machine models.

Metal AM visited Link3D’s booth at Rapid, where we spoke to Shane Fox and Vishal Singh, CTO, about Link3D’s aims. “I was studying the industry, looking for gaps,” explained Fox. “I was looking at intellectual property security and barriers to entry. I was looking at why companies that on paper are perfect candidates for additive weren’t adopting it and the price of the market throughout the whole eco-system, among other things. I found that there was no secure network that allowed engineers to connect in real-time to industrial-grade service providers – not desktop or prototyping houses – at a secure level.”

Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 6 A screenshot of the LINK3D system. LINK3D believes that the ever-expanding growth of metal AM creates a crucial need for companies to have access to the right partners when designing and manufacturing additively made parts

“We launched the API in February 2017 and have 140+ industrial grade service bureaus on our system in 29 countries. This gives us access to over 670 machines; of those machines, 60% are metal.” In addition, he said, “Almost all of our service bureaus have some kind of industry-grade certification – these are companies that know how to bring parts to market.”

Fox and Singh gave Metal AM a demonstration of the platform’s capabilities, inputting the requirements for an imagined FDA certified project. On inputting the FDA requirement, the RFQ form smartly adjusted to reflect the needs of that project, removing redundant fields and adding those specific to FDA certified projects, allowing the user to select further certification requirements. All files uploaded by the user during this stage are securely encrypted using standard military-grade encryption and stored on Link3D’s server, making the process suitable, in theory, for even classified projects. “We’re really trying to separate ourselves from the Buy Your Part Now websites and focus on the industrial-grade,” added Fox.

In tandem with its mission of increased accessibility, Link3D has a second function as a type of data bank, collecting and collating data to enable the team to learn more about the way clients and manufacturers communicate and the ways in which processes are handled, Fox explains. “We’re collecting some really interesting information. In a matter of two weeks, some of our clients gave us permission to watch them communicate with their service providers. In doing so, we’re finding out things we didn’t know; it’s an education on the potential of the tools and the fixes.”

Among the less than two dozen beta testers invited to test the platform was Dr Gavi Feuer, a Biomedical Engineer. “As an engineer in the Additive Manufacturing industry,” he stated, “one of the biggest challenges is to find the right partners to produce your designs. Link3D is a truly unique tool that reduces search time, increases selection parameters and adds confidence to the final decision-making process regarding pricing when choosing the appropriate manufacturing partner.”

GKN InstAMetal: Intuitive quoting and design experience for metal AM

Also launched during Rapid was InstAMetal, GKN Sinter Metals’ new e-commerce platform for Additive Manufacturing, currently in its beta phase. Developed in conjunction with 3YOURMIND, Berlin, Germany, the InstAMetal interface is expected to allow GKN to quote and accept orders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, while ensuring that all designs are optimised for Additive Manufacturing.

Rapid + TCT 2017:  Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 7 The InstAMetal interface is expected to allow GKN to quote and accept orders 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while ensuring that all designs are optimised for Additive Manufacturing

Described as an “intuitive quoting and design experience for metal AM”, InstAMetal is expected to introduce a number of tools to aid customers with feasibility analyses of parts to be produced. Its digital management tools also guarantee higher machine up-time and ensure accurate production and streamlined workflows. “For businesses to stay competitive as they move towards small-batch and just-in-time production, they will need to ensure that high-quality components are prepared correctly – every time,” stated Aleksander Ciszek, CEO of 3YOURMIND. “By adding our eCommerce platform to GKN’s industrial production, we are making huge strides towards companies utilising the potential of Industry 4.0.”

According to the company’s website, GKN’s primary goal is to make their technology easily accessible, with a single online entry point to a distributed network of digitised AM production centres. Using this system, engineers and designers can access a real time comparison of delivery time and costs from GKN’s services. The automated quoting process also helps engineers make intelligent decisions when selecting materials and production facilities to keep projects on-time and on-budget.

The platform will also enable GKN to load-balance their production resources. Using InstAMetal’s queue optimisation, the company can ensure that machines are being used to capacity and transfer priority projects between facilities.

CGTech Vericut: Hybrid simulation technology

CGTech, Irvine, California, USA, introduced its new Additive Manufacturing simulation capabilities at Rapid. The addition of an additive module to the company’s propriety Vericut software enables users to simulate the machining capabilities, both additive and traditional, of hybrid CNC machines.

Launched in 1988, Vericut is a software platform designed to simulate CNC machining in order to detect errors, potential collisions or areas of inefficiency. It is used by companies, universities and government agencies in more than 55 countries. By simulating CNC processes, it enables users to eliminate the process of manually proving-out NC programs and reduces scrap loss and rework. The software also optimises NC programmes to save time and produce a higher quality surface finish and is reportedly capable of simulating all types of CNC machining. It can also be integrated with all leading CAM systems.

Rapid + TCT 2017: Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 8 Vericut Additive module verifies laser functions, detects collisions, and checks material deposition

Now, CGTech also works with its customers and technology partners to solve AM challenges including accurate laser cladding and material deposition, detecting collisions between the machine and additive part and locating errors, voids and misplaced material.

“Additive Manufacturing applications create new possibilities for manufacturers,” stated Gene Granata, Vericut Product Manager. “Adding this technology to Vericut provides unique solutions that address the needs of our customers in the rapidly expanding AM market.” Scheduled for release in early Autumn 2017, Vericut 8.1 will add the ability to identify potential problems that can occur when integrating additive methods. The simulation uses the same post-processed NC code used to drive the CNC machine, allowing users to virtually experiment with combining additive and subtractive metal processes to determine optimal safe hybrid machining production methods.

“This gives our customers a competitive edge to redefine current production technology,” continued Granata. “Vericut’s realistic simulation of the entire hybrid process enables customers to verify that the part will be built correctly, without causing damage to the part, machine, or expensive laser equipment.”

Tooling U-SME: A focus on training and development

In the field of additive education, Tooling U-SME, SME’s workforce development segment, launched a portfolio of Additive Manufacturing learning and development solutions, for which the first certification exams took place at Rapid. During the event, SME also announced that it had received an additional grant of $300,000 from Arconic for the expansion of its PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) initiative, founded in 2011 to build a collaborative network of students, educators and industry professionals to prepare students for careers in manufacturing.

“Additive Manufacturing is a rapidly developing market and the evolution of the technology is quickly outpacing product design and development,” stated the team behind Tooling U-SME. “As a result, there is a recognised need for continuous training and development to ensure that the manufacturing workforce keeps up with the latest advancements.”

According to Wohlers Report 2017, the Additive Manufacturing industry achieved revenues of $6.063 billion in 2016 – and with growth of 4.3 times that forecast over the next five years, the market is estimated to reach about $26.2 billion by 2022. “Restructuring the workforce to accommodate increased Additive Manufacturing operations is a major concern for companies that want to ramp up work in this market,” stated Jeannine Kunz, Vice President of Tooling U-SME. “More and more, manufacturers are increasing the number of additive-made parts in products, so having a workforce with the right skills to use this new technology is an increasingly important priority for companies and schools.”

Rapid + TCT 2017:  Moving towards affordability and accessibility at North America’s largest AM exhibition
Fig. 9 Exhibitor count grew by 42% to a total of 329 exhibiting companies

As a founder of Rapid + TCT, SME has been at the forefront of Additive Manufacturing for almost three decades. Its partnership with America Makes led to the development of the Additive Manufacturing Leadership Initiative, a collaborative working group representing SME, America Makes, the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Technician Education in Additive Manufacturing and Materials. The new Additive Manufacturing Fundamentals Certification is reportedly the first and only nationally normalised, stackable or sequential credential process in Additive Manufacturing and serves as a prerequisite for the next phase, the Additive Manufacturing Technician Certification, which SME stated will be rolled out later in 2017. These stackable certifications may lead to Additive Manufacturing apprenticeships such as those supported by Tooling U-SME through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program.

 “Tooling U-SME works with companies and educational institutions to build holistic workforce learning and development solutions that align to our certification and apprenticeship programs,” added Kunz. “Through our turnkey training, online classes, instructor-led training and supporting video materials, we’re able to provide the incumbent and future Additive Manufacturing workforce with industry-leading training that will ensure their success in the market.”

Preparation for the Additive Certifications is supported by eight online classes offered by Tooling U-SME. These classes were developed in conjunction with Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, USA.

Conclusion

Whilst this report does not hope to cover all of the innovations presented at Rapid, it is clear from this small sampling that there is strong recognition among metal AM solutions providers of the need to make the technology more approachable for prospective users.

By making metal AM technology more accessible and affordable, the workflow more fluid and the supply chain more connected, the industry stands to achieve significant gains in its user base. This is clearly evidenced by the rapid growth of companies which approach the market with accessibility at the core of their aims.

Author

Emily-Jo Hopson
Assistant Editor
Metal Additive Manufacturing
Tel: +44 1743 211994
[email protected]

Download the latest issue of Metal AM magazine

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As well as an extensive AM industry news section, this 204-page issue includes articles and reports on:

  • Mauro Antolotti and BEAMIT: The story of Italy’s leading AM parts producer and its founder’s view on the industry
  • Why do we need Women in 3D Printing? The what, the who, and the why of the blog that became a movement
  • The need for speed, and how the right powder can reduce AM part production costs by 50%
  • Metal Additive Manufacturing:
    Why standards lay the foundation for continued industry growth
  • The advantages of Additive Manufacturing for the processing of platinum group metals
  • Obstacles to the adoption of metal AM by small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • Additive Manufacturing of aluminium parts by Directed Energy Deposition: Possibilities and challenges
  • Euro PM2020 technical review: Advances in process control for metal Binder Jetting (BJT)
  • > More information

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