The just-completed TCT show in Birmingham offered some clear indications of the major trends that the 3DP/AM industry is going to be following in the near-to-medium term future, especially with respect to polymer-based applications.
In fact, TCT in Birmingham is shaping up to become a leading global event for industrial AM polymer applications whereas formnext, also organized in collaboration with TCT, is aiming to become the reference European and global event for metal AM. Although it covers several different market segments, including low cost and open materials, large companies – such as Ricoh and HP — are also actively present with their top managers.
In this Note we present SmarTech Publishing’s (www.smartechpublishing.com) thoughts from the show:
- Confidence at EOS: Speaking with a EOS Area Sales Manager, it was clear that the company is confident about its production capabilities, both in metal and polymers. The new M400-4 with four lasers is likely become a reference for high speed laser powder bed fusion, while the smaller M100 is going to increase unit sales numbers. On the thermopolymer side, no one has the material capabilities that EOS has today (including PEEK, which Mr. Stevenson and the company view as “a very big opportunity”).EOS and UK based 3D printing services showed SLS can be competitive on several thousand parts production runs
- Stratasys InfiniteBuild: Stratasys 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. 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.
Stratasys has big projects for composite 3D printing applications
- Sharebot: The frequently under-estimated Sharebot was the only company on the show floor with both an ultra high speed continuous DLP system (the Voyager WARP) and a low cost (sub €40,000) SLS system fully operational at their booth.
- HP’s big booth: HP’s was the largest booth on the show floor. However it was not necessarily the most visited.
- Carbon (the company not the material): The well-funded Carbon is now entering the market by promoting a production-ready high speed system. For Carbon the situation was complicated by the fact that its system was reportedly held at customs and was not available to view in operation
- SLS services competitive with injection molding: two leading UK based 3D printing services, 3DPrintUK and Digits2Widgets, demonstrated that SLS can already be competitive with injection molding on up to 20,000 parts if considering small, relatively complex and very precise geometries.
- Thermoplastics are booming. Sometimes it is hard to understand how there can be room for everyone however open filament materials for FFF technologies continue to grow and expand. Several firms were present at the show, with colorFabb dominating the scene and consolidating its role as the probable market leader in Europe and beyond. Other players like Fillamentum and Spain based Smart Materials (among many others) continue to propose new materials (including PP, ASA and some short fiber composites).One interesting new development, however, came from iSquared, a Swiss company offering refill ABS materials for Stratasys systems. The legal implications are yet unclear but that is to be expected in a rapidly evolving and blooming market.
- Metal AM is waiting for formnext: Although just about all metal AM systems manufacturers were present at TCT, not many high profile announcements were made, leaving the clear impression that most major players (especially the German ones) are waiting for Frankfurt-based formnext to make their moves.
Nevertheless, AM industry newcomer Sodick did take this opportunity to present its new OPM250L SLM system. Another newcomer, Netherlands based Admatec, presented its new system for pure ceramics AM manufacturing (using a technological approach similar to Lithoz and 3DCeram).
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