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At RAPID, Anticipation for the Future of 3D Printing

By Bill Koenig
Senior Editor


LONG BEACH, CA – The 2015 edition of SME’s RAPID Conference & Exposition, while displaying 3D printing of the present, also presented anticipation for the future of additive manufacturing.


“I’ve never been more optimistic about it,” industry consultant Terry Wohlers said during a speech on May 21, the last day of the Long Beach, CA, trade show. “It’s finally getting the attention and respect and investment it deserves.”


Wohlers estimates additive manufacturing was a $4.1 billion industry last year. He’s projecting that will rise to $7.3 billion in 2016, $12.7 billion in 2018 and $21.2 billion in 2020.

Terry Wohlers


The consultant said in sectors such as aerospace demand for 3D printing may outstrip supply.


Airbus wants to 3D print 30 tons of parts monthly in three years and has 35 people working full-time on additive projects, up from 20 a year ago, he said. General Electric Co., meantime, is gearing up to produce new 3D printed fuel nozzle interiors this year.


Others also presented a bullish case for 3D printing at RAPID, including a prediction that it will help create demand for more skilled manufacturing employees.


“Additive manufacturing is going to rebuild the middle class,” Matthew Hlavin, CEO of injection molding company Thogus Products in Avon Lake, OH, said at a RAPID panel on May 18.

 
At the same time, there is also an emphasis on printing more and faster.


 “We’ve got to improve throughput and cost to be comparable” to traditional manufacturing, Todd Grimm, a 3D printing consultant, said in an interview at RAPID. “We’ve only scratched the surface, there’s a long, long way to go.”


In some cases, the talk of 3D printing’s future included companies talking about products not yet on the RAPID show floor.


For example, 3D Systems, during a May 19 analyst presentation in Wilsonville, OR, said it’s developing a continuous stereolithography process, which the Rock Hill, SC-based company says could improve speed by 200% to 300%.


“There’s been a lot of incremental stuff, 5 to 10% a year, not 200 to 300%,” Tom Charron, a 3D Systems vice president, said in an interview at RAPID.


With stereolithography, a laser sends ultraviolet radiation into a vat of polymer, building parts a layer at a time. The faster process, Charron said, “doesn’t compromise accuracy and resolution. It’s the same part at higher speed.”


Meanwhile, Eindhoven, Netherlands-based Additive Industries continued its long introduction of a new industrial 3D printer. At the EuroMold show last year, the company had an empty box, with a “coming soon” sign.

 
At RAPID, Additive Industries provided a name for the machine (MetalFAB1) and an artist’s conception in a video. The company also said it will sell as many as three “beta” machines to customers in this year’s fourth quarter. Those customers, in turn, will help Additive Industries perform further development before MetalFAB1 goes on sale generally at the start of 2016.


Additive Industries says the machine will be worth the wait. It’s promising a more automated system, requiring less labor and capable of making parts for 72 hours continuously. MetalFab1 is aimed at large manufacturers, such as aerospace and medical.


Published Date : 5/26/2015

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