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At RAPID + TCT, An Emphasis on the Here And Now

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

DETROIT – At this week’s RAPID + TCT show, there was an emphasis on how 3D printing was part of the present and not so much part of a distant future.

Various companies – from makers of 3D printers to suppliers of materials – talked about how additive manufacturing is part of the present.

Previous editions of the show, produced by Southfield, Mich.-based SME, emphasized how additive was the next big thing. Some exhibitors this year emphasized how additive already is a big thing.

Among the examples:

–Stratasys Ltd., one of the most established of the additive companies, discussed how parts produced by its 3D printers were used in race cars, including 13 of the starting 33 in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. The company also is involved in an effort for an American team to retake the America’s Cup in 2021.

Stratasys also has renamed a 3D consulting company as Blueprint. The idea is to reassure clients the consulting operation won’t push Stratasys products.

–3D Systems emphasized the story of Terry Hill, founder and CEO of Broken Arrow, Okla.-based Rapid Application Group. Hill, a U.S. Army veteran, has used 3D Systems machines as the core of his manufacturing business.

–DuPont announced additions to its portfolio of 3D printing materials.

–GE Additive, part of General Electric Co., during a presentation at its RAPID + TCT booth, said makers of golf equipment are turning to 3D printing. That’s especially true when those companies court PGA Tour pros, hoping to entice them to use their equipment. Getting a pro golfer to sign up provides marketing opportunities for the makers of golf clubs.

Five years ago, additive manufacturing had more of a Wild West feel. This week at RAPID + TCT, some exhibitors are saying 3D printing already is here. The question is how quickly it will be adapted for other uses.

Wild West No Longer

“We’re trying to show people really are 3D printing” production parts, said Patrick Carey, senior vice president of strategic growth for Stratasys.

Stratasys, based in Minnesota and Israel, is an established maker of additive machines. It has been forming partnerships to boost its prospects. The company’s sports-related activities such as racing are to differentiate Stratasys from competitors, he said.

During the Wild West days, he said, “hundreds of millions of dollars were coming into this market” investing in 3D printing companies. “It confused the market. We want to lead the market.” Sports, he said, “was a fun way to do it.”

Rock Hill, S.C.-based 3D Systems also was an established additive player. It has introduced the Figure 4 line of printers. It used the show to have journalists talk to a customer such as Terry Hill.

“I needed something I could run with a large vat of material,” Hill said. “Something with superior surface finish.”

Hill said the 3D Systems machines were what he needed. “In Oklahoma, we’re behind the times in additive manufacturing,” he said. “We’re trying to do our part and plant that seed.”

Menno Ellis, a senior vice president of 3D Systems, said the industry is shifting its emphasis.

‘Where It’s At’

“Five to 10 years ago, most of our investment was in hardware,” he said. Now, additive companies are coming out with additional materials and software to make printers do more.
“Software and materials is where it’s at,” Ellis said. “It’s not just about the hardware any longer.”

Christophe Paulo, a strategic marketer for DuPont, said his company is looking to supply customers who are turning to 3D printing from conventional plastic injection molding.
“We want to make it simple for the customer,” he said.

There are also more specialized applications, such as GE Additive’s business with makers of golf equipment.

Rob Hanet, a senior design engineer at GE Additive, said he couldn’t identify specific customers. However, the producers of golf equipment are looking to 3D printing as part of their efforts to attract pro golfers.

Typically, professional golfers want to test customized clubs extensively before using a company’s clubs. Additive “can play a big role in that,” Hanet said.

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