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Ultimate makers: Why FFF might just be your gateway to 3D printing

Paul Heiden Senior VP of  product management Ultimaker BV
By Paul Heiden Senior VP of product management, Ultimaker BV

A conversation with Contributing Editor Kip Hanson

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A fleet of Ultimaker 3D printers in a production facility, hard at work.

Paul, what are the primary differentiators between Ultimaker’s 3D printers and the competition? In other words, why should I buy one?

Ultimaker offers a full suite of 3D printing solutions, from award-winning hardware to software to materials, that seamlessly integrate together and within existing workflows due to the open nature of the system. Our reliable, accessible technology is a driving force behind the world’s acceleration to digital distribution and local manufacturing.

Are the terms FFF and FDM interchangeable? If not, what’s the difference?

FFF stands for fused filament fabrication and FDM for fused deposition modeling. The terms are interchangeable, and the reason for the more recent shift toward the use of FFF as a common term is that Stratasys holds the trademark over FDM. It describes the same technology, however, so the term FDM cannot be freely used.

It appears from your website that Ultimaker targets the design and engineering (non-industrial) environment. Is this the case, and should anyone be concerned health-wise about working in close proximity to a 3D printer?

Ultimaker printers are designed to meet the needs of a wide range of professionals, industries and markets. For example, the Ultimaker S5 is already used in segments ranging from automotive to manufacturing, architecture and education. The new Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle opens the door for use cases in more industrial markets, as well.

The Ultimaker Material Alliance Program enables a wide variety of materials to work well on Ultimaker 3D printers. With the increase in material availability, there is an increasing concern about the emission of ultrafine particles in the 3D printing market, and it is perceived as a health risk. We developed the Ultimaker S5 Air Manager to take away these concerns and facilitate 3D printing with greater peace of mind. The Ultimaker S5 Air Managed filters up to 95 percent of all ultrafine particles emitted during 3D printing and ensures a stable climate in the build chamber to ensure even more reliable print results.

That being said, exactly how safe printing is depends on various factors, such as the material being used, room size, ventilation rate, amount of printers or other sources of emissions in the room. Nonetheless, we can say that for Ultimaker materials, the ultrafine particle emissions stay below an acceptable limit based on one printer in a room of 30 m3 with an air exchange rate of 1.8 changes per hour, even without an Ultimaker S5 Air Manager.

Tell me about your Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle. What were the key drivers behind its development?

The Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle consists of the award-winning Ultimaker S5 printer, the new Ultimaker S5 Air Manager and Ultimaker S5 Material Station, all of which seamlessly integrate with each other to bring industrial production power to the office. The unique solution is tested to be left unattended 24/7 and significantly improves the 3D printing workflow and productivity. With automated material handling, optimized air filtration, and filament humidity control, the solution gives engineers the flexibility to spend more time doing their best job and less time managing and monitoring their desktop 3D printer.

Same question regarding the new Ultimaker S3: Is this the same technology, just a different size?

We developed the Ultimaker S3 as an additional product in the S-line product family. With a lower price point and smaller size compared with the Ultimaker S5, the Ultimaker S3 will be more accessible to a broader range of businesses (both smaller and larger) to start disruptive 3D printing. The Ultimaker S3 is designed to include all the main features of the S-line printers, including composite materials, advanced active leveling and a flow sensor—all of which are meant to make the printer easy to use and reliable.

Regarding the recent 3D Printing Sentiment Index, to what do you attribute the United States’ position as the “most advanced country” in 3D printing?

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A technician prepares an Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle for the next print job.

A number of factors led to the top ranking for the U.S., including the current size of the market, maturity and growth prospects. Seventy-seven percent of U.S. respondents said they were aware of 3D printing or additive manufacturing, and 87 percent believe that 3D printing offers extensive benefits in bringing new concepts and designs to life. In general, the U.S. and other countries with the highest expectations for 3D printing, including the U.K. and Germany, all have established industries, infrastructure to invest in technology and willingness to innovate.

Marcus Schindler, Head of Materials Management at automated machine builder Gerhard Schubert GmbH, stated in a November news release that “there is no post processing needed for the FFF-printed format parts.” Does this imply that Ultimaker-printed parts are essentially plug and play?

Indeed. Most parts printed with an Ultimaker 3D printer require no post-processing. They are ready to use upon removing from the build plate. If a support material, such as Ultimaker PVA or Ultimaker Breakaway, is used in a print, the support would still need to be removed. PVA dissolves in water and Breakaway can easily be removed manually. Recently, BASF added their Ultrafuse 316L steel filament to the Marketplace in Ultimaker Cura. Prints printed with this steel filament do need to be sintered in order to remove the binder.

Have you observed any trends or recent advancements in the additive manufacturing industry overall that users should be aware of?

While enterprise 3D printing has been around for decades, the technology is still in the early days of growth and innovation. Our 2019 3D Printing Sentiment Index found that nearly two-thirds of businesses are unaware of 3D printing and how it can benefit their bottom line, indicating huge potential growth for the technology across all sectors and geographies. We found that the technology is used by about 35 percent of businesses around the world.

One barrier across industries is the growing 3D printing skills gap and the need for technology education and training across management levels. Currently, the average age of the enterprise 3D printing user is 38 to 39 years old—usually with only two to three years’ experience with the technology. A focus on training and education will be necessary to accelerate widespread adoption of 3D printing and help the industry meet its true potential with digital distribution and local manufacturing.

What are Ultimaker customers (or 3D printer users, if you prefer) asking for in terms of new products, software, functionality or capabilities, and why?

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A row of Ultimaker 3D printers cranking out parts that in many cases emerge ready for immediate use.

Our customers seek solutions, rather than products. That means easy-to-use, reliable solutions that fit into existing workflows and enable innovation and business impact. Every new piece of hardware, software or material solution is created in response to market demand and designed to accelerate the world’s transition to digital distribution and local manufacturing.

For example, we announced Ultimaker Cloud in early 2019 with services like remote printing and backups and unlimited access to the Marketplace to simplify customer workflow and future-proof our technology as the industry progresses.

We also continue to support the expansion of the Ultimaker Material Alliance Program, our collaborative alliance with global material companies, to meet the growing demand for industrial-grade engineering materials compatible with Ultimaker 3D printers.

The Virtual Foundry names its first certified sintering partner for metal 3D printing

The Virtual Foundry has named Sapphire 3D as the first certified sintering partner for its plastic-infused metal filaments. The firm has reportedly developed an unmatched level of expertise in the art and science of heat-treating “green” parts made from The Virtual Foundry’s open-architecture, plastic-infused metal “filaments” to produce high-quality, high-purity, finished metal parts.

Sintering 3D printed metal parts is as much an art as it is a science, said Tricia Suess, president of The Virtual Foundry. The temperature and duration of the sintering cycle must often be tweaked based on the part’s shape and structure, and the material used to build it. That’s why having a knowledgeable partner can make a huge difference in producing a successful part, help you produce higher-quality metal parts, and can also save you a lot of time and money.

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An example of part consolidation using nTop Platform to design a lightweight manifold for additive manufacturing. The original model was an assembly of 42 different parts that were reduced to a single, optimized model.

David Lawson, the founder of Sapphire 3D, agreed. “Successfully sintering a metal part involves some trial and error. The decisions you make during part design and printing affect the outcome of the sintering process. That’s why my partner Joe Divizio and I will often work directly with our clients to help them optimize those first two steps.”

nTop Platform 2.0 delivers  power of computational modeling to a wider audience

The latest version of nTopology’s computational modeling software, nTop Platform 2.0, is out, and the company describes it as the only engineering software that enables engineers to simultaneously consider geometry, performance and manufacturability within a single, reusable workflow.

The software’s latest version was developed to solve engineering problems where geometry is a bottleneck, nTopology CEO Bradley Rothenberg said.

This major release includes support for prepackaged, application-specific nTop Toolkits, letting engineers quickly learn and use its most powerful capabilities right out of the box.

It can handle complexity and iteration with speed and ease. The prepackaged toolkits and authoring capabilities can both be used to automate engineering workflows, delivering efficiencies and scaling an organization’s best talent across the enterprise.

“With nTop Platform, teams can automate tasks that take hours, days or weeks with traditional design tools because of the ability to build reusable workflows,” he added.

Siemens expands AM portfolio through acquisition of Atlas 3D

Siemens is set to buy Atlas 3D Inc., the Plymouth, Indiana-based developer of Sunata software, the German giant said. Designed for use with direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printers, the software automatically provides design engineers with the optimal print orientation and requisite support structures for additive parts in near real time.

Atlas 3D will join Siemens Digital Industries Software, where its solutions will expand additive manufacturing capabilities in the Xcelerator portfolio of software.

“We welcome Atlas 3D to the Siemens community as the newest member of our additive manufacturing team,” said Zvi Feuer, senior VP, manufacturing engineering software, at Siemens Digital Industries Software. “Our solutions industrialize additive manufacturing for large enterprises, 3D printing service bureaus, design firms and CAD designers. The cloud-based Sunata software makes it easy for designers to determine the optimal way to 3D print parts for high quality and repeatability. The combination of Sunata with the robust CAE additive manufacturing tools in Simcenter enables a ‘right first time’ approach for industrial 3D printing.”

SLM Solutions, Honeywell partner to qualify new AM technology to reduce printing times

SLM Solutions is working with Honeywell, a user of additive manufacturing technologies with extensive knowledge across various platforms and applications, to help qualify new additive parameters that enable printing at increased thicknesses.

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According to AM industry innovator Essentium, the number of manufacturers using 3D printing for full-scale production nearly doubled in 2019.

The partnership will help both companies reduce printing times and costs.

As such, Honeywell’s Aerospace business will begin qualification efforts for aluminum builds using increased layer thicknesses of 60 and 90 micron on the SLM500. SLM Solutions will provide its standard aluminum parameter sets for Honeywell to complete material qualification using the quad-laser systems to achieve optimal material properties.

“SLM Solutions’ latest technology will help Honeywell improve productivity while also meeting our material requirements for qualification,” said Dr. Sören Wiener, senior director of technology and advanced operations for Honeywell’s aerospace business unit.

Essentium research shows industrial-scale 3D printing moves into mainstream manufacturing

Essentium Inc., an innovator in industrial additive manufacturing, announced the first in a series of findings from independent global research on the current and future use of industrial 3D printing.

The study reveals a significant increase in the use of large-scale additive manufacturing.

The number of manufacturers using 3D printing for full-scale production nearly doubled compared with the previous year (40 percent in 2019; 21 percent in 2018).

Two-thirds of companies reported they had more than doubled their use of industrial-scale AM in their manufacturing, and 47 percent are now using the technology for runs of thousands of printed parts, a 17 percent jump over 2018.

While reduced manufacturing costs is a key driver for 58 percent of manufacturers, the increased adoption of AM at scale is also fueled by a need to improve customer response time.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they are adopting the technology to reduce lead times, 59 percent believe they will benefit from mass customization, 59 percent are looking to increase speed-to-part production, and 51 percent want to achieve high part performance.

All Axis Robotics makes custom robot arm end-effectors with MakerBot METHOD

All Axis Robotics is a Dallas, Texas-based machine shop and leader in turnkey custom robot solutions for other machine shops and manufacturing facilities in need of automated machine tending. Customers enlist the expertise of All Axis Robotics’ mechanical and manufacturing engineers to streamline their manufacturing operations with robotic arms and custom end-effectors, including those for CNC machine tending, automated part sanding, and brake press machine tending.

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All Axis Robotics uses a MakerBot METHOD to 3D print brackets, fixtures and end-effectors for automated manufacturing operations.

“One of the challenges we faced when adapting our collaborative robots and automation in the machine shop was the need to develop custom parts during the process,” All Axis CEO Gary Kuzmin said. “We would have to develop custom brackets, fixtures or fingers for the grippers, and not all of this would be possible to produce on CNC machines. When we purchased the MakerBot METHOD, we automatically obtained all that capability for customizing all these different parts.

“Within days, we were able to print custom parts for our machines. The relevance of having this machine within our process is that we have a quick turnaround capability to produce custom parts that we can integrate into our systems immediately.”

Stratasys Direct is first VELO3D customer to implement Assure Quality Assurance and Control System for 3D metal printing

Metal AM equipment maker VELO3D announced the release and availability of the Assure Quality Assurance and Control System for its Sapphire 3D metal printers. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is the first customer to implement Assure.

“Assure is a revolutionary quality-control system, an inherent part of the VELO3D end-to-end manufacturing solution for serial production,” VELO3D CEO Benny Buller said. “Assure is part of our vision to provide an integrated solution to produce parts by additive manufacturing with successful outcomes.”

Assure provides substantiation of part quality needed for volume production, he said.

It detects process anomalies, flags them and highlights the corrective actions required so errors are not repeated. Through real-time, multi-sensor, physics-based detection algorithms, Assure delivers unprecedented traceability of part quality and flags process anomalies as soon as they occur. This decreases variation and provides comprehensive documentation to fast-track printed-part validation.

Scientists create 3D-printed parts that can kill bacteria

Researchers from the University of Sheffield have, for the first time, manufactured 3D printed parts that show resistance to common bacteria. This could stop the spread of infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in hospitals and care homes, saving the lives of vulnerable patients.

The study was published in January in Scientific Reports by researchers from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Clinical Dentistry. The research combined 3D printing with a silver-based antibacterial compound in order to produce the parts.

Results from the research have shown the anti-bacterial compound can be incorporated into existing 3D printing materials without any negative influence on processing or part strength, and that under the right conditions, the resultant parts demonstrate anti-bacterial properties without being toxic to human cells.

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