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MakerBot Moves Into Industrial-Grade 3D Printing

Nadav Goshen CEO MakerBot Industries
By Nadav Goshen CEO, MakerBot Industries

Manufacturing Engineering: MakerBot has a reputation as a hobby machine, yet it appears that you are making a push into industrial 3D printing. Why and what is your strategy going forward?

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MakerBot’s METHOD X manufacturing workstation is said to challenge traditional manufacturing with real ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) material, a 100°C chamber, and Stratasys SR-30 soluble supports.

Nadav Goshen: Driven by market changes and feedback from customers, we shifted our focus away from the consumer market toward education and professional segments. We recognized that professionals needed more to meet the advanced needs of rapid prototyping for manufacturing. Previously, the only solutions engineers had were desktop 3D printers that delivered low-quality results, industrial 3D printers that were large and expensive, or outsourcing to 3D printing service bureaus, which was time-consuming and costly.

ME: How did MakerBot respond?

Goshen: We saw this gap in the market and developed the METHOD platform, which includes the METHOD and METHOD X manufacturing workstations. One of our core tenets is to make 3D printing accessible and we are doing that with METHOD. The platform was designed for engineers who need immediate access to a 3D printer that can deliver industrial performance but at a significantly lower cost. We are also providing engineers with more material options by working with filament suppliers to offer a wider range of materials, in addition to our own line.
Similarly, MakerBot is moving into the classroom and is supporting STEM education.

ME: What prompted this decision? What has been the response from educators and students?

Goshen: We are dedicated to helping prepare kids for jobs of the future, and the skill sets derived from 3D printing will give them a competitive edge. 3D printing is used to create innovative learning environments that are empowering students with 21st century skills. And educators are playing a bigger role by integrating 3D printing lesson plans into their curricula.

To help teachers prepare their students, we offer a full ecosystem of connected 3D printing solutions—from hardware to software to lesson plans to certification programs, and more. On our Thingiverse Education site, you can find hundreds of free 3D printing lesson plans created by teachers for teachers. Complement that with the only ISTE-certified 3D printing certification program for educators and teachers gain a better understanding of how to implement 3D printing in their classrooms, while students get hands-on 3D printer training and develop design thinking skills. We have received tremendous feedback from both educators and students on our offerings, to the point where we have become the leading 3D printing solutions provider for the education market in North America.

ME: Because many think of MakerBot as a hobby machine, they might be unfamiliar with your technology. Can you provide a brief introduction for designers, engineers, and manufacturers who might want to use your products?

Goshen: At MakerBot, we believe there is an innovator in everyone. For professionals, we help them bring products to market faster. The MakerBot METHOD platform is designed to enable engineers, manufacturers, and designers to achieve dimensionally-accurate, repeatable, and consistent parts. METHOD combines industrial 3D printing features with ease of use to provide users with an industrial 3D printer at a disruptive price. METHOD’s features, such as the circulating heated chamber, dual performance extruders, dry-sealed material bays, and industrial SR-30 supports, make it ideal for printing with advanced engineering-grade materials. With METHOD, the process of 3D printing parts, which used to take weeks or days to outsource and receive high-quality parts, now takes just hours, in-house and with frictionless accessibility. METHOD makes industrial technologies available to manufacturing and design engineers, enabling them to accelerate their production.

ME: “Powered by Stratasys” is on your website. Can you tell me more about the relationship?

Goshen: MakerBot is a subsidiary of Stratasys, following a 2013 acquisition. Stratasys invented FDM printing, which is the technology we use today. With our industrial solutions, like the METHOD platform, we leverage Stratasys’ 30+ years of industrial knowledge and IP on hardware design and materials development.

ME: Your Replicator Z18 and the new METHOD printer are advertised as end-use part solutions. What are some successful use cases?

Goshen: We have a great use case with All Axis Robotics, a Dallas-based machine shop that offers custom automation solutions for other machine shops and manufacturers. The company uses METHOD X to produce custom tooling parts for its in-house production, as well as for customer’s parts, greatly reducing lead times and production costs. The complete details can be found on makerbot.com.

As for our Replicator Z18, one notable example comes from KUKA, an international leader in robotics and intelligent automation solutions. The company’s engineering teams initially used the Z18 only for prototype work, but ultimately ended up using the 3D-printed parts from that machine as the final end effector. That story also can be found on makerbot.com.

ME: What do you see as some of the more important trends or developments in the additive manufacturing market? What is your outlook on the 3D-printing industry overall?

Goshen: The capability to print low volumes cost-effectively has brought mass customization within arm’s reach for more manufacturers —not just industry giants. This leap forward is mainly due to two key developments: the availability of accessible industrial-grade 3D printers and advancements in 3D printing materials. The latter will continue to be integral in supporting the growth of additive manufacturing within production, enabling manufacturers to meet specific industry challenges.

ME: What skills will be required to make this happen?

Goshen: A collective approach will be required to create a workforce that has the necessary skills. But it’s not just about educating the engineers of today—a common goal for the industry must be to find ways to educate the engineers of tomorrow, get them excited about additive manufacturing, and open their eyes to the opportunities it provides. This may mean providing equipment or materials to local schools or other institutions, assisting with lesson plan development, creating apprenticeships, or even working with policy makers to ensure that additive manufacturing is integrated into the curriculum.

Oerlikon, Linde, TU Munich to Develop High-Strength Aluminum-Based Alloy

Global technology group Oerlikon has entered into an additive manufacturing research alliance with industrial gas supplier Linde and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to develop new high-strength, lightweight aluminum-based alloys.

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Producing the optimum aluminum alloy for use with AM processes requires a deep understanding of chemistry, thermo- and fluid dynamics.

“There are significant challenges during the additive manufacturing of aluminum alloys because the temperatures reached in the melt pool create an extreme environment that leads to evaporation losses of alloying elements that have comparatively low boiling temperatures, such as magnesium,” said Marcus Giglmaier, Oerlikon AM project manager and research funding manager. “Additionally, the cooling rates of more than 1 million°C (1.8 million°F) per second create high stresses during the solidification process, which can cause micro cracks in the solid material.”

“Characterizing and controlling the gas process during AM not only has the potential to prevent evaporation losses, but also to accelerate the entire printing process,” added Thomas Ammann, an additive manufacturing expert at Linde. “Using a tailor-made gas chemistry for the new alloy would help control the processes occurring in the melt pool and minimize the compositional changes of the alloys, as well as preventing cracking during printing.”

Siemens Opens Additive Manufacturing Network, Collaborates with Oerlikon

Visitors to Formnext 2019 in Frankfurt learned that Siemens has officially launched the Siemens Additive Manufacturing (AM) Network. It provides a cloud-based solution to foster collaboration between engineers, procurement and suppliers of 3D printed parts to help enable globally distributed manufacturing.

“Siemens’ additive manufacturing experts and industry veterans have developed the additive manufacturing network based on a clear understanding of the complexities and needs of the industry,” said Zvi Feuer, senior vice president for manufacturing engineering at Siemens Digital Industries Software. “As buyers, sellers and partners continue to plug into the ecosystem, they will find a streamlined, modular solution that can grow with each company’s individual needs.”

In other industry news, Siemens reached a strategic agreement whereby it will provide Oerlikon AM with digital enterprise solutions that will help the manufacturer accelerate the industrialization of additive manufacturing. The technology includes software solutions in engineering, as well as product life cycle management. The long-term objective is to create a digital factory in which Oerlikon AM can see the impact of change in any part of the process, from material selection to engineering design to printing and post-processing, and adapt accordingly.

“At the moment we have a variety of special tools that we use for different steps of the value chain,” said Sven Hicken, head of Oerlikon’s additive manufacturing business unit. “Developing a more integrated system that gives us increased visibility and puts all of our manufacturing sites on the same page will allow us more flexibility and speed in responding to customer requests. We expect this to lead to more rapid progress in integrating additively manufactured parts into series production.”

SLM Solutions, Divergent Technologies in Purchase Agreement for Next-Gen AM Machines

Since 2017, SLM Solutions and automotive design and engineering firm Divergent Technologies Inc., have worked under a joint development partnership to build a next-generation, multi-laser machine that achieves the cost productivity necessary for volume manufacturing of automotive components, including safety structures and aerospace parts. Based on their progress, together with strong market demand, the partners are now expanding their strategic partnership to speed up development and commercialization of the machines.

To accelerate the development and time-to-market of the machines, Divergent will purchase five pre-production machines that will be used for factory integration and system “bulletproofing” at its showcase facility in Los Angeles. According to Divergent’s CEO Kevin Czinger, the company plans to use the machines to meet production demand for major global carmakers, and will require at least 20 production machines when commercially available. Already in 2020, Divergent plans to begin series production of safety-critical structures for OEM customers in the U.S. and Europe, followed by a customer rollout of advanced manufacturing facilities.

“The next-generation machine resulting from this partnership achieves cost productivity, enabling the broad use of metal additive manufacturing for true series production,” said Meddah Hadjar, CEO of SLM Solutions.

Optomec Delivers 500th Industrial 3D printer

Additive manufacturing equipment and software provider Optomec has delivered its 500th industrial 3D printer. The machine is installed at a division of General Electric, which now has more than 20 Optomec systems in use across GE business units, including aviation, healthcare, power, and oil and gas. Optomec’s installed base of industrial 3D printers includes more than 200 of its LENS machines for 3D printed metal, a DED-based (Directed Energy Deposition) solution.

These metal printers are used for a range of high ROI production applications including short-run manufacturing, upfront wear coatings and rebuild of worn or damaged components. The solution compares favorably versus other metal printing solutions such as powder bed fusion and binder jetting, according to Optomec. The company has also fielded nearly 300 of its patented Aerosol Jet systems for 3D printed electronics. These machines are used in production for applications including high-density 3D semiconductor packaging and directly integrated 3D antenna and sensors for companies in consumer electronics, medical device, and military aerospace markets.

VELO3D announces Assure Quality Assurance and Control System for 3D metalprinting  

Metal additive manufacturing technology provider VELO3D has released the VELO3D Assure Quality Assurance and Control System for its Sapphire 3D metal printers. The first customer for the new system is Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, one of the largest providers of additive and conventional manufacturing services in North America.

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Using Assure and VELO3D’s process control, the company’s Sapphire printer can produce metal parts like these with limited or even no support structures.

Through real-time, multi-sensor, physics-based detection algorithms, Assure delivers traceability of part quality and flags process anomalies as they occur. This decreases variation and provides documentation to fast-track printed-part validation. “Assure is a revolutionary quality-control system, an inherent part of the VELO3D end-to-end manufacturing solution for serial production,” said Benny Buller, founder and CEO of VELO3D.

“Stratasys Direct has built a culture of continuous improvement, part of which means that we are continually setting new standards for our industry on quality,” said Kent Firestone, CEO of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. “We integrated Assure into our quality control workflow because it produces highly actionable insights. The user interface features intuitive graphs and charts that enable us to see and interpret the vast amount of data collected during builds. This information helps our engineers verify the quality of the build each step of the way, and enables them to make quick decisions in the event of an issue. Assure helps us reduce production variation, improve yields, and circumvent anomalies to ensure consistent additive manufacturing.”

Additive Manufacturing Update is edited by Contributing Editor Kip Hanson; contact him at kip@kahmco.com.

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