Rich, General Motors recently invested in 17 production-grade FDM printers, intending to use them for 3D-printed tooling. The term “tooling” is quite broad, however. Can you share details about what types of tooling GM and others are 3D printing, and why?
General Motors’ interest in 3D-printed tooling stems from two factors.
The first is our Nylon 12CF material, which contains 35 percent chopped carbon fiber. Its exceptional strength and stiffness are ideal for a variety of functional prototypes, end-use parts, and lightweight tooling applications. Together with the continued reliability and repeatability that they’ve seen out of our high-end FDM systems, it only made sense for them to begin printing things like check fixtures, hand tools, and robotic end-of-arm tooling.
They’re also using FDM to make surrogate parts for use with pre-production process validation. More recently, they’ve been applying this same concept to the tooling needed for ventilator production, doing their part to meet the COVID-19 crisis. In each example, 3D printing helped them to significantly reduce lead-times and manufacturing costs.
Does the J55 3D printer, which began shipping in July, eliminate the need for secondary painting and dying operations altogether? If so, why is this important? Similarly, what impact does the J55’s texture option have on the design process?
As you may have seen in the last few years, Stratasys has been pushing the envelope in terms of our multimaterial, multicolor printing capabilities.
The office-friendly J55 is just the latest example of that.
There’s no longer a need to dye or paint prototypes, and we’re able to produce close to 500,000 different Pantone-matched color combinations. We can also print textures, such as wood, leather, and fabric.
One great use case comes from an automaker using the J55 to prototype gear shift knobs that look and feel like the real thing, while a consumer goods company enjoyed similar results with perfume bottles. It represents a huge development for product developers, as it allows them to get their designs dialed in much sooner and compress the development cycle by weeks or even months.
Do you feel COVID-19 has changed manufacturing forever by accelerating 3D printing’s adoption, or will the status quo return after the pandemic?
The pandemic has served to bring mainstream attention to how viable 3D printing has become for situations where you need to get up and running quickly.
As a result, we’ve seen far more executive-level engagement over the last handful of months.
Larger organizations have begun asking questions about their 3D printing capabilities and how it can be beneficial in times where you have a supply chain gap or other disruption.
So I do believe that, as we come out of the pandemic, 3D printing is going to be a much more strategic topic for a range of manufacturing companies as they reevaluate their production and procurement of critical items.
There is tremendous focus these days on 3D printing hardware’s speed, accuracy and volume. But doesn’t the real benefit of additive manufacturing come from the wide array of materials—especially polymers—that have been developed over the past few years?
Absolutely. When trying to solve a problem, practically the first question an engineer or product designer asks is, “What’s the best material for the application?” It’s only after they’ve answered that question that they can determine what manufacturing processes are best for processing that material.
Granted, we as an industry are still way behind traditional manufacturing in terms of the number of materials we have available. But that’s beginning to change. And as each material comes to the market, you can see that it’s serving new applications that couldn’t have been done before.
There’s the GM carbon fiber example. We also came out with another high-end material around a year ago called Antero 840CN03. “This is a PEKK [polyetherketoneketone]-based ESD [electrostatic dissipative] thermoplastic that Lockheed Martin is now using for the development of the Orion spacecraft, an FDM [fused deposition modeling] application that would never have happened without it.
So it does absolutely start with materials, particularly as we move further into mission-critical component production.
Similarly, where would 3D printing be without recent advancements in generative design software and the design community’s embrace of its capabilities?
It’s clear that generative design is a critical aspect of 3D printing’s growth and success.
For example, you can replace numerous parts on an airplane and achieve greater value or efficiency by using generative design and 3D printing.
This value is even higher with entirely new products, or when you have the freedom to completely redesign a legacy part, optimizing it for additive.
So yes, I think the continued development and adoption of generative design tools will be a big catalyst for the industry overall.
Your website features a video of the Stratasys F900 where Wayne Benson, your director of manufacturing product management, mentions the use of MTConnect for process-related data collection. Why is this important?
The request for this capability actually came from our customers in the automotive and aerospace industries, who are using MTConnect to gather machine tool data for process analysis and improvement. 3D printers are quickly becoming a big part of that ecosystem. This is why Stratasys sits on the advisory board for MTConnect, and why we’ve introduced it on our high-end FDM printer, the Stratasys F900.
We’re working on APIs [application programming interfaces] for third parties to use, as well, so anyone interested has the requisite hooks into our operating system.
Stratasys has developed several industry and application-specific 3D printers, including a series of dental systems, the J750 “Digital Anatomy” printer, and your continuous build platform. Which of these is the most exciting to you, and why?
There are several, but I have to say it’s the Digital Anatomy printer you just mentioned—mainly because it’s a space that hasn’t been disrupted in a long time.
Instead of using cadavers and animal models for surgical training or procedure planning, physicians can now use patient-specific, anatomically-accurate 3D-printed models that mimic human tissue.
We’re still at the early stages, but this has massive implications for the medical community, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes.
You’ve been with Stratasys for nearly 10 years, and the company itself is more than 30 years old. Do you feel that the 3D printing industry is now mature and that manufacturers can look forward to ongoing incremental improvements, or is the technology just getting started?
From where I’m sitting, we’re just getting started.
Obviously, 3D printing’s first couple of decades were very centered on rapid prototyping, and it wasn’t until the last decade that we started to see a sharp uptick in manufacturing applications starting with jigs, fixtures and other tooling already mentioned.
We are starting to see more high-value production applications emerging, which will continue to expand as the materials grow more robust and the 3D printing processes become more repeatable and scalable.
So even though the additive manufacturing industry is now 35 years old, I think we’re in the first inning when it comes to so-called real manufacturing, especially when you consider the vast opportunities for 3D printing in the transportation & healthcare sectors.
According to the technology market research firm ARC Advisory Group, AM will become the standard manufacturing technology over the next five to 10 years.
“Innovative designs enabled by generative design methods based on AI algorithms and the use of new materials will become common when removed from the constraints of traditional manufacturing processes,” Dick Slansky, senior analyst and director or PLM research, wrote in a recent post on the Web. “Additionally, these designs will be part of a continuously improving process of production efficiency and optimization. AM and its complementary technologies will allow for more consolidation of individual parts, and a more streamlined manufacturing process overall, with these designs requiring less assembly time and reduced maintenance in the field.”
Desktop printer manufacturer Ultimaker signed a pact with 3D design and manufacturing solutions provider 3Dologie, whose customers in Tennessee, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia can now look forward to affordable, industrial quality parts made from a wide array of materials.
“Adding a printer with such accuracy and ease-of-use with a large material network to our portfolio is going to widen our customer base and allow more industries to adopt 3D printing,” said 3Dologie CEO Melissa Ragsdale.
Ultimaker Americas President Greg Elfering agreed. “This partnership fulfills the gap in service in the Southeastern region and provides a vital introduction to potential clients through a trusted and customer service-oriented partner.”
Visitors to the ASME AM Industry Summit on August 11 and 12 had an opportunity to see 3D printer manufacturer Nexa3D’s entire high-speed polymer portfolio, including its biocompatible medical material xMED412, the eco-friendly cleaning solvent xCLEAN, and high-performance polymer xCE-Black.
The company reportedly showcased how its products are breaking speed, productivity and performance barriers, and went on to unveil its recently-acquired NXT Factory Quantum Laser Sintering (QLS) 3D printers for mass production.
In addition, Nexa3D showcased its growing collaboration with software developer ParaMatters, jointly delivering lightweighting capabilities for aerospace and medical applications, as well as enhanced productivity of digital workflows.
Aluminum product and solution provider Constellium SE has expanded its portfolio with Aheadd, a high-performance aluminum powder said to exceed industry standards for AM productivity and component properties.
“As a global leader in innovative aluminum products and solutions, we are at the forefront of the evolving and fast-changing additive manufacturing market, and we are proud to be expanding our portfolio to serve and meet the needs of our customers across all industries,” said Constellium CEO Jean-Marc Germain. “The global additive manufacturing market has great potential with new design and production possibilities, and we look forward to further expanding its potential by providing unique and high-performance aluminum powders customized for our customers.”
Customers of on-demand manufacturer Xometry can now order 3D-printed parts made with binder jet technology from ExOne. “Our industrial binder jet machines can truly take products from prototyping all the way to final production with a single process that is fast, affordable and sustainable,” said ExOne CEO John Hartner.
Xometry CEO Randy Altschuler agreed. “We’re excited to offer binder jetting to expand the range of services our customer base can get from Xometry’s new Digital RFQ Marketplace.”
Advanced manufacturing company FATHOM, which was itself acquired by Midwest Composite Technologies last year, bought GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services, a metal AM services provider.
Together with another recent acquisition, ICOMold, the four companies will be moving forward under the FATHOM brand.
Founded in 2007 as one of the first metal AM services providers in the U.S., GPI offers Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) additive manufacturing and CNC machining services, producing complex metal parts in aluminum, stainless steel, tool steel, titanium, Inconel and cobalt chrome for on-demand manufacturing applications in the aerospace, medical and industrial markets.
Penn State University’s newspaper reported that a $546,806 grant from the National Science Foundation could enhance the models used for metal AM, allowing the resulting components to be created with fewer defects.
“This grant will enable a manufacturing process for high-value components with complex geometries that have many different applications,” said Qian Wang, professor and the principle investigator of the project.
During the three-year project, Wang aims to develop new models for laser powder bed fusion AM.
“The overall objective will be to improve the part quality and consistency, which will help increase the economic competitiveness of metal additive manufacturing,” she said.
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