CHICAGO – At this week’s RAPID + TCT show, there was certainty that additive manufacturing will keep expanding. The question is how.
There were various answers. Players in 3D printing are deciding what they do best so they can concentrate on that. They’re also looking to improve additive’s “repeatability and reliability” in the words of Melissa Orme, a vice president of Boeing Co.
“We want additive manufacturing to become a standard, viable option to achieve different products,” Orme said during the keynote address of the show’s first day.
To at least some extent, that means proceeding without a safety net, she said.
“You have to let go of the traditional manufacturing solution,” Orme said. “We need to our homework to make sure we get there.”
RAPID + TCT is a forum to present new printers and details about new materials as well as conducting panels about industry trends. “It becomes overwhelming,” said Todd Grimm, president of T.A. Grimm & Associates, an industry consultant.
He described additive as being on “a slope of enlightenment” as it evolves based on research and development.
“We call it the slow revolution,” said Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager-North America for software company Materialise. “People want to push the easy button. There is no easy button.”
Achieving reliability and repeatability “takes time,” he said.
RAPID + TCT, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, showed that evolution is taking different forms. A few examples:
--3D Systems described its plans for Oqton, a software company it has agreed to acquire.
Rock Hill, S.C.-based 3D Systems intends to have Oqton operate separately. 3D Systems will have access to Qqton software advances, but the software company will maintain ties with others in additive.
“We will work with all machine types and all vendors,” Ben Schrauwen, founder and CEO of Oqton, said at a press briefing at RAPID + TCT. “The intent is to build a healthy software. I think the whole 3D printing industry can benefit.”
--Stratasys Ltd.’s booth reflected how the company opted to concentrate on printing polymers.
“We made the decision to double down on polymers and polymers for manufacturing applications,” said Rich Garrity, president of the Americas at Stratasys. “We put metal (printing) off to the side.”
One display emphasized the company’s printing in the medical field. The display was based on the old Operation board game where players tried to remove toy body parts without causing the board to buzz.
The Stratasys display had an illustration of a “patient” that was similar to the board game but with a variety of 3D printed organs and parts, including a replica of an eyeball.
Medical is one of the key markets for additive. Stratasys has been involved in printing that can mimic human body parts for planning surgeries.
“You’ve got to pick a path,” Garrity said. “For us, polymers made the most sense.”
--Open Mind Technologies USA displayed its hyperMILL software and how it can be used in additive applications.
Open Mind’s business primarily is with traditional manufacturing such as milling and turning. But the company wanted to have a presence in additive. “Some of our customers are working both ends of the street,” said Alan Levine, managing director of Open Mind. “In some cases, it will be the future.”
Boeing’s Orme, in her keynote, summed up the state of additive. “We have to keep our minds open for what’s next,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”