formnext 2017 kicked off today with a day full of world premieres and surprise announcements by hardware companies, letting us hope that the high rate of innovation in additive manufacturing is going to continue for the foreseeable future.
Here are some of the exhibits and announcements that got me particularly excited:
Additive Industries announced their automatic product removal module. This is the first time I have seen a system that automatically removes the parts from the platform. This may not sound like a big deal if you do not work in an AM factory. It is however a critical step in post-processing, and so far had to be carried out with special equipment, requiring several steps involving manual labor. Automating the removal of the parts from the platform makes it easier for factories to operate the machines, and should eventually lead to lower prices for metal powder bed fusion parts.
SLM Software introduced their new software solution, and rumor has it that they scored a large machine order on the very first day of the expo.
Desktop Metal showed their studio and production system at the expo, and announced a scheduled release of the studio system for Q3 of 2018 in Europe, with the production system following the year after. Desktop Metal claims cost parity with casting (not machining!) at one hundred thousand parts. A bold claim, wich they base on their assumption of very high build rate, and the lower price for feedstock. Desktop Metal uses Metal Injection Moulding powders, which are up to 80% cheaper than metal powder bed fusion powders. According to Desktop Metal, they can build parts 100 times faster than metal powder bed fusion. At a layer time of 3 seconds for the Desktop Metal production system, this assumes that one layer of a metal powder bed fusion machine with the same build envelope would take 300 seconds per layer. Both methods have different post-processing: whereas Desktop Metal requires a sintering process which takes several hours, metal powder bed fusion requires cooling of the job, powder removal and support removal.
TÜV Süd showcased their services for offering process certification. Process certification is not as exciting has machines and parts or perhaps even materials. It is however critical to establish production. TÜV Süd is also working on harmonizing manufacturing standards worldwide, which is necessary for globalized supply chains.
Cold spraying is all the rage, with several companies showcasing machines equipped with that technology. Cold spraying is a deposition method where the powder is accelerated to several MACHs and then shot onto the workpiece. This delivers a high density part at a high build rate.
Xjet announced the first sale of their Carmel 1400 system in Germany, to oerlikon's citim AM service bureau. Their first US machine was sold to the University of Youngtown in Ohio. XJet claims 99.9% density of their parts. XJet uses material jetting (similar to ink jetting). The technology has very high resolution, and is by design ready for multi-material printing. This is a feature that would be difficult to do with metal powder bed fusion.
GE Additive announced Atlas, a metal powder bed fusion system with a platform size of 1.1 by 1.1 meters. For comparison, the eos M2XX series, a very popular machine, has 0.25 by 0.25 meters. This Atlas is a new size class in metal powder bed fusion, and allows for much larger parts than before. Parts of this size used to be possible only with direct energy deposition methods such as BeAM.
After a long period of silence, 3D Systems came out swinging, bringing their Figure 4 system for modular and scalable polymer part production, the new 3DSXpert software for Metal 3D printing and their new, larger metal 3D printing machine. 3DSXpert is a great piece of software for digital pre-processing in metal 3D printing. It includes the core features and some great advanced features, along with machining integration. And the software is open, allowing users to target not only 3D Systems but also eos and SLM machines. Figure 4 uses a method similar to clip, and brings new polymer materials that are long term durable. Compared to their existing SLA and DLP offerings which are mostly used for tooling and lost forms, Figure 4 is geared towards end use part production.
There have been many, many more exciting announcements. Overall it was an excellent first day. The industry has shown that it is committed to pushing additive manufacturing as a production technology. It is going to be exciting to see the new products that take advantage of the hardware innovations presented today.