After an unexpected and unpleasant mid-May snow in Ohio, it was a relief to get on a plane and travel to 90-degree Orlando, Florida for the RAPID 2016 3D Manufacturing Event, which is taking place this week from May 16-19. While the city is crowded with tourists, the Orange County Convention Center has been crowded with the biggest names in 3D printing – from industry veterans like 3D Systems and Stratasys to newcomers like HP, who turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the day.
Soon after the doors of the convention center opened, HP made the formal announcement that they had officially unveiled their long-awaited Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system. An early-morning press conference revealed more detail about the printer and its voxel-based technology, as well as the direction the company hopes to go now that they’ve broken into the industry. While HP has some grand plans befitting a multinational corporation of their stature, perhaps the most exciting aspect of their entry into 3D printing is the collaborative spirit in which they’ve made that entry. The new technology they introduced today is going to take the industry in some new directions, and HP has been very clear that they won’t be moving forward alone.
The new Multi Jet Fusion system is only the beginning, according to HP, and its further development will depend largely on the network of partners the company has signed on, as well as customers. Upon embracing 3D printing, HP has also embraced the open source philosophy that has built so much of the industry – in a departure from their earlier business model. The corporations that have partnered with HP will be serving as both beta testers and developers, with the goal of creating new materials, processes, and applications from every corner.
One of those partner companies is Proto Labs, whose booth I had the opportunity to stop by later in the day. I chatted with Rob Connelly, Vice President of Additive Manufacturing for the Minnesota-based company, whose dedication to both quality and fast service has made them one of the leading service bureaus for 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding in the United States. The company is excited to be one of the first testers and developers for HP’s new system, according to Connelly, who commented that he looks forward to studying the new technology, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and being one of the first to use the system hands-on.
HP wasn’t the only company to roll out a new product at the conference, not by far. EnvisionTEC unveiled their mammoth SLCOM 1 industrial composite 3D printer, while over at the LulzBot booth, multiple models of the recently announced TAZ 6 – available for purchase as of the 17th – whirred away happily. I stopped by Sculpteo’s booth for a look at their new Smoothing Beautifier, which lives up to its name – the parts printed with the technology were visibly brighter, smoother and shinier than their ordinary counterparts. Frankly, the smoothed and beautified parts didn’t look as though they had been 3D printed at all, which seems to be the goal for many companies right now, as Jason Rolland, Carbon‘s Vice President of Materials, discussed in an afternoon session.
One of the drivers behind Carbon’s much-talked-about CLIP technology was a common customer complaint: sure, 3D printing is great, but do the parts have to look so, well, 3D printed? It’s not just a cosmetic issue, Rolland explained, as even small surface variations like print lines can be cause for concern about proper fit with many parts. CLIP technology eliminates print layers, giving the appearance and texture of traditional injection molded pieces, but does so at lightning speed, and Carbon is far from being done developing the technology. Rolland gave an overview of the company’s most popular materials, including rigid and flexible polyurethanes, prototyping resin, and cyanate ester, and touched on a few of the materials we can expect to see before long, including epoxy-based and silicone resins.
Additional sessions focused on topics that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following the industry at all. Jonathan Cornelus of 3D Systems discussed the numerous applications of metal additive manufacturing, as well as its potential for the future (hint: it’s not going anywhere anytime soon). A talk from University of Washington professor Mark Ganter took a look at some of the artistic applications of 3D printing, namely for glass and ceramic artists.
Speaking of metal 3D printing, I also got a chance to speak with Andy Snow, Senior Vice President for EOS, which pioneered Direct Metal Laser Sintering. The company is riding high right now, due to not just laser sintering but laser focus on specific product applications that have boosted their success. While innovation is great, companies shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to rush new products to market, Snow cautioned. At the end of the day, what matters is quality and consistency, which EOS is careful to take extra time to deliver. (Look for more from EOS and other companies on the floor at RAPID shortly.)
Finally, I got to see an up-close-and-personal look at the importance of STEM education thanks to Rippl3D and their Volcano Challenge. At their booth in the conference’s 3D Printing Playground, the organization invited interested participants to try the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment, with the goal of creating an eruption that met or exceeded a height of 65 cm. Participants had to guess the best ratio of baking soda to vinegar to water, along with choosing one of several 3D printed nozzles that they believed would deliver the most explosive explosion. My attempt resulted in a stunning eruption of…17 cm. I crept away in embarrassment, but I did get a cool souvenir 3D printed nozzle to take home as a reminder of my scientific defeat.
We’ll be back on the floor tomorrow, so stay tuned for more! Discuss this news in the 3D Printing News at Rapid 2016 forum over at 3DPB.com.