Through my week in Frankfurt, I moved from one booth to the next at formnext, where I had the fantastic opportunity to speak to executives and representatives from some of the most exciting names in 3D printing. Trade shows — particularly those with aspirations such as formnext’s, to become the go-to conference in their industry — provide the unique chance to meet the faces behind some of these big names, catching up first-hand with the latest developments. Wrapping up our coverage from formnext 2016, I will be presenting in this three-part series details from more of the conversations I was privileged to have there, focusing on updates in business, hardware, and software.
On the business front, formnext was an absolute hotbed of announcements and reveals in 3D printing — and of course, a company’s presence at a conference is good to catch up on more than only the latest announcements. As firms continue to mature and solidify their places in the 3D printing industry, or come closer to full launch, updates become a valuable resource to check in on how progress is coming along, as well as a look at what’s next.
At 3D Systems‘ massive booth, I had the opportunity to speak with Scott Turner, Senior Researcher, Advanced R&D; and Roy Sterenthal, Vice President Engineering, Software Solutions.
Turner showed me more of the capabilities of the mesmerizing Figure 4 which, like at IMTS, was in action on the exhibit floor. The company is truly “taking aim at injection molding” with its advanced manufacturing systems, where there is an “individual part flow in seconds” that provides “on-demand manufacturing at competitive rates.” Finished products created on this system have none of the grainy texture we’re familiar with seeing from many additive technologies; Turner pointed out that finished products are indeed on par with injection molded pieces. A key point to the Figure 4 system is that cost per part is consistent; the cost of the first part made is the same as the cost of the thousandth part made.
“We’re at base camp now, and going to climb the mountain currently occupied by injection molding,” Turner told me of the company’s aspirations.
I next went deeper into the booth, where Sterenthal provided more information about 3DS’ highly anticipated 3DXpert software, which provides a design flow for metal additive manufacturing.
“This is a new, innovative approach in many ways,” Sterenthal told me. “We’re working with native data, not mesh. This hybrid modeling takes advantage of native data for real-time analysis for part positioning and options for optimization. To optimize structure, we focus on topology. Microstructures and lattices inside are based on functional analysis. There is some automation in creating supports, but this is about creating the best structure for an individual part. It eliminates the need for other software like Magics or Netfabb. You can set 3D Zoning, for printing strategies that work on a 3D level, slice and calculate the scan-path, arrange objects on the build platform, and automate the post-processing process. It all comes down to cost per part.”
3DS’ Moaz Barkai additionally provided me with a demonstration of the software in use right at the booth so I could see some of the qualities that set 3DXpert apart. I watched him easily and quickly slice, working with virtual volume, checking in on different types of supports that are optimized for each part of each structure, using lattices, cones, and other types. Previews on screen can either show or hide the supports to ensure you get a good look at just what you’re working on at any given point in a project. The virtual volume shows the object with a ring around it, showing the different slicing strategies for each aspect within the ring. This allows ofr no countours, no weak point in an object due to the merging of areas. To enhance speed capabilities, supports — both internal and external — can print every other layer, while the object itself prints in every layer. This software looks to offer customization and optimization on several fronts that will truly benefit the ongoing development of metal AM technologies.
On Wednesday at formnext, the team from 3D Hubs swept the exhibit floor — the whole team. In talking with Communications Manager George Fisher-Wilson ahead of formnext, I learned that they planned to bring 35 members of the 3D Hubs team from Amsterdam. Walking through the exhibit hall the day of their arrival, they were certainly a noticeable presence, even without a booth of their own. Indeed, in walking around, I overheard several visitors commenting on the strong presence of matching shirts from 3D Hubs.
I sat down with Fisher-Wilson to catch up on some of the latest from 3D Hubs, putting another face to a name I often see in my inbox. The company has begun to turn toward a focus in education, he told me, as the company’s recent infusion of new funding has led to a great deal of recent hiring, and they are now striving to educate all of their team members throughout the expansion process. You can expect anyone representing 3D Hubs now to be more knowledgeable and up-to-the-minute on the latest in 3D printing technologies, as well as the global reach of their hubs. In recent big news, this month 3D Hubs released their 2017 3D Printer Buyers’ Guide, offering valuable insights from users around the world about which 3D printers truly offer the best performance prospects for makers and businesses with focus in Prosumer, Workhorse, Budget, Plug ’N’ Play, and SLS options.3D Hubs is also looking more toward students using their service, recently expanding their student discount from a trial basis to an expanded offering reaching more than 100 countries. Fisher-Wilson highlighted for me a recent case study from TU Delft, which he then shared with us in full, looking at a functional 3D print used for a steering wheel. Additional use cases that 3D Hubs has recently observed include noting that camera boxes used for Planet Earth were 3D printed via a hub. 3D Hubs is additionally beginning to focus on industrial 3D printing, building up the platform for industrial customers and seeing an influx of mid-sized companies coming to the platform. The company is additionally working to verify working hubs, keeping the best service providers on the platform.
“We are building our knowledge base,” Fisher-Wilson told me, “looking to print optimization and going beyond the ‘maker-y’ image.”
The team from Munich-based DyeMansion certainly had a lot to show off, as Founder and CEO Felix Ewald and Pia Harlass from the Marketing team showed me around their extensive booth setup. Last year, DyeMansion appeared at formnext — as a startup, in a smaller area. For 2016, the company had more floorspace and more to show, with Ewald telling me that this year “has been busy, we’re seeing a lot of new business, new sales right at the show.”
The company brings color to SLS 3D printing, capable of matching Pantone and other standardized colors exactly. Ewald noted that working with established names has been very helpful to the young company in getting their name out there, with technology partners and customers such as FKM and Materialise lending them credibility. The booth had several examples of work they’ve done, and I recognized among them some sharply colored 3D printed shin guards that looked familiar — turns out DyeMansion had had a hand in these, as well. While Ewald admitted that getting started was a hard process, and that they had had a “tough year”, the company has also installed eight machines and introduced a new blasting system — and they’ve been growing. Last year, DyeMansion was a team of 4, and now boasts a 14-member team. One of the biggest applications DyeMansion has seen lately is in eyewear, with Ewald noting that they process approximately 3,000 pairs of glasses per month with an unnamed partner.
The colors at the DyeMansion booth certainly shined brightly — and the cheeky group also had signs around inviting potential customers to “Make Your SLS Parts Great Again”. The company’s vision for the future is great, but the humor might be a slight case of “too soon”.
It simply isn’t a 3D printing trade show in 2016 without HP. The company, which is getting set to fully bring their first Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system to market, after having been introduced earlier this year. The team brought in their now-familiar portable auditorium setup, complete with staggered seating and full video screen system, as well as several functioning 3D printers to show off alongside parts and future capabilities. In this show’s Voxel Vision event on Wednesday night, those of us gathered were privy to a few videos (re)introducing the technology and some of the faces behind it, along with a booth tour. Beginning with “The revolution is about to begin” and concluding with “The revolution begins now”, the videos highlighted what HP is calling the “Digital furnaces of the digital revolution” — showing the faith they have in their production-quality machines to truly impact this revolution in manufacturing technologies.
While much of the presentation was a rehash from similar showings at IMTS in Chicago and RAPID in Orlando, as well as a look into the Barcelona facility housing the original 3D printers, the Voxel Vision event at formnext still held more information. What I appreciate about HP’s 3D printing approach is that there is always something new to learn — this is not a team content to rest on the laurels of finally having introduced the first generation of their technology, but one that is working regularly to improve, enhance, and continue to collaborate to offer even more to the industry. The reusability of the materials, such as HP 3D High Reusability PA12, is nothing to scoff at, as 80% of material in a print job will be recycled, with just 20% being virgin material, while other somewhat similar reusable materials are closer to a 50/50 mix. The recently announced PA-12 Vestosint material developed by Evonik is the first HP-approved new material on their open source platform, which again marks a differing point from the proprietary approach we’ve seen HP take in the past, which has led to very mixed results for the company as a whole. Collaboration remains a key focus for HP going forward, and the company is looking toward partners such as those in the 3MF Consortium.
HP included a booth tour wherein we could watch the technology in action (though we couldn’t hear much on the loud show floor, either):
All told, formnext was a fantastic venue for catching up with some of the latest goings-on in business today. Keep an eye out for upcoming looks covering conversations centering around hardware and software offerings from the show! Discuss in the formnext forum at 3DPB.com.[All photos/videos taken by Sarah Goehrke at formnext for 3DPrint.com, unless logos or otherwise noted]
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