3D Systems Focusing on Leadership in Plastic Additive Manufacturing with Announcements of New Multi-Material 3D Printer, SLA Materials, Software

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As RAPID + TCT kicks off in Pittsburgh today, the week is getting off to a good start as 3D Systems is among the first with new announcements in its offerings for the 3D printing industry. Never one to drag its feet, the company is introducing not only a new multi-material 3D printer, but also new 3D printing materials and several software updates and inclusions. 3D Systems executives filled 3DPrint.com in on the particulars of the announcement, as I spoke with Jim Ruder, SVP, General Manager, Plastics; Carol Zampell, VP, Software; and Roy Sterenthal, VP, Engineering, Software ahead of the event to learn more about the company’s newest releases.

“We’re really driving the total cost of operations message, we have a broad portfolio of printers and solutions. In combination with software, we believe will deliver total industry-leading cost of operations,” Ruder told me of today’s announcements. “We’re focusing a lot of energy and investments in this direction going forward. We’ll see it more over time, with Figure 4 technologies. We’re pushing total cost of operations, pushing rising quality. As we move our printers more into production environments we know the expectations of those production customers are for much higher up-time, higher reliability, higher overall product quality. That’s the focus, that’s where you’ll see us driving over time.”

ProJet MJP 5600 Multi-Material Composite 3D Printer

The newest machine in 3D Systems’ hardware portfolio is set to be available in June 2017, as Ruder told me that this flagship high-end multi-material 3D printer is designed to feature speeds up to two times faster than those of the competition, featuring a larger build volume, and part costs 40% lower than competing multi-material machines. (These comparisons are based on the competing Objet350 and Objet500 Connex3 3D printers from Stratasys.) The ProJet MJP 5600, he said, is engineered to deliver functional precision parts over a wide range of materials and is capable of combining materials to blend at the voxel level. Ruder pointed to typical customer applications that might benefit from the new machine as including overmolding parts, multi-material assemblies, rubber-like components, jigs and fixtures, and dies.

Through use of the included 3D Sprint 2.5 software (more details below), the ProJet MJP 5600 allows for digital blending of rigid and elastomeric materials at the voxel level, through which users can assign different material blends to separate shells within a single part. The voxel-level control is set to enhance mechanical properties. The machine’s features include a 64-bit OS, an increased-size 10″ display, and onboard capabilities to slice multiple builds simultaneously. The ProJet MJP 5600 is set to replace the ProJet MJP 5500X 3D printer, offering an improved user experience and job processing speed; owners of the earlier machines will have the ability to upgrade through a program, available in July, through which 3D Systems seeks to ensure that customers can access the benefits of their latest technology. Ruder explained to me that this program is set to protect customers’ investments for the 5500X and to bring them to equivalent functionality of the 5600 fleet.

New Plastic Materials

“Today’s announcement extends our leadership position in 3D multi-material plastics printing by delivering solutions that enable customers to produce better parts faster at a much lower cost,” said Ruder.

Going along with the ProJet MJP 5600 announcement, 3D Systems is introducing a new material for the new machine with VisiJet CR-BK, a rigid black plastic material. This new VisiJet material is intended to open new opportunities for the production of parts with enhanced mechanical performance for use in demanding product designs. Two further SLA materials are also being unveiled with immediate availability, as 3D Systems announces Accura HPC for the ProX 800 and Accura Phoenix for the ProJet 6000 and 7000 and the ProX 800 and 950. The former new material is said to bring together superior stiffness and high-throughput production capability, beneficial in such applications requiring advanced performance as wind tunnel models, assembly and welding fixtures, and other components that may critically require rigidity and abrasion resistance. Ruder told me that the Accura HPC (high-performance composite) material has been out for use with beta customers, who have reported that it is good for quick iterative testing, automotive and aerospace wind tunnel testing, and is a composite material with high stiffness and high production speeds that runs efficiently, is easy to clean up, and offers advanced prototyping capabilities. Accura Phoenix, for its part, is set to offer clarity and high-temperature resistance, beneficial for uses including high-temperature fluid flow visualizations in complex automotive parts. Ruder pointed out that end-use customers really like this material for its high-temperature and clarity properties.

As the automotive racing world has been turning increasingly to 3D printing, with Formula One teams embracing the technology for a variety of applications, this was one initial testing ground for the new 3D Systems materials. Patrick Warner, Manager of Additive Manufacturing, Renault Sport Formula One Team, explained of the new high-performance composite material:

“Our innovation relies on the ability to produce and test high performance wind tunnel models in large volumes. Accura HPC gives us reliable results in aerodynamic tests, and the high production speeds possible with the material allow us to go through hundreds of parts a week to advance the performance of our car.”

Software Announcements

Turning next to software announcements, I talked with Carol Zampell and Roy Sterenthal about the latest announcements for 3D Systems’ offerings allowing for greater productivity and design capabilities.

3D Sprint 2.5

“Today in 3D Sprint 2.5 we’re announcing features for our stereolithography printers, for all of our current printers,” Zampell told me. “This release also adds support of other printers; each release will be adding printers until we get to full support.”

Set to deliver what the company calls “breakthrough productivity,” the new 3D Sprint 2.5 software is designed to save both time and money while increasing the quality of parts designed, offering enhancements just six months after the release of 3D Sprint 2.0. New Smart Support technology addresses the always-tricky issue of supports, as more efficient SLA supports are easier to remove and can offer material savings as well as an improved surface finish.

Zampell referred to this capability as “one of the most exciting things” for SLA customers to gain from the new announcements as optimized smart supports ultimately lead to better parts and less time spent on post-processing. 3D Sprint 2.5 will also see improvements to slicing algorithms, which will allow for better curves produced, as well as a more intuitive interface that will speed build preparation time. Zampell noted that due to these improvements, beta customers have reported to 3D Systems a more than 75% reduction in processing time (support generation/print slicing), and as a result, the company is “really excited, this is a great release where customers will gain a lot in productivity.”

3D Sprint 2.5 is available this week. Licences are available at no charge to current SLA, MJP, and CJP customers, and are bundled with each supported new printer; additional licenses are available for purchase. Amcor Rigid Plastics has been working with the new system, and Senior Design Engineer Brad Philip reports:

“3D Sprint is a significant improvement to the existing software. In some cases it is 60 times faster when slicing the build, as well as being much more intuitive when it comes to build creation and manipulation.”

Geomagic Freeform 2017 Hybrid Design Software

Available in June, Geomagic Freeform 2017 is designed to be, Zampell said, “the most comprehensive 3D design software” out there. The 3D hybrid design software is set to address complex challenges in a single platform, she explained, offering capabilities for mass customization. The 2017 release, just over a year after the 2016 updates, adds new and enhanced tools to help with mass customization and design tools, through which a user can quickly add design components molded to an existing surface or offset to an existing surface. The release, Zampell noted, also includes performance enhancements to increase productivity for workflows. Geomagic Freeform 2017 production workflows are designed to enhance and speed up repeated processes for personalized design variations, such as labels and custom parts.

3DXpert Software Now Shipping with Direct Metal Printers

3D Systems demoed 3DXpert for 3DPrint.com at formnext 2016 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

To round out the day’s announcements, Sterenthal filled me in, all the way from Israel, on the latest offering in 3D Systems’ 3DXpert software for metal additive manufacturing. Looking to the history of the software, he noted its launch at last year’s IMTS, providing an all-in-one solution for metal powder bed machines as simulation proves to be key in metal AM. The software, which I’ve had the opportunity to watch in action, is designed as a solution for additive manufacturing engineers, serving users who require a full workflow for metal 3D printing. Sterenthal pointed to its capabilities, working directly on native geometry and not having to go through the mesh side, working directly on a solid model and providing a full hybrid solution. Today, the company is announcing the bundling of this software solution immediately with all of its direct metal printers, an offering we have been anticipating since they pointed to it in a spate of earlier announcements.

The all-in-one 3DXpert software solution is designed to negate the need for multiple software packages, with offerings geared toward print preparation, optimization of supports and structure, slicing, and post-processing. 3DXpert will also incorporate Build Simulation, a new module designed to allow for the verification and optimization of parts, designs, and supports to optimize these areas and uncover potentially costly issues prior to hitting print. Sterenthal noted that 3DXpert also includes patent-pending zoning technology that incorporates multiple printing strategies in the same object, so a user can use different strategies without having to split the object. He said that the Build Simulation is complete, and is very important especially when printing large-volume parts: “the idea is to reduce the number of trials common in the market, to validate support design, whether too few or too many supports are included, and to reduce build failures, address plasticity problems, and optimize the cost of parts.” Build Simulation will be available in the latter half of this year.

Among users of 3DXpert software is Metal Technology Inc. (MTI), which has noted an up-to-75% reduction in print processing times and productivity gains of 40% or more using 3DXpert with the ProX DMP 320. The company’s Director of Engineering, Jason Stitzel, noted of the technology:

“One of the main drivers for us to switch over to 3DXpert was that we can compress our workflow into a single solution. We went from using at least three different software systems to get the final product to doing it all with one. 3DXpert removes the need to convert from a solid model to an STL, a process that inherently introduces issues and errors. Before we used 3DXpert, running a complicated part through a slicing engine took close to 20 hours to process, slice, run the parameters and create a build file. With 3DXpert, we could do the same build file in just four hours.”

The bevy of announcements made today is in keeping with 3D Systems’ recent approach to the market, under the leadership of the busy and fast-talking CEO Vyomesh Joshi (VJ), who has been clear about the path he wants to see the company take since stepping into the role, from a history at HP, in April 2016. The company has been aggressive recently in its approach to ensuring its competitive position in the 3D printing market across a number of technologies, including by slashing costs on an SLS 3D printing system, putting great focus on its novel Figure 4 technology and shipping the first system, regularly positioning itself as a leader in medical applications and keeping a strong team in place at the head of such efforts, and looking toward ongoing development of both plastic and metal 3D printing technologies and materials. An original player in the game, 3D Systems remains one to watch as the industry continues to mature.

3D Systems will be at RAPID + TCT this week at booth #2525, which 3DPrint.com will be touring for additional details on the latest announcements. The company’s booth, as Ruder noted, will feature their end-to-end digital workflow solution, featuring products, services, and materials. 3D Systems will focus on the message of helping customers to increase productivity at a beneficial total cost of operations.

Share your thoughts on these announcements in the 3D Systems forum at 3DPB.com.


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