The 3D printing industry is maturing, and a great deal of focus is increasingly being placed on viable solutions and advancements to improve metal additive manufacturing processes. An absolute must-see event on the annual 3D printing calendar is formnext, which in only its third year has established itself as one of, if not the, largest events of the year; this year, well over 20,000 attendees came with a sense of purpose to Frankfurt to attend the show, looking to talk business. The show was so busy this year that a few weeks (and one holiday) later we’re still catching up on coverage and conversations from the floor.

Among the fastest growing areas of the industry is metal additive manufacturing, as materials and machines continue to advance, offering new geometries and capabilities to metal manufacture. Like at TCT Show before it, this focus was clear from the very beginning of this year’s formnext, which was kicked off with the unveiling of GE Additive’s latest metal 3D printer — not, by a long shot, the only machine in the show’s halls to draw crowds. From software and applications to new machines, metal 3D printing was a common thread at this show, and announcements from Materialise, 3i-PRINT, and OR Laser served to underscore this messaging.

Materialise

Koen Neutjens introduces e-Stage Metal

At its crowded press conference on the first day of the event, Belgium-based Materialise introduced its latest software offering for metal additive manufacturing with e-Stage Metal.

“Materials have been pushing what is possible with 3D printing for 30 years,” said Materialise VP of Software Stefaan Motte in introduction. “As parts became more complex, bigger, the need to design became more important, and we needed to automate. We look at the numbers for e-Stage SLA software, and there has been a huge impact, saving time. Now, 55% of large SLA machines are using e-stage, and there is a 99% renewal rate.”

He continued, “The reason we invited you here today is because we can answer a question our customers have ben asking for some time: What about metal? There has been the same issue — it needs supports, design is becoming more complex — but more can go wrong. With e-Stage for Metal, there is automated support, which will have a big impact. Bigger than on plastics.”

The Product Manager for e-Stage, Koen Neutjens, introduced the new offering as a one-click solution designed to ease design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) for metal processes. He presented a look at the benefits of this new software by the numbers:

  • 90% decreased data preparation time
  • 20% decreased powder consumption
  • 50% decreased support removal time

Materialise, Neutjens said, has spent two years running the project, which started in Bremen.

“At this stage, we say we have a solution — not just internally, but seven companies have implemented this and are using it for 90% of their parts production,” he told us.

“Airbus APWORKS has been testing this since the beginning of this year for aerospace. If they use this — and we know they need to meet high quality standards — I think this says a lot.”

Materialise additionally highlighted other software offerings and partnerships throughout the week at formnext, including the latest update to its Magics suite.

 

3i-PRINT

Late this summer, we were introduced to the 3i-PRINT project, which is bringing together partners in a unique automotive-focused metal additive manufacturing application. In nine months, project partners, using 3D printing and other digital technologies, together designed and built the front end of a vintage VW Caddy. The team, including csi entwicklungstechnik GmbHAltairAirbus APWORKSEOSHeraeus, and GERG Group, showcased their design, software, materials, and machines prowess in the project. During formnext, Altair hosted a press lunch to share highlights of the project, where we could also see the finished front end.

Mirko Bromberger, Director Marketing & Additive Manufacturing Strategy, Altair and Sven Lauxmann, Head of Sales & Marketing, APWORKS discussed the project and several imperative aspects of the effort.

“Collaboration is key, throughout concept, design, and manufacturing. Simulation-driven design is key. The 3i-PRINT project is an open platform for collaboration, showing that for automotive, additive manufacturing is applicable — and it works,” Bromberger underscored.

“Turning crash loadings into conceptual designs like this, it’s not that easy to capture it all in a traditional CAD environment. Functional integration is key.”

The pair showed a look into the detailed crash simulations that had been worked up, as the intention for the project was to optimize design; crash and stiffness were taken into account throughout the simulations run to see how the front end would hold up in, for example, a full frontal crash and a pole impact.

APWORKS highlighted the importance of their ReThink approach. Additive manufacturing allows for the rethinking of “the entire design process and best materials,” Lauxmann explained.

“We offer end to end in additive manufacturing: design, material selection, production,” he told us. “We develop a part that is ‘designed for additive manufacturing,’ not a part that ‘has to be adapted for additive manufacturing.’ This is topology optimized, functions integrated, printability maximized… support removal minimized, a better process for removing powder.”

APWORKS employs the ‘CODE Approach’ including the following steps:

  • Concept
  • Optimization
  • Design
  • Evaluation

DfAM represents an important creation in best utilizing additive manufacturing, as design parameters are different from those seen before. Keeping this front of mind, particularly with high-stakes applications in automotive, aerospace, and more with metal 3D printing, ensures that those working with the latest technologies put it to best use and, as APWORKS and its 3i-PRINT partners highlight, rethink approaches to create innovative, strong, functional designs.

 

OR Laser

Last year at formnext,  O.R. Lasertechnologie (OR Laser) introduced its ORLAS CREATOR metal manufacturing system. The 3D printer was received well — so well, in fact, that just a year later, and the company’s second appearance at this show, OR Laser had more to introduce. The company began their press conference with COO Uri Resnik first looking back at updates since the last formnext event.

“Last year we promised to start delivering in 2017,” he told the gathered crowd. “We started in September, and now there are several installed. We are very proud of that. We are seeing biocompatible materials including cobalt chrome in use… This is just a start of a new era of metals which will be created on the CREATOR.”

Resnik continued, noting that OR Laser has partnered with Amazon Cloud Services, to see the latest IoT tech data gathering. From there, he continued to more of the day’s announcements, which included the ORLAS CREATOR Hybrid, the ORLAS CUBE, and a cloud manufacturing concept.

“The big thing we are showing is the brother of the CREATOR — the CREATOR Hybrid. We are also supplying subtractive manufacturing inside the machine. This is not just near net shape; it produces net shape. This is the first of its kind in the world,” he explained.

“This solution is mainly for medical and dental users, offering tolerances and shiny surfaces. Delivery is to start at the end of 2018; this is the first concept machine.”

OR Laser’s new ORLAS CUBE, he noted as well, uses a powder nozzle, not a powder bed, and runs with the ORLAS SUITE. The company’s VP of Business Development, Ludovico Camarda, took the mic next to further discuss updates.

“We had the CREATOR introduction last year, and have had a great response — we’ve been overwhelmed — from customers, partners, and competitors. We have been very honored to be part of this,” Camarda said.

He pointed to improvements on the new hybrid system, including an enlarged platform and powder capacity, as well as a change in mechanical components for faster coating and oxygen control inside the chamber. Just like its predecessor, the new system will still fit through a standard doorway when pushed on a dolly, enhancing its convenience and serving as an example to demonstrate its relatively small footprint.

“We have done a lot of work. Even though the machine looks the same as last year, it is a much more mature machine,” he continued.

“You now save two to three seconds per layer; we are a couple of hours faster than anyone else. The Hybrid looks identical to the previous version, and has three-axis milling inside. Surface finishing is applied every 200 millimeters, on inside and outside contours. There is micron precision directly out of the 3D printer, which is probably the biggest achievement with this machine.”

Camarda turned next to address the cloud — “a big topic” — as part of OR Laser’s vision and product introductions. When looking at what will make a difference in production, he explained, it won’t be the machines; it will be data. As OR Laser has realized the benefits of cloud connectivity and a connected ecosystem of machines, the company realizes that this is a bigger theme for the industry overall.

“The big value is coming not only from us. It will come probably from everyone,” Camarda said. “We are one of the first.”

 

Discuss metal additive manufacturing and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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