3D printing, we’ll say lightly, keeps us busy. This young industry is vibrant with activity — and to better understand the happenings, we’re frequently taking off around the globe to talk to those making it happen and see the latest innovations first-hand. While 2016 was a banner year for 3DPrint.com in terms of travelling to literally follow the news, 2017 has seen milestones not only in industry growth but in our mileage, leading to a two-part look at the direct insights we’ve journeyed to gain.
While the first six months of the year saw direct reporting from Las Vegas to Brussels, in the latter six months of the year we’ve gone from Silicon Valley to Frankfurt, and a fair few stops in between. Fair warning: it’s been a very full half-year of travel, so even the recap of these two dozen unique events and site visits is fairly extensive — in keeping with our strategies to bring in-depth, from-the-source coverage of the 3D printing industry.
International Conference on Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing
The second half of the year had an international kickoff as I flew to the UK for the annual AM Conference in Nottingham, a no-nonsense gathering focusing on in-depth explorations of practical and in-progress 3D printing in business and academia. For a variety of reasons not limited to the high-quality presentations, this was an intensely interesting week. Conversations and happenings at the show opened my eyes to a variety of truths and opinions in the industry, and as always the international perspective added a global flavor to provide a broader scope. The day before the official conference start was dedicated to the industrial realities of additive manufacturing while the two-day agenda that followed presented a dive into in-progress research, government initiatives, business advances, and the barriers to entry still holding adoption back, such as a skills shortage and financing. I also spoke with conference organizers for an inside look into the gathered expertise for a fuller picture. This event, new to my calendar for 2017, will be staying on my must-attend list going forward.
Hospital Visit: Henry Ford Health System
While my native Cleveland may proudly proclaim “We’re not Detroit!” as a weak battlecry, the Michigan city is revitalizing and is home to one of the most innovative hospital systems in the US with Henry Ford. I met HFHS cardiac physician Dr. Dee Dee Wang in Brussles earlier in the year, where she spoke at Materialise World Summit, and followed up on an invitation she had extended to visit her office in Detroit. She and some of her team at the Center for Structural Heart Disease and at the Innovation Institute at Henry Ford provided me a look into their use of 3D printing to help the patients whom in Belgium Dr. Wang had described as “the sickest of the sick.” Cardiac patients too ill for intrusive heart surgeries may find relief through catheterization procedures that physicians are able to be fully prepared for with patient-specific heart models 3D printed right on campus in Detroit. Standing in Dr. Wang’s office filled with hundreds of patient heart models was a humbling experience, as was meeting one of the teams working at the vanguard of healthcare technology adoption to save lives every day.
Site Visit: DesignBox3D
Another nearby connection made farther away, I initially met Preet Jesrani, President, DesignBox3D, in Las Vegas at the start of 2017; in August, I ventured to Sandusky, Ohio, to visit the 3D printing distributor at the company’s storefront. DesignBox3D is dedicated to providing quality 3D printers and quality, hands-on training and support. As we spoke, Jesrani was regularly attending to the various machines running on the floor, as he is personally familiar with each technology available, regularly vetting and reevaluating the companies and machines that DesignBox3D works with and distributes. A telling strategy has been emerging with the company, as Jesrani noted a switch of focus — a move that cost the company some customers — to industrial and research users. As the 3D printing industry moves toward production and other, more advanced, professional applications, those working with the technologies are shifting their focus as well.
SME 3D Printing Materials Seminar
Farther east in Ohio, Youngstown is home to an innovation cluster working to make the former Rust Belt soundly into the Tech Belt. As part of its Smart Manufacturing Series, SME hosted a 3D Printing Materials Seminar bringing together industry and academic expertise on materials innovations for additive manufacturing. The changing landscape of materials is shaping the future of additive manufacturing and making more possible. Industry leaders led conversations in their sessions, all geared toward technical aspects and applications; in the latter half of the day, academia took the floor to look ahead in additive manufacturing. Collaboration and ongoing development were the themes of the day, as working toward a realizable future in 3D printing will come about through support from all sides.
Milestone Visit: America Makes
Following my first visit to the Youngstown HQ of the US’ national additive manufacturing accelerator at the end of the 3D Printing Materials Seminar, I found myself back at America Makes a week later as the organization celebrated its fifth birthday. I sat down with America Makes’ Executive Director to hear more about his perspective on what’s next for the accelerator, and additionally had the opportunity to hear from the Youngstown Business Accelerator and the Department of Defense about what a future built partly on additive manufacturing technologies will bring. Working with four major sectors — aerospace and defense, automotive, energy (including oil and gas), and medical — America Makes has been noticing a distinct trend in work in these areas leading to expanded opportunities across a variety of verticals and applications.
Site Visit: HP Inc.
Later in August, I joined media and analyst colleagues in Palo Alto, California, where HP Inc. and Deloitte announced a step forward in ambitions to disrupt the manufacturing industry with 3D printing. The CEOs of the two companies provided a deeper look into their relationship and how they envision Multi Jet Fusion technology as a disruptive technology. During my time with HP in Silicon Valley, I spoke with company executives and partners from a variety of organizations looking to embrace and enhance the positioning of 3D printing around the globe. We also visited the original HP Garage, a Silicon Valley landmark, to see where it all began while exploring the odyssey of where it’s all going. Inside HP Labs, I also had an early look at HP’s first step into personalized footwear with FitStation.
Site Visit: Jabil
Near HP Inc. is Jabil’s Blue Sky Innovation Center in San Jose, a comprehensive hive of manufacturing activity and home to the first production MJF 3D printer installed in North America. Company executives were keen to note during the press and analyst visit to the center their vision for 3D priting as a technology to be integrated across manufacturing industries. Recognizing that 3D printing is not a full answer unto itself, Jabil is looking to provide a complete end-to-end digital manufacturing solution for customers worldwide. The Jabil team showcased their various additive manufacturing capabilities in-house, alongside complementary technologies including robotics and electronics production, and allowed a glimpse into a more digital, more open future.
Site Visit: Forecast 3D
While visiting various HP sites and the Jabil Blue Sky Center certainly made for a full trip to California, my time out west was not complete until I visited Forecast 3D to see for myself the large installed base of Jet Fusion 3D printers and learn more about full solutions in manufacturing. Forecast 3D CEO Corey Weber and COO Donovan Weber, the brothers who founded the company in 1994, have led their talented team in embracing myriad technology offerings. Putting additive manufacturing to use in actual production — for which Corey uses the endearment “3D printduction” — has become a foundational strategy for the expanding company. On-site in Carlsbad, I appreciated the opportunity to sit down with the team and learn more about their customers and vision, as well as walk through the various technologies in the large work spaces to see how 3D printing fits alongside traditional machinery to offer a full solution portfolio.
Site Visit: Dassault Systèmes
Dassault Systèmes’ North American headquarters is just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in Waltham. Home to a recently opened 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, the HQ offers hands-on technology experiences for the community, students, customers, and internal use for a broad variety of digital capabilities. During my day on-site with Dassault, I sat down with the CEO and other executives from the SOLIDWORKS team to learn more directly from the source about the release of SOLIDWORKS 2018. The popular software powers many of the latest innovations, offering expanding capabilities with each release. In addition to the first look at the latest software update, I had the opportunity to tour the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, explore virtual reality offerings including the Living Heart Project in the on-site VR CAVE, discuss Apps for Kids offerings enhancing youthful experience with technology, and add a few rivets to a fllyable model plane in progress on-site.
Site Visit: Desktop Metal
The remainder of my August was filled with the spirit of “when in Boston…” as the greater Boston area is home to a dizzying array of 3D printing and related companies and organizations that made for the perfect stomping grounds for some personal visits to just a few of the many area operations. My first additional stop was at 3D printing unicorn Desktop Metal, where CEO Ric Fulop showed me the ins and outs of operations with the metal-focused company that has caught so much attention in 2017. A few months later, much of what I saw on-site is still under wraps, but we can expect to see much more from this innovative — and impressively funded — company, which has this month begun the first shipments of its office-friendly DM Studio System.
Site Visit: Rize
Woburn is home to high-strength, low-post-processing Rize Inc., which has since my visit introduced a new CEO set to continue to drive the ambitious company forward. On-site in Massachusetts, Founder Eugene Giller and VP of Marketing Julie Reece provided me a look across the company’s operations, from the first prototype of what would become the Rize One 3D printer to a production unit, as well as some still-off-the-record glimpses into what we can expect to see emerge from the innovative Rize. This company embodied the idea of ‘small but mighty,’ with a relatively small physical footprint and company size nevertheless set to make a big impact on the industry, taking on high-profile customers and taking home awards as recognition mounts.
Site Visit: Formlabs
While the wider world has largely given up on the idea of a 3D printer on every desk, that’s exactly what I saw at Formlabs’ Boston HQ. The three-storey operations center was teeming with activity, and Formlabs Head of Design and MIT lecturer Marcelo Coelho toured me around the facility to get an inside look at everything that goes into the company’s well-known 3D printers and resins. This inside look was occasionally quite literal, as some informative wall art contains all the pieces and parts that go into the machines and accessories. From the earliest prototypes of their SLA 3D printers to in-development design work and a look at the newer SLS Fuse 1, my visit to Formlabs was definitely a learning experience.
Site Visit: Markforged
Three days before I walked into Watertown, Markforged had moved into its new headquarters, ready to fill a larger space as the company continues to grow its high-strength 3D printing operations and offerings. Markforged, the executive team noted throughout my visit, is keen to provide not only high-quality 3D priners and materials, but a high-quality work environmnet. Happy employees, CEO Greg Mark told me, make great machines. And above all, Markforged is dedicated to making — making progress, making machines, making materials, making waves in the industry. Led by Mark’s vision, Markforged is among those companies leading the way to new scales of production with additive manufacturing.
Site Visit: MIT
Rounding out my time in Boston was a visit to an institution central to the origin stories of many of the local 3D printing enterprises: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT has a longstanding reputation as one of the finest centers of technological learning and research in the world, and walking into the heart of Professor John Hart’s homebase where his esteemed team works on advances in 3D printing was an interesting intellectual experience. I spent the bulk of my time on campus talking and touring with Professor Hart’s assistant and ADAPT (Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies) Program Manager Haden Quinlan, who thoughtfully shared some high-level looks into recent and ongoing research in 3D printing. The various lab spaces held commercial and in-development 3D printers being put to frequent use to test new ideas and advances, and the opportunity to see these and meet some of the researchers behind the work we cover was a true delight.
Open House: BeAMAugust closed out with an open house at BeAM’s 20,000-sqaure-foot US HQ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Sarah Saunders became well acquainted with the company’s DED technology and the motivated US team. 3DPrint.com was first on-site after BeAM opened the Blue Ash facility in the spring, so it was interesting to get back there to see the growth over three months. Hundreds of visitors flocked to the open house to see BeAM’s additive manufacturing offerings, including representatives from area institutions, educational and Air Force alike. In-process during the open house was a gas turbine engine exhaust nozzle build on the Magic machine, which can create the part in less than 12 hours as opposed to the weeks-long process necessary for creation via traditional machining methods. BeAM has also shown great dedication to its community outreach and educational offerings and collaborations as additive manufacturing picks up around Cincinnati.
Mid-September marked the entrance into the autumn conference season, always a wild and busy ride, and one best to be prepared for. Mine began back in the UK, for the annual TCT Show held in Birmingham. The 2017 edition, 22nd in the show’s history, held a few notable themes visible over a busy few days. Real-world applications, an enthusiastic open source crowd, metal additive manufacturing, and more were in focus throughout the event. At TCT Show, I appreciated the opportunity to catch up for in-person chats with executives from companies including 3D Systems, Carbon, colorFabb, Coobx, Materialise, Stratasys, Ultimaker, XYZprinting, and ZMorph, as well as meet in person several interesting individuals, including the inventor of the most-printed object out there, the operator of Star Wars‘ BB8, and one of the engineers working toward a promising new multi-material additive manufacturing technology. Joris Peels was on-site as well, and spoke to a number of industry participants including Monoprice. This year’s TCT Show kept us busy with news and releases, as well as interesting presentations.
Right from the UK, it was off to Barcelona for IN(3D)USTRY, an event confusing to pronounce but rich in informative presentations from a broad variety of sectors in additive manufacturing. Part of this year’s Barcelona Industry Week, IN(3D)USTRY brought together an informed cross-section of attendees, including international journalists, well-regarded speakers, and a pleasantly walkable exhibition area showing off various applications for additive manufacturing. The week provided insights into sector challenges and benefits, as well as a highly-anticipated awarding of the RESHAPE 17 competition winners.
Site Visit: BCN3D Technologies
On my way out of Barcelona, I detoured for a final stop en route to the airport to see the headquarters of BCN3D, the Castelldefels-based company behind the popular open source Sigma 3D printer line. With the company having just introduced the Sigmax 3D printer at TCT Show, it was a great time to visit to see production of the very first machines. A running theme at 3D printer manufacturer site visits is being able to see the progression of prototypes to ongoing generations of product introductions, and BCN3D had its own ‘museum’ of 3D printer development to see. The company, which maintains an open source ethos and didn’t let any questions go unasked or photos untaken, skews young through a focus in investing in and encouraging growth in the 3D printing industry through close relationships with nearby educational institutions, often hiring from these pools.
3DEXPERIENCE Forum North America
Back in the US, mid-October found me in Hollywood, Florida for Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Forum. The location was beautiful for an interesting few days of digital experience discussion. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform focuses on its eponymous experience, as manufacturing and creation increasingly embrace digital technologies. The presentations and sessions during the event kept everyone’s attention with Dassault’s trademark flare, and the conversations that continued outside of structured presentations allowed for deeper understanding. Executives from across Dassault Systèmes’ operations were on hand to provide insight into virtual human modeling and SIMULIA’s drive toward integration, for example, while expert speakers provided additional insight into medical 3D printing and the future of innovation.
Dutch Design WeekLater in October, as design overtook the city of Eindhoven, Joris found himself among the crowds at Dutch Design Week. 3D printing could be seen throughout the innovation-centric event, including in graduate work from the Design Academy and at the Klokgebouw, which housed a number of events through which the technology featured. Joris had the opportunity to walk among designs and speak with those who made them, getting a look at everything from full-sized 3D printed boats to a fablab-on-a-bicycle. Because it’s the Netherlands, so at least one thing had to be on a bike.
Site Visit: 3D Systems
While much of the 3D printing industry used Frankfurt-based formnext as a launchpad for new introductions and announcements, industry mainstay 3D Systems was having none of that and instead hosted its own press and analyst event at its Littleton, Colorado site to introduce a slew of portfolio additions. The event, on the heels of a tough quarter for the company, provided a look into 3D Systems’ aggressive strategy to stay at the top of the industry heap. Vyomesh Joshi (VJ), President and CEO of the company, led the charge as he and other executives called out their competitors by name to showcase why 3D Systems’ offerings are superior in terms of both cost and performance. Chuck Hull, known as the father of 3D printing, was on site as well to discuss the latest announcements regarding the Figure 4 system built from his original 1984 patent filing. The company wasn’t pulling any punches in the day of presentations and conversations, and is consistent in its messaging toward leading across a variety of verticals in 3D printing.
As of the time of writing, we’re just over a month out from formnext powered by TCT — and I am still neither fully recovered nor fully unpacked from my week in Frankfurt. This year’s event, the third annual formnext, was mind- and foot-numbingly massive; organizers noted more than 21,492 attendees across the four days, as two halls encompassing 28,000 square meters of floor space housed about 470 exhibitors focusing on industrial 3D printing. The overarching theme across formnext 2017 was rising maturation in the additive manufacturing industry. Amidst press conferences, product unveilings, booth parties, and a generally nonstop week, formnext provided the perfect opportunity to speak to executives from leading companies and ambitious startups, as well as catch up with the members of the global 3D printing community as the show’s base in Germany drew an international crowd. The personal aspects of the industry came to light along with the business announcements. During formnext, we heard of a dizzying selection of introductions and caught up with executives from, among other companies, 3DSIM, AMT, BeAM, Concept Laser, Cooksongold, DSM, EOS and DyeMansion, HP and Jabil, Renishaw, SABIC, Sculpteo, Sharebot, Stratasys, T3D and Inteware, voxeljet, XJet, and ZYYX and ESUN, as well as several companies working with metal technologies and others linked by a common investment thread. This event is impossible to sum up with any hope of brevity. A lot happened.
Milestone Visit: Lay3rsBack in the Netherlands, Joris had tabulated years’ worth of data to realize a 3D printing milestone and was on-site in Eindhoven as the millionth desktop 3D printer was sold. The machine, a FELIXprinters FELIX Tec 4, was sold to young designer Vera de Pont at Lay3rs. De Pont will also receive free bulk filament for life from 3D4Makers as another celebratory and industry-togetherness gesture of goodwill.
Site Visit: GE Additive
In December, just as I (foolishly) thought I was finished with business travel for 2017 and only looking toward a nice New Year’s vacation, I received an invitation impossible to turn down and headed to Cincinnati, Ohio to see GE Additive. In West Chester, just by GE Aviation, a stealthy project had with great hustle created a new project: H1, GE Additive’s first foray into the binder jetting modality. I had the opportunity for an exclusive first look at the prototype system, where I observed a print job in progress and saw the first print off the machine — the numbers 4 and 7, which represented the 47 days the team had used to develop the system. Speaking to the team ahead of the project’s public introduction, I learned that GE Additive Vice President and General Manager Mohammad Ehteshami had posed the new machine as a 55-day development challenge. Through its acquisitions of Concept Laser and Arcam, GE Additive had brought laser and powder bed metal additive manufacturing capabilities in-house, but Ehteshami saw the opportunity to begin adding additional modalities and so the team began down the path toward adding binder jetting to its portfolio. This system is intended to be the first in a new product line, I learned while inside GE Additive, and sounds unlikely to be the last we hear of new additions.
2017 has been a remarkable year for additive manufacturing. While these myriad events and visits have been keeping our team busy and our mileage accruals climbing, they still barely scrape the surface of the simmering industry. As 3D printing continues to race ahead in capabilities and adoption widens — as the technology continues to expand into actual production and see processes scale accordingly — as efforts in education continue to remove barriers to entry and teams grow with informed personnel — as software, materials, and hardware continue to be introduced in innovative and next-generation offerings — we will continue to be at ground zero of as many introductions and conversations as is humanly possible.
2018 will, per usual, begin with a running start, and itineraries are in the works for the first events of the new year. 3DPrint.com will be at CES, our upcoming Additive Manufacturing Strategies summit co-hosted with SmarTech Publishing, and at SOLIDWORKS World in the first two months of the new year. We look forward to seeing you there, and to keeping you informed here.
Discuss events, announcements, introductions, technologies, business strategies, and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[All photos unless noted: Sarah Goehrke]