Recently, I, along with thousands of others, traveled to Detroit, Michigan – which boasts the highest concentration of engineering talent in the entire US – to attend this year’s RAPID + TCT, which is the largest AM conference and trade show in North America. 3DPrint.com was on the show floor all week, talking to many different companies and attending presentations, while also keeping up with all of the latest RAPID announcements.
Just like last year’s RAPID event in Texas, there were some unique 3D printed pieces of art on display at the show, like the “Black Rabbit” piece that was submitted by Nicole York and printed on the 3D Systems ProX 500 out of DuraForm ProX PA material.
“Utilizing the themes of Alice in Wonderland, I set out to create a piece of art that possessed aesthetics but delivers an important message,” the description reads. “Black Rabbit attempts to tell the story of Albinism, specifically in Tanzania, where these special people are hunted, persecuted and mutilated for their limbs (which are perceived to be good luck charms.”
On and around the show floor, you could also find various Innovation Exchange pieces, which displayed many “ground-breaking advances in additive manufacturing over the years.”
These pieces included the 3D printed BigRep Nowlab motorcycle and several ORNL projects, like a prototype wing structure, a Shelby Cobra with 3D printed components, and GROVER, a 3D printed autonomous bus.
The large GM Solution Center had multiple interesting, hands-on 3D experiences for attendees, including designing, 3D printing, and assembling Pinewood Derby cars and racing pre-built ones down a track.
Also, as an example of “production intent automotive parts,” a Corvette with a rolling chassis was on display in front of a large wall filled with typical automotive parts, many of which can use AM for a variety of applications, including low volume production runs, prototype concept evaluation, and service parts.
I enjoyed very brief chats with several companies at their booths, including metal AM company Formalloy, which was a finalist for (and later won!) this year’s Innovation Auditions competition. I spoke with company co-founder and managing director Melanie Lang, and she walked me through Formalloy’s latest news.
Formalloy showcased its directed energy deposition (DED) systems at RAPID this year, in addition to its 3D printing equipment that is integrated with a robot to enable scalability in throughput and size for metal AM. The company’s X-series has improved powder efficiency and quality, and is able to print using a comprehensive list of metal alloys. Each printer includes a customizable build volume and the Formalloy AX Metal Deposition Head, which can now be integrated with a robot so users don’t need to purchase a turn-key metal deposition system.
The company also released its new powder Alloy Development Feeder (ADF), which allows for, as Formalloy’s press release put it, “high throughput bulk alloy synthesis” so you can rapidly develop new alloys and materials.
“The ADF provides an unprecedented capability for material development and research,” said material development expert and University of California San Diego Professor Dr. Kenneth Vecchio.
The ADF is good for more than just developing alloys – it also makes it possible to precisely deposit gradient materials. Gradient parts can provide enhanced material properties, in addition to simplifying multi-part, multi-metal assemblies into one. In order to ensure the composition accuracy for gradient strategies, each layer in the ADF is pre-alloyed.
I made a stop at the MakerBot booth to take a quick peek at the company’s new advanced material – polyethylene terephthalate glycol, better known as PETG. This is the company’s first in a line of Specialty Materials for the MakerBot METHOD 3D printer, and offers ductility, durability, chemical and moisture resistance, and strong layer adhesion. These qualities make it a good fit for MakerBot’s Specialty Materials line, which is meant for engineers who require high performance and advanced material properties.
“PETG is the first in a new line of materials for METHOD,” said MakerBot’s CEO Nadav Goshen. “Our customers have been asking for different materials to use for a wide range of applications that require high strength and durability. PETG is one of the most widely used polymers today. Because of its advanced properties and versatility, we view PETG as an excellent material to be used on the manufacturing line and for short-run production runs.”
I also stopped by the booth of metal AM company 3DEO, which is located in California and, as company president Matt Sand told me in an email ahead of RAPID, “invented a VERY unique high-volume production metal 3D printing technology that overcomes many of the technology limitations of binder jetting and laser sintering.”
3DEO’s goal is to open up metal AM to the industries unable to afford it, and Sand explained that the company’s technology and cost structure is competitive with metal injection molding (MIM). 3DEO manufactures small and complex parts for its production customers with its Intelligent Layering technology.
The technology works by CNC machining these layers while they’re still in the green state. 3DEO’s innovative technology offers excellent repeatability, surface finish, and dimensional accuracy, and is one of the world’s highest volume metal 3D printed parts suppliers.
“Everything we do is production,” Sand told me. “We don’t do any prototyping, so we don’t take one-offs…minimum 1,000 pieces per year.”
The components 3DEO had on display were from the aerospace, medical, and defense industries; Sand mentioned that the company was “shying away” from automotive, as many others in the AM industry are currently focusing on those applications.
The high precision and high resolution X1 25PRO, with a 400 x 250 x 250 mm build envelope, combines production volume with the fine MIM powder capability of its Innovent+ system. It’s 25 times bigger and 40 times faster than the smaller Innovent, and can make two passes over standard MIM powders, as opposed to just one, due to its wider printhead. It’s able to directly print with metals, in addition to ceramic and other advanced material parts, and can print with standard industry powders that are used in MIM, along with other powdered metal (PM) processes.
“As we’ve seen, there’s an opportunity to do MIM-type powders to get fully dense parts, and that’s where we started three or four years ago with our Innovent,” ExOne’s CEO John Hartner said at the press event.
“So what we did with that machine is we decided to continue as customers asked us to scale it up, and our X1 25PRO is that opportunity.”
The company has already received a production order for the X1 25PRO, and will begin shipping the system to customers this summer. Hartner explained that ExOne is “focused on the customer” and what’s important to them, namely quality, scalability, and a wide range of materials.
“With those things, we think we’ve got a great future,” Hartner said. “We’ve got a great team, we’re really energized to focus on customer applications – across aerospace, automotive, industrial equipment, defense, oil and gas, a whole range of applications, which makes us very diverse. And that experience that we have from all this time helps us be someone who can actually be trusted and can work locally with customers.”
Speaking of customers, ExOne made another announcement at RAPID – material science, tooling, and wear-resistant solutions leader Kennametal Inc. will be its inaugural beta customer for the new X1 25PRO.
“We have multiple ExOne machines in our operations today, and have found it to be a really key enabler for the materials that we do,” Sherri McCleary, Director of Business Development Additive for Kennametal, said at the ExOne press event. “We’re kind of in a niche segment with printing of tungsten carbide and some high performance cobalt chrome alloys…we’re really targeting some of the high-wear, erosion/corrsion markets.”
During this beta period, Kennametal and other beta customers, such as Sandvik, will get the chance to evaluate the X1 25PRO and test out new processes and materials. ExOne also announced a new global material partnership program during RAPID, which will focus on powder optimization and process developments for its metal 3D printers in an effort to advance binder jet 3D printing.
Stay tuned for more from my trip to RAPID + TCT, and take a look at some more pictures I took at the event below:
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[Images: Sarah Saunders]
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