The industry’s biggest trade show made the crucial decision to take its world-renowned event and host it online, potentially disrupting countless networking opportunities and business deals. Given the fact that there was little choice but to take Formnext online with Formnext Connect, the event’s planners did remarkably well in attempting to hold everything together in an entirely new format.
While other writers are conveying their thoughts on what it was like to attend the event online in terms of attending lectures and hosting virtual trade booths, I thought I’d reflect on the one-on-one networking aspect of Formnext Connect. What’s it like to visit a company’s virtual stand without the ability to see physical samples or flashy videos? I spoke to a number of representatives from various companies and organizations and, for my sake, was able to learn a lot.
Going through the list of exhibitors, I was able to quickly check what each business was involved in and who was available for a 15-minute time slot in which to discuss their activities in the 3D printing space. Going through the entire list and visiting each firm’s profile took maybe an hour or so, with scheduling meetings requiring that you only select a representative from the firm and send a quick message, all of which is accomplished within the Formnext app online or on a smartphone. With an exhaustive directory of exhibitors, it was easy for me to see which company names I didn’t recognize, among which was Slice Engineering.
The firm’s CEO & Co-founder, Daniel Barousse, reached out and we scheduled a 15-minute meeting for the first day of the event. From what looked to be his home office, Barousse appeared in the virtual meeting room ready to discuss his firm sitting in front of a banner for one of Slice’s high temperature hot ends.
Slice is in the extrusion 3D printing aftermarket, selling such items as the Copperhead and Mosquito hot ends. These are designed to both improve consistency and quality of printers, as well as push up their overall temperature so that they can theoretically use high temperature plastics, such as PEEK and PEKK (though you will likely need to find a way to actively heat the build chamber for those specific materials). However, even with more traditional plastics like nylon, these hot ends can increase the speed and repeatability of the printer. The Mosquito Magnum hot end, for instance, “finishes projects 20% faster than other high flow-rate hot ends on the market,” according to the Slice website.
We will likely go into Slice Engineering in a subsequent article but suffice it to say that you can upgrade nearly any extrusion system, from Prusas to INTAMSYS machines, with Slice products in order to create a more effective, more efficient print farm.
Setting up a meeting with Julia Ureña, R&D Materials Engineer for AIDIMME, I learned the one major drawback I’d experienced with the Formnext app. Due to time zone differences, it was difficult to set up a mutually convenient time to speak with anyone from across the Atlantic on the first try. As far as I could tell, when requesting a meeting for a specific date and time, the app would list my time zone and the event’s time zone, but not the invitee’s time zone. This meant that I asked everyone from Europe to speak to me at 3 am. Fortunately, I was quickly told when would work for them and we were able to set up a mutually convenient slot on the second try.
AIDIMME is Spain’s Metalworking, Furniture, Wood, Packaging and Related Technological Institute, which works with industry to develop new AM technologies and materials, aid in the qualification of parts and processes, and conduct trainings. As the name would indicate, this activity is mainly dedicated to the metalworking, woodworking, furniture and packaging industries. For instance, the institute is currently collaborating with a Spanish firm to 3D print chairs made from polyamide on HP Multi Jet Fusion systems.
Ureña was able to fill me in on the work she is doing as a materials engineer, which mostly consists of materials development. One current project is the development of copper alloys and pure copper for 3D printing using electron beam melting. The main application here is for induction, for which we’ve seen copper 3D printing become increasingly adopted due to the ability to construct complex designs without potentially weak welding points. Additionally, Ureña is developing nickel alloys that are less prone to cracking during the printing process.
In the titanium space, the work is less dedicated to materials development due to the fact that the metal is already well established in 3D printing. Instead, she is more focused on aiding firms in the adoption of 3D printing, determining the proper applications and learning to implement the technology.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
By the time I spoke to Alexander Spatzig, Head of Business Development at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Europe, Ltd., I had mostly figured out how to properly use the scheduling function of the app. That didn’t stop the polite exhibitors I spoke to, like Spatzig, from agreeing to meet with me at 7 pm in their time zones.
In terms of 3D printing, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is mostly involved in directed energy deposition (DED). The company has developed its own DED process, with a smaller system already on the market targeted toward R&D applications. This machine has a build volume of just 200 mm, but Spatzig explained that they are developing a DED system for 3D printing parts up to 2.5 m on a side.
This machine is a large Mitsubishi milling machine modified to incorporate a DED laser head. Necessary for the operation of the system is a specialty nozzle that generates a local atmosphere of argon gas. The printer also includes a real-time monitoring system that allows for closed-loop control of the process through the use of artificial intelligence software that corrects the build if it deviates from the intended design. Given the size of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a roughly $39B company and the technology being developed, more space will be given to this advancement in a dedicated article.
In speaking to Andrea Berneker, Marketing Manager for German RepRap, I learned that the company has upgraded its x500pro with the new TiQ 5. The more recent machine features a filament dryer below the build area, where both stored filaments and the filament being fed to the printer are dried. This obviously ensures the proper temperature and humidity for the materials, thus improving overall print quality and consistency. The printer will be available for purchase in February 2021.
Berneker hinted that more information about the system would be revealed closer to the official launch, suggesting that the TiQ5 features “smart functions” for greater process reliability. Otherwise, the machine is meant to be more intuitive due to a new interface and has “dynamic drives for greater productivity.”
In part two of this article series, I will discuss several other exciting developments I learned about from the virtual “booths” I visited at Formnext Connect.
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