At the recent RAPID + TCT 2021 in Chicago, I had the opportunity to attend keynote presentations, interview several industry companies, watch an awards ceremony, and walk the show floor. Here’s who I talked to during the second day of RAPID:
One of the companies I had a chance to speak with briefly was MIT CSAIL spinout Inkbit, which introduced its closed-loop Inkbit Vista 3D printer with 3D machine vision earlier this year. The startup’s proprietary vision-controlled technology allows for real-time in-process control, so prints are able to meet the performance and reliability demands of high-volume manufacturing jobs in demanding environments.
In July, Inkbit announced a $30 million Series B funding round, which, when added to the $12 million it raised in 2019, will help the startup expand and boost production of its flagship polymer printer. Driven by machine vision and artificial intelligence, the Inkbit Vista can improve the accuracy and precision of its output by optimizing prints in real-time, constantly adjusting imperfections during the print process.
“Essentially we have four print modules, and each one has four print heads, and each one of those has 1,024 nozzles, so anytime there’s a small error, or one of the heads is not working, the machine vision can correct for that and ensure there’s no problems with the part,” Applications and Product Specialist Josh Jacob told me about Inkbit’s Vision-Controlled Jetting (VCJ) technology.
The Inkbit Vista is a multimaterial system, and can print with rigid-impact materials, high-temperature ones, and stretchy elastomers as well; this last, which Jacob told me is Inkbit’s latest development, was on full display at the startup’s RAPID booth. So now, in addition to industrial automation components, manifolds, and on-demand production parts, Inkbit’s printer can also fabricate soft 3D prints for industrial robotics applications.
Another booth I stopped to visit at RAPID was China-based industrial 3D printer manufacturer Farsoon Technologies, which introduced its new FS273M LPBF metal 3D printer just ahead of the event. This system, with features like a pre-heated base plate, removable overflow containers, and integrated filtration system, is the next generation of its FS271M, and was designed to address cost-efficiency, productivity, and the industrial workflow in metal AM.
The FS273M has a 275 x 275 x 355 mm build envelope, good for printing larger-volume parts, and comes with advanced dual-laser scanning and calibration algorithms, which Farsoon says improves the build volume rate by up two times, when compared to a single-laser configuration. The new system also features a new re-coater design and improved communication signal control, which both help ensure stable powder delivery and vigorous speeds, and its advanced digital optics system and open parameters allow for processing capability freedom.
Unfortunately, the new FS273M was not at the RAPID booth, but the company’s large Flight HT403P system was there, which Riley McElroy, Regional Sales Manager – North America, told me was the “bread and butter of our polymer machines.”
The 403P Series are the company’s flagship polymer printers, and the Flight HT403P is its next-generation, high-speed, SLS production printer, and comes with an industrial-scale build platform, in addition to a high-temperature-capable configuration.
In addition, Flight HT1001P, which Farsoon says is the largest SLS 3D printing system on the market with continuous production capacity, was at the booth as well. This laser sintering platform, which has been used in the past for automotive applications, features a 39.4 x 19.7 x 17.7″ build envelope, which was highlighted by the vast amount of adorable, articulated T-rex prints on display in a clear box of the same size.
McElroy and Ashley Boyd, Marketing Specialist for Farsoon Americas, were kind enough to take one of the adorable 3D printed dinos out so I could get a closer look, and see that each one measured roughly 3.5″. I also learned from them that Farsoon is the only equipment manufacturer that also manufactures its own nylon powder: PA3300.
Later on in the day, I visited the booth of AON3D, an industrial high-temperature 3D printer manufacturer based in Canada. The sign just about says it all!
Jeff Olson, Channel Sales Director, and Leif Tiltins, Head of Business Development, told me all about the startup’s space-grade end-use parts, like brackets, fixtures, and thruster prototypes, made from high-grade thermoplastic materials that will be the first 3D printed objects to successfully land on the moon. This is due to a partnership with Pittsburgh-based lunar logistics company Astrobotic, which plans on touching down its Peregrine Moon Lander (PM1) Mission in 2022.
I learned that these parts bound for the moon were made primarily out of PEKK, as well as carbon fiber, materials by 3D filament specialist KIMYA.
“One of our customers, Astrobotic, is going on the first US moon landing mission since Apollo,” Tiltins told me. “Our 3D printer is making the first additively manufactured parts that will land on the moon.”
The printer he’s referencing is the industrial AON M2+, which the startup just introduced in June. With an 18″ x 18″ x 23″ build volume, open material system, dual independent extruder toolheads, and a heated build chamber, this high-temperature system can achieve precision thermal control when printing aerospace-grade thermoplastics, like PEEK, PEKK, polycarbonate, and ULTEM.
Tiltins explained that two main 3D printed applications are going up to the moon, the first of which is a PCB enclosure made out of PEKK, which has “really incredible properties,” including high strength to weight ratio, low outgassing, and high temperature resistance. The second is a payload system, consisting of DHL’s 3D printed “MoonBoxes” that can hold keepsakes to be stored on the Moon.
“We’ve got someone sending Dogecoin up as a joke,” he said.
The boxes are printed out of CF PEKK, which offers “high performance.”
At the booth, I learned that AON3D was founded in 2015 by a materials engineer who noticed that not many people were making and printing with ULTEM other than Stratasys.
“He needed to print with it, he was running a service bureau out of his garage, and thought, why is this machine $200,000? No one’s building what I need, I guess I’ll just make it myself,” Tiltins explained. “So that’s what started the company. Now we’re on the fifth generation—we make one machine, and we make it a good multi-tool. And for a $50,000 machine, it has the largest build volume for that price point.”
He explained the startup’s overall mission: give more engineers access to more materials, and that will enable more applications.
While the AON M2+ was busily printing a manifold out of ULTEM during the show, my eye caught something else it had previously printed—a stool out of black ABS, which I was invited to sit on. It’s always a good indicator of the design, and the strength of a material, if it can hold the weight of an adult person!
Rounding out my quick visits for the second day of RAPID, I also had a lovely chat with Marc Franz, the Executive Vice President of FFF 3D printing solutions provider Raise3D. While at the booth, Franz quickly took me through the company’s offerings.
“It prints all carbon fiber materials, so it’s got a new extruder system, new driver motors, stuff like that, so you can print stuff like that,” Franz said, indicating a 3D printed Nylon carbon fiber alternator cover. “It can print two parts at the same time, which the other E2 can do also. This machine is specifically for carbon fiber prints, and we’ve got templates made up.”
Franz told me that the E2CF, which features a build volume of 13″ x 9.5″ x 9.5″, is selling for around $4,000.
Next, we moved on to the tall Pro2 Plus, part of the company’s Pro2 series of fast, accurate dual-extruder 3D printers with industrial-grade components. The Pro2 Plus has a large 12″ x 12″ x 24″ build volume, camera, 7″ touchscreen, 32 bit motion control board, and a host of other features that make it a good choice for use in flexible manufacturing systems.
One of the Pro2 Plus systems at the booth was on top of a pedestal cart, which Raise3D sells to customers as a way of giving the system a dedicated workspace—it keeps the printer at the proper height for easy operation without having to bend over, and also helps organize any tools needed during 3D printing, in addition to storing accessories, filaments, and parts.
After showing me a couple of the accessories and parts in the cart, Franz also told me that the Pro2 Plus features auto-leveling and HEPA air filtration. This printer is brand new, and was in fact enjoying its public debut at RAPID 2021. Franz said that it will be selling for about $7,000, and that shipping will begin in January.
Franz introduced me to John Yu, Raise3D’s Vice President of Operations, and we had a very brief conversation, but for good reason—a current customer was already speaking with him about the company’s hardware offerings. Making sales is one of the main reasons why 3D printer manufacturers go to these trade shows, after all, not just to explain their systems to me.
The two gentlemen speaking with Yu were with a composite manufacturer, and wanted to remain anonymous, but could not tell me enough good things about Raise3D and its hard-core 3D printers. Happy customers speak volumes about printer manufacturers, wouldn’t you agree?
Take a look at some more of my pictures from the RAPID + TCT 2021 show floor below:
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