Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Stratasys Evolves, Opens up FDM 3D Printing to Chemical Giants

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Wanting to get back in the swing of big events and big announcements, 3D printing stalwart Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) has made a series of announcements for Formnext 2021, all of which signify the company’s growing technology portfolio and general strategy. These include a partnership with Danish shoe manufacturer ECCO, an open materials license for its fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers, and the compatibility of its GrabCAD Print software for its new Selective Absorption Fusion (SAF) sintering technology.

While most manufacturers, shoemakers and otherwise, have been using 3D printing in some capacity in-house for years, ECCO has attempted to integrate the technology more and more into its operations in recent years. Like its contemporaries in the sports footwear space, ECCO has explored 3D printing for the production of midsoles for its casual shoes. This included a partnership between ECCO, DOW, and Dassault Systèmes. Now, the firm has announced the use of Stratasys Origin One 3D printing to improve its shoe development.

At its development facilities in Portugal and Denmark, the company is 3D printing molds and shoe lasts with the Origin One. These parts, made from Henkel’s Loctite photopolymer, are able to match the quality of counterparts CNC machined from aluminum. However, they are faster to produce and significantly less expensive. Specifically, ECCO can 3D print a single pair of mold inserts overnight on-site, making it possible to test functional shoe designs earlier in the development cycle. This means no more shipping of costly and heavy metal molds and also opens up the possibility of providing production shoe models with customers earlier on in the production process.

Stratasys Origin One 3D printers and custom materials from Henkel Loctite lower costs and shorten mold fabrication time yielding exceptional results. Image courtesy of Stratasys.

In addition to its partnership with ECCO, Stratasys announced the establishment of a new open tier for third party materials for its FDM machines. This annual Open Material License expands its open material approach from the Origin One, H350, and Neo stereolithography 3D printers to include FDM. Among the businesses participating in the program is Covestro, a Bayer spinout that has been ramping up its presence in 3D printing quickly. The Stratasys Material Ecosystem now consists of three tiers:

  • Stratasys Preferred: developed by Stratasys or a third-party and designed for high performance applications.
  • Stratasys Validated: Validated by Stratasys with basic reliability testing.
  • Open: May display unique properties and address new applications, but have not undergone validation testing or performance optimization with Stratasys equipment.

Stratasys Manufacturing Senior Vice President Dick Anderson explained how the new license fits into the company’s larger strategy, saying, “Our customers urgently need the benefits of additive manufacturing at scale in their organizations – addressing sustainability, cost competitiveness, agility, and customization requirements,” he said. “Our three-tiered material ecosystem will help bring material innovation to our customers faster so we can continue to ensure the most trusted and reliable additive manufacturing platform is a substantial and essential part of the global manufacturing economy.”

Stratasys Validating materials will be available to customers in the second half of 2022 beginning with the Fortus 450mc. Customers will also be able to access system parameters in GrabCAD Print in order to tune them for use with new materials.

On a related note, a new version of GrabCAD Print for the Stratasys H350 SAF 3D printer has been released. The software features updates that make it possible to stack and test parts automatically or manually in order to maximize the number of parts printed in a single job. Through the GrabCAD Additive Manufacturing Platform, which allows third party partners to develop apps that work with the software, users can also access these apps, which include GrabCAD Print Mobile, GrabCAD Shop, reporting and analytics, and more. The software is available for a $7,999 annual license.

The SAF™-powered Stratasys H350™ 3D printer. Image courtesy of Stratasys.

It’s interesting to witness just how the 3D printing stalwart has changed in the past decade, beginning as a single-technology company so closed that it acquired MakerBot and tried to push out the competition to a multi-tech firm that is increasingly opening up its materials, software and systems. As many in the industry indicated, such openness would be essential to the growth of the industry.

Now, it’s key to the survival of Stratasys, as well. The industry is filled with chemical majors vying for dominance, including Covestro and BASF, both of which were once a part of the same industrial giant last century. If Stratasys wants to play in the big leagues, it has to play ball with these companies, even if those partners might make strange bedfellows for its current leadership.

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