As seen at Formnext 2022, automation is taking the spotlight for 3D printing, with a number of experts suggesting that it will be a central focus of the industry’s development in 2023. At CES, we’ve already seen the launch of a new automation ecosystem from Formlabs. One of the world’s largest petrochemical companies, BASF, is also embracing robotics and artificial intelligence through its Sculpteo subsidiary. The service bureau has just inked a deal to purchase an AM-Flow system from the Dutch company of the same name.
Sculpteo CEO Alexandre d’Orsetti visited the AM-Flow development center to sign an agreement at the turn of the new year. Sculpteo will be able to implement AM-Flow for identifying parts via vision technology, as well as labeling and bagging components for shipment. Given that service bureaus are some of the largest users of AM, they are essential for proving out new technologies, which is why they have been key to rolling out novel 3D printing processes like Multi Jet Fusion from HP and digital light synthesis from Carbon.
In this case, Sculpteo belongs to what was once the largest chemical company in the world (knocked into second place by ChemChina). This means that, if all goes well in testing out AM-Flow, not only might Sculpteo acquire follow-on tech from the company, but so too might BASF’s spare parts affiliate, Replique, and all of the other operations that BASF is involved in (Materialise and Shapeways are already listed as customers on the AM-Flow website). We might then see BASF and Sculpteo competitors follow suit.
AM-Flow potentially tackles an important element of the 3D printing process chain: the sorting and packaging of parts. Meanwhile, it’s pursuing the automation of a variety of other elements, as well. In this way, the firm is unique in tackling a very specific portion of the AM workflow. Combined with a variety of other automation technologies, we’re seeing the entire 3D printing ecosystem slowly attempting to achieve the dream of lights-out, 24-7 production (see SmarTech’s report, “Automation, Additive Manufacturing and the Factory of the Future“).
While AM-Flow addresses part sorting, packaging, and more, a variety of post-processing firms are reducing the labor and expense associated with finishing parts that come out of the printer, potentially generating $1.8 billion revenues, according to “Post-Processing for Additive Manufacturing: Market Analysis and Forecast” from SmarTech Analysis. A variety of firms, like Stratasys, are also looking at the bridge between the printer and these post-processing steps. Then, there are areas like material supplying, part design, build preparation, and quality control. These are all being automated, as well.
In other words, this latest deal is synecdoche for the industry as a whole. To learn more about what the future of AM will look like, register for Additive Manufacturing Strategies, New York City’s only live event dedicated to 3D printing. On February 9, 2023, the day will encompass all of these trends, as we host panels on post-processing (sponsored by AMT), software and automation (sponsored by Dyndrite), AM contract services, and an AM executive panel on the future of AM.
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