I’m high—high on trade show. I’ve met numerous new faces and reconnected with old friends, creating an absolutely wonderful atmosphere. The excitement is palpable over several emerging developments. The high volume of leads and engaging conversations has left many attendees delighted, a sentiment I share. Additionally, certain developments have sparked my imagination, setting my mind abuzz with new possibilities.
The 3D printing industry’s proficiency in elastomeric materials, traditionally lacking, is seeing significant improvement, with numerous exciting new products emerging. This year, we’re witnessing substantial advances in flexible materials. Formlabs has introduced new flexible materials, including silicone. Henkel’s high-performing materials, particularly those with an impressive tactile feel, are noteworthy. The Loctite 3D IND5714, designed for rebound and tear resistance, and the remarkably comfortable HP Brooks shoe sole, stand out. BASF’s elastomeric TPUs for sintering and material extrusion are exceptional. Almost all sintering companies now offer elastomeric materials from Lubrizol, BASF, or other sources. Inkbit’s new TEPU 50 A shore elastomeric material and Evonik’s TPA, which I find utterly awesome, are also worth mentioning. Stratasys is introducing a P3 stretch material for elastomeric prototypes from BASF. EOS continues to lead with its ball and Digital Foam offerings. The range of elastomeric applications, from gloves to seats and sports equipment, has vastly expanded. Chromatic and Rapid Liquid Print are creating outstanding parts using a Viscotec/new chemistry approach and a FRESH-like method of printing into a gel. This explosion in the elastomeric application space over the past few years opens up intriguing business cases. My enthusiasm this year is predominantly for elastomers, more than any other material family, owing to their intersection with custom-fit human applications, custom geometry for functionality, and 3D printing. The possibilities here are simply fantastic.
Regrettably, the potential of connectors as a prime application for 3D printing, once a lesser-known gem, has now become widely recognized. This revelation, though wonderful for the industry, means that the once lucrative, somewhat exclusive market is now common knowledge. Connectors, often requiring high customization and low volume production, present challenges in lead times for traditional connector companies, especially with just-in-time delivery and frequent supply chain issues. The variety and complexity of connectors, particularly the high-end and critical types, have been advantageous for us. Previously, we leveraged the uniqueness of the connector application in our client pitches, but this advantage has diminished as the application has become more mainstream, evident in many exhibition stands. However, I’m particularly fond of the connectors developed by Stratasys. It’s also exciting to see the emergence of ESD safe materials and a range of FR materials, specifically tailored to meet the demands of this market.
The Zaxe Z3S looks shiny and nice. A closer look reveals Hi Win rails, Core XY, Klipper, and high flow features, all of which are currently trending in the desktop sector. This combination appears to be well-executed. While I haven’t personally tested the machine, this Turkish startup’s offering feels like a symphony I wish I had composed. It embodies exactly what is needed in a business 3D printer. Priced at around $4000, it’s attractively affordable. The printer boasts PEI build sheets and a robust steel chassis. Additionally, its enclosed chamber and HEPA filtration system are likely to meet many business requirements. This machine is a prime example of the innovation and evolution I wish to see more broadly in the industry. Elsewhere, I’ve observed machines that once seemed flimsy or impractical finding their niches and undergoing significant improvements.
Evolve Additive has been consistently producing some of the most precisely defined and detailed polymer parts for years, albeit still not in high volumes, but their quality is exceptional. The company has recently made strides in increasing yield, broadening the range of feasible parts. Their products remain among the most consumer-friendly in the market, and the partnership with Alphacam has the potential to significantly boost their presence.
In addition, the industry is witnessing a resurgence of deals and alliances, signaling a robust phase of collaboration. We’re observing a trend of continuous or incremental improvements across the board. These advancements are paving the way for potential future applications in diverse areas such as combat helmets, golf clubs, and car seats. While I maintain concerns about the traditional focus on selling machines rather than products, the burgeoning applications and gradual enhancements being showcased currently fill me with immense excitement.
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