You are likely sitting here having finished reading numerous articles from 3DPrint.com and other news sources over the course of the last several months, thinking to yourself, “This crazy technology is progressing so fast that it’s almost scary.” And while some areas of the industry may be over-hyped in the early going, this rate of rapid change, innovation, and steady flow of businesses and individuals entering the arena will only quicken its pace. I’m here to tell you that in about 2 years time the industry we all know now will look quite a bit different, and we will be on the cusp of mainstream adoption from business, manufacturing, and individual standpoints.

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“Why 2017?” you may ask. There are several key developments in the industry which all are scheduled to culminate around that time, as well as a few predictions I personally have regarding the industry over the next year or two. Let’s have a look at what they are:

HP Enters With Multi Jet Fusion Technology

There is little arguing that one of the biggest stories within the industry over the next 18-24 months will be HP’s entrance into the 3D printing arena via the launch of their first Multi Jet Fusion machines. These machines, which are expected to launch sometime near the end of 2016, will be an entire order of magnitude faster than what’s available today. Although 2016 will be the year of their launch, it won’t be until around the middle of 2017 when the technology really begins showing its face.20

It’s likely that over the course of 2017 HP will begin introducing new materials as well as new printer models that utilize the MJF technology, catering to businesses large and small.

Of course the technology itself, and what it enables, will not be the only result of HP’s official entrance into the space. It’s a near guarantee that the leaders within the industry now, like 3D Systems and Stratasys, began looking at ways to counter HP’s entrance the moment they got word that it was actually happening. This has given both companies as well as other smaller players within the industry over two years to play catch-up. Undoubtedly all of these companies will have bolstered their R&D budgets in order to present a competing product to market by late 2016 or early 2017. Competition is the spark to innovation, and HP’s announcement late last year was that spark. If you think that either 3D Systems or Stratasys is going to be sitting on their hands and not working their butts off over the next two years to counteract HP’s entrance into the market with their own much improved machines, then you are nuts.

High Speed HSS 3D Printing Technology Becomes Available

Not long ago we published an exclusive interview with Professor of Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Sheffield, Neil Hopkinson, where he detailed his team’s work on a new rapid manufacturing process he calls HSS or High Speed Sintering.13

What the technology does is allow for the rapid manufacturing of multiple parts via a sintering process, which strays far from the typical process used today involving lasers. The technology combines the powder-bed fusion process with that of an inkjet printer, printing carbon black on top of a powder which sits on the print bed before an infrared lamp passes over, only sintering the powder which is coated in the carbon black. This enables entire layers of an object to be sintered within a matter of seconds, and according to Hopkinson will equate to print rates which are a staggering 10-100X as fast as we see today with current technologies.

The very first HSS machine will come online in 2017, as Hopkinson and his team work with numerous partners to license the technology for use. One company, voxeljet, is already planning to utilize this technology in a new machine, and although Hopkinson would not divulge to us which other companies they are in discussions with, he did tell us that there are many.

Could some of the larger players be considering HSS technology as a way to counter attack HP as they enter market? It’s possible, but regardless we are likely to see more than one printer using this innovative new technology sometime in 2017 if all goes as planned.

This technology itself has the potential to revolutionize mass manufacturing, as companies could achieve large-scale production along with the ability to rapidly repurpose a machine without the need for retooling.

CLIP Technology Hits Its Prime

In March we helped break the story about a stealth startup called Carbon3D. The company, which has since attracted over $50 million in investment capital, as well as former Ford CEO Alan Mullaly to their board, blew us all away when they presented a couple of short videos showing off their Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) Technology.12

CLIP technology utilizes both light and oxygen in order to cure, and inhibit the curing of, a photosensitive resin, which enables the printing of objects at speeds anywhere from 25-100X that of current 3D printers on the market today. According to Rob Schoeben, the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer for Carbon3D, the first machines should launch around the beginning or middle of 2016.

What Carbon3D has done is throw a curve ball into the market. They literally came out of nowhere to surprise us all with a technology which almost seems too good to be true. Within 6 weeks of their announcement, however, we already saw a few small companies and makers popping up out of the woodwork showing off similar, less refined technologies. The innovations made by Carbon3D was the first wave of what looks to be an innovation tsunami within the 3D printing space.

With the first CLIP printer expected next year, by the middle or end of 2017 I’m willing to bet we will see numerous companies using similar SLA printing processes, each spurring the other to up their game.

The Unknown

As it’s apparent from the above, none of the companies behind any of these technologies are established players within the industry. 3D Systems, Stratasys, voxeljet, ExOne, and many other players within this space are certainly preparing for this new wave of innovation to hit the market. In doing so, you can be assured that they all are working diligently on new technologies or improving old11 technologies in order to be able to remain at or near the top of the market.

We know that 3D Systems has been working on their own mass manufacturing enabled machine, based on a racetrack architecture, which is reportedly 50X faster than today’s machines. The company has been rather quiet of late as to when such a machine will be available, but our guess is that it’s coming very soon. Voxeljet, as we mentioned above, seems to be looking towards HSS technology for their future, while Stratasys and ExOne are both likely working quietly on exciting new technologies that will transform not only the manufacturing industry, but the entire economy as a whole.

What are your thoughts? Is 2017 a good guess as to when this innovation explosion we are seeing will finally show its face? Let us know your thoughts in the 3D Printing 2017 forum thread on 3DPB.com.

 



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