Daniel Thomsen, General Manager for Stratasys Korea, gave a keynote at the Inside 3D Printing Seoul Conference and Expo. He discussed how 3D printing is upending traditional manufacturing. A little background on Stratasys: they have 3,000 employees, hold 300 patents with more pending, and have won more than 30 awards for technology and leadership. They have 121,661 systems in use worldwide, according to Thomsen, including their MakerBot subsidiary, as of December 31st, 2014. Stratasys AP (Asia Pacific) has 200+ employees in 10 offices and 4 demo centers. While the US accounts for 57% of Stratasys sales, Asia accounts for 20% of sales and is their fastest growing market. Stratasys employs two kinds of 3D printing technology in their product lineup. Their Poly Jet printers feature instant UV curing and fine feature details, material diversity with their line of resins, and multi-material product realism. They also have FDM printers that can print in multiple thermoplastics and are marked by their high accuracy and durability.
Thomsen explained that 3D printing is a tool and, while not necessarily the best or only tool for every situation, can speed the production process and reduce costs. Traditionally, 3D printing has been used primarily for rapid prototyping/concept modeling. This allows for form, fit and functional ergonomic testing. However, 3D printing can also be used for direct digital manufacturing and is increasingly being used as an alternative for creating fully functional products. Thomsen stated that he would be very happy with just 1% of the manufacturing market as this would still translate to very large revenue for Stratasys. He said that many Fortune 500 companies are leveraging 3D printing, even those associated with the internet and software, notably Google and Yahoo. He also remarked that they have customers in the banking industry, but he has no knowledge as to how they are using 3D printing in their businesses.
As Thomsen asserted, for additive manufacturing (AM) to truly shine it will require clever problem solvers to bring 3D printing to manufacturing. This will allow for innovative products. Thomsen noted that 10-15 years ago 3D printed parts were so weak that they had to be shipped wrapped in cotton or wool. He stressed rapid prototyping allows designers and engineers to experiment and come up with the best solution for that application. This will require iterations since designs rarely perform as needed the first time around.
“Failure is an important part of the design process,” he noted.
While Thomsen sees rapid prototyping as an important use for 3D printing, he also believes that AM will increasingly be used for final product creation. Thomsen predicts that by 2020 use of 3D printing for manufacturing will be greater than for rapid prototyping. It will be used to print parts in half the time, with savings of 40%-80% vs. traditional manufacturing. AM reduces the constraints associated with traditional production. It will give designers increased geometric freedom. AM also enables personalization and mass customization for enhanced part functionality. Combining multiple AM processes or combining AM with traditional manufacturing will alleviate some of the hassle in the production process and reduce bureaucracy. It will also eliminate numerous non-value added steps, the result of which is that it will make the lives of designers easier.
Several examples of AM being used in production were highlighted during Thomsen’s talk. Tools used on the assembly line are being 3D printed. He noted that it is easy to print specialist tools for assembly work and that BMW has been using 3D printing for rapid prototyping for many years. He stated that 3D printing can be an alternative to milling and casting. Better, lighter, more ergonomic tools keep workers happier. At Volvo Trucks they have taken this idea even further. Line workers are encouraged to complain and recommend changes when they see a tool that doesn’t function well. They then experiment with 3D printed tools to make the process easier. Generally, the first few iterations of the new tool don’t work as well as required. Eventually, they come up with a tool that is easier to use and speeds production, benefitting both the workers and the bottom line. Most of these final products are hybrid designs, featuring some combination of traditional parts and AM.
Thomsen also cited some examples of how AM is shaking up various industries, with benefits to production costs and product performance. The makers of the Genesis robot arm saw cost and time savings of up to 85% and a weight reduction of 3:1 when switching from traditionally manufactured metal to AM plastics. They turned to 3D printing when they realized that their product did not require the material strength of metal. The aerospace industry, and in particular Airbus, was referenced by Thomsen in a similar fashion to what Terry Wohlers had cited in his keynote. Thomsen explained that the Airbus A350 XWB contains more than 1000 flight parts that were printed with Stratasys FDM Production Systems. ULTEM 9085 resin for FDM is certified for an Airbus material specification for parts on demand.
Additive manufacturing helps startups get off the ground. According to Thomsen, when Peppermint Energy designed a suitcase-sized solar power generator for localized power generation, they turned to AM. When it came time for field testing prototypes they realized more than $250K in savings vs. traditional manufacturing. Tooling changes were avoided by using 3D printing and their first 10 products were also 3D printed, which deferred another $500K in manufacturing costs. Indeed, many companies could see enormous time and money savings when utilizing 3D printing for the right situation.
It seems like everyday there are more uses for 3D printing and that it will increasingly be used as a final manufacturing process. Clearly, Thomsen believes that the days of 3D printing being strictly relegated to rapid prototyping are coming to an end.
What do you think about Thomsen’s thoughts on the industry? Discuss in the Inside 3D Printing Conference forum on 3DPB.com.