To get a hint at just how far 3D printing has come in a short period of time, you need look no further than Rapid, the industry’s preeminent event.

When the show was held at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center in 2013, it needed only 15,000 square feet of show floor. Just four years later at the same venue, Rapid spanned 70,000 square feet – a nearly fivefold increase in floor space. This year’s show, which was held May 8-11, also welcomed 329 exhibiting companies – an event record – and 6,000 attendees, with 45 countries represented.

 

3D-Printing News 

Desktop Metal made quite the splash at Rapid with the launch of two metal 3D-printing systems that cover the full product life cycle – from prototyping to mass production. CEO Ric Fulop was featured in a May 9 panel discussion titled “New Frontiers in Metal 3D Printing” and was quick to tout the benefits of the systems.

According to Fulop, the DM Studio System is the first office-friendly metal 3D-printing system for rapid prototyping and is 10 times less expensive than existing technology. The system includes a printer and a microwave-enhanced sintering furnace that can deliver complex geometries of metal 3D-printed parts directly in an office or on the shop floor. 

To manufacture metal 3D-printed parts at scale, Desktop Metal also launched the DM Production System, which it says is the fastest 3D-printing system for mass production of high-resolution metal parts. Using proprietary single-pass jetting (SPJ) technology, the system is 100 times faster than current laser-based additive-manufacturing systems and dramatically reduces the cost-per-part, which makes it competitive with mass-production techniques like casting. According to Fulop, the DM Production System, which will be available in 2018, can manufacture 560 parts per day.

Fulop was clearly excited about the potential metal 3D printing holds, saying that it is “a great time for manufacturing.” He added that his company looks forward to getting their 3D printers into students’ hands at colleges around the country, which bodes well for the future.

In addition to Desktop Metal’s announcement, there was an abundance of other metal 3D-printing news released at the show. To highlight just a few:

  • 3D Hybrid Solutions Inc. announced a joint venture with Multiax to offer what it claims to be the world’s largest metal 3D printer. The collaboration offers a printable and machineable space in excess of 500 cubic meters. It will also be one of the fastest metal 3D printers with speeds beyond 20 pounds per hour.
  • Optomec unveiled a hybrid controlled-atmosphere system based on its industry-proven LENS metal additive-manufacturing technology. The new system enables additive and subtractive processing of aluminum, titanium and other reactive metals all in one machine-tool platform.
  • Sandvik Osprey formed a relationship with Desktop Metal to be a preferred supplier of a range of alloy powders for the DM Studio and DM Production metal 3D-printing systems. Fine, gas atomized powders are ideally suited to Desktop Metal’s technology, which delivers a highly loaded powder/binder mixture to the print head to achieve high-density parts with low sintering shrinkage.
  • 3D Systems announced the bundling of its software with all of its direct-metal printers to streamline precision-metal workflows for customers across applications and industries. 3DXpert will include a module that allows users to accurately verify and optimize their parts and designs to uncover issues before printing.
  • SME and General  Motors, working with Michael Grieves of the Florida Institute of Technology, developed a web-based evaluation system to aid manufacturers in making better decisions in 3D printing.  The Independent Technical Evaluation of Additive Manufacturing (ITEAM) will provide manufacturers with an expert system that compares and calculates the best machine, material and process for a particular application.
     

Technical Presentations

There was no shortage of educational presentations, special programs and workshops over the course of four days in Pittsburgh. Panel discussions and keynote presentations touched on topics ranging from 3D scanning to medical 3D-printing applications. It’s remarkable what is being done with researching the printing of biomaterials. For the sake of this article, however, we’ll focus our attention on metal 3D printing.

Industrial Heating (IH) was in attendance at Rapid 2017. During that time, we had the opportunity to hear several technical presentations. We attended sessions from Arconic and ATI as well as professors from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Penn State University (PSU) and the University of Pittsburgh. Rather than being too specific, here are a few key points from these sessions.

  • Aerospace is making a future with AM. Titanium is especially interesting due to its high cost. Rather than using subtractive technology with its requisite scrap, forge preforms are being printed. The preform can be designed to obtain the optimized amount of stress when forged.
  • In addition to aerospace, the medical industry is helping to drive AM. As AM develops, specific powder alloys will be developed that are designed for the process.
  • Process improvements over the next five years will include minimizing porosity, varying microstructure and properties, and matching process with product design.
  • The schools mentioned are devoting significant research to this developing field, with CMU offering a minor called Additive Manufacturing for Engineers. They are also seeking approval for a Masters offering. PSU is launching a new interdisciplinary graduate program called AM and Design.


SME sponsored a roundtable discussion for industry journalists to which IH was invited. It essentially dealt with the skills gap and how AM companies can tackle it. We learned about one interesting program called 3D Veterans. Their goal is to provide training for veterans in this growing field to help fill the skills gap. The veterans represent a wide range of ages, some of whom are out of service for many years. They have placed 13 of 15 veterans in AM jobs and are running programs in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2017 in partnership with America Makes.

 

Summary

To further showcase 3D printing’s influence in the thermal-processing industry, it was easy to find furnace manufacturers and heat treaters on the show floor. Companies you may be familiar with that had booths at Rapid 2017 include Bodycote, CM Furnaces, Nabertherm, Solar Atmospheres, Solar Manufacturing, T-M Vacuum and Verder Scientific.

If one thing was made clear at Rapid 2017, it’s that metal 3D printing will play a role in the future of the thermal-processing industry. It’s here to stay.