RAPID+TCT 2018 in Review: Industry innovation in materials and processes

The 2018 RAPID+TCT Conference has come
and gone as another strong demonstration of the growth present
in the 3D printing industry. This year’s event in Fort Worth,
Texas showcased more than 300 exhibitors and 150 technical
talks to thousands of attendees. With industry-wide growth
estimated between 21% and 25% annually, the $10 billion dollar
mark could be reached as early as Q3 2019. Below are some of
the innovations and trends fueling this growth, and their
relative impact on the industry’s
outlook.

Nanci Hardwick (right) and the MELD Manufacturing team at RAPID + TCT 2018. Photo by Beau JacksonNanci Hardwick (right)
and the MELD Manufacturing team at RAPID + TCT 2018. Photo by
Beau Jackson

Directed energy deposition (DED)
applicability expands with more diverse additive
technologies.


Meld Manufacturing
, a new startup based on Aeroprobe’s
friction stir welding technology, has launched its first system
for producing, repairing, or joining near net shape fully dense
metal parts in open air.

Coming to the 3D printing industry in
similar fashion is
Spee3d
, which uses modified cold spray coating technology
to produce near net shape parts without an electron or laser
energy source. Recently, arc welding technology in a systematic
additive process via Prodways’
Rapid Additive Forging (RAF)
system has been delivered for
commercial titanium part production as
well.

Raplas RPS-2 700 SLA printer on display at RAPID+TCT 2018. Photo by Dayton Horvath.Raplas RPS-2 700 SLA
printer on display at RAPID+TCT 2018. Photo by Dayton Horvath.

High Importance:
The application space for DED technologies is starting to
receive the attention that had been focused primarily on

direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technologies exemplified by
GE Additive’s Atlas and other meter-class systems seen at
Formnext.
Where larger build volume DMLS systems aim to
address large part needs in aerospace and defense, new DED-type
technologies are expanding today’s limited DE use cases thanks
to broader materials options, microstructure and density
control, and higher throughput.

GE launches the ATLAS 3D printing system. Photo by Michael Petch.GE launches the ATLAS
3D printing system. Photo by Michael Petch.

Since processes like cold spray and
friction stir welding are already part of today’s advanced
manufacturing portfolio, adapting them as additive processes
preserves the familiarity and trust built up in certain
industries. Although some consider the near net shape aspect
truly limiting for DED, the compliment to subtractive machining
is now becoming stronger, more relevant, and more production
oriented than ever before.

Non-metal 3D printer announcements
aim for differentiation with limited
success.

Across selective laser sintering (SLS)
and vat photopolymerization (VP), build volume increases are
becoming increasing popular, and decreasingly valuable without
comparable throughput increases. Any laser based system that
increases in build area will suffer from this inverse
relationship, and the latest printers from Farsoon (HT1001P
SLS printer; 1000mm x 500mm x 450mm), Uniontech (RSPro1400
SLA printer; 1400mm x 700mm x 500mm), and RAPLAS America
(RPS-2
700
SLA printer; 700mm x 700mm x 450mm) are prime examples
where part production will require additional patience and
scrutiny.

Farsoon's CAMS systems offer virtually no downtime between builds. Image of the CAMS FS1000P via Farsoon Technologies Farsoon’s CAMS systems
offer virtually no downtime between builds. Image of the
CAMS FS1000P via Farsoon Technologies

In contrast, 3D Currax’s LCD
panel-based VP technology is expected to bring print
areas equivalent to today’s big screen LCD and plasma
televisions without this inherent trade-off. The back-lit LCD
may have limited light intensity for some photopolymer resins,
but avoids the distortion concerns that result from scaling up
standard stereolithography (SLA) and some digital light
projection (DLP) light sources.

The INTAMSYS Funmat PRO offers 3D printing with higher grade thermoplastics and a larger build chamber. Photo by Michael PetchThe INTAMSYS Funmat PRO
offers 3D printing with higher grade thermoplastics and a larger
build chamber. Photo by Michael Petch

Low importance:
These announcements are a marginal improvement in the
prototyping-oriented SLS and VP 3D printers offered today.
Despite these systems not targeting volume production, the
capital cost, throughput, and material costs will confine the
larger format SLS and VP systems to existing prototyping use
cases. Those looking for prototype to production on the same
system will remain confined to small part sizes or sent to
other technologies such as fused filament fabrication. For
example, see
Essentium’s High Speed Extrusion
printer; 600mm x 510mm x
600mm.

High Speed Extrusion from Essentium.High Speed Extrusion
from Essentium.

Performance applications continue to
drive new printable
thermoplastics.

Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) was the
highlight material this year, with announcements from
EOS
(ALM HT-23),
Stratasys
(Antero 800NA), and demonstration parts from
AON3D and Impossible Objects. The
high performance thermoplastic is attractive for its high glass
transition temperature, mechanical properties, dimensional
stability, and low outgassing in extreme
environments.

Inside the AON-M2 high temperature 3D printer. Photo via AON3DInside the AON-M2 high
temperature 3D printer. Photo via AON3D

Medium
importance: 
Even though high material
cost relegates PEKK’s use to medical implants as well as
aerospace and defense parts, the filament version in particular
lowers the barrier to print functional prototypes for demanding
and metal-alternative applications.

The powder form, on the other hand,
will remain a niche material due to the inadequate maximum
temperature rating on many SLS printers available today. As a
result, EOS will dominate PEKK SLS printing as an OEM, while

Oxford Performance Materials
will maintain its dominance as
a service provider for PEKK medical implants. Impossible
Objects joins the PEKK offering space with its composite sheet
lamination technology.

Dogbone tensile testing samples from Impossible Objects. Photo by Michael Petch.Dogbone tensile testing
samples from Impossible Objects. Photo by Michael Petch.

Non-metal market leader Stratasys

announced an inkjet-based metal 3D printing
technology
.
The company claims aluminum
alloy parts printed in 2000, 4000, 6000, and 7000-series
analogs at claimed ten times faster rate than DMLS systems
under similar design constraints. Additionally, the parts
supposedly exhibit 97+% density as printed, which increases to
99.9+% once sintered without any hot isostatic pressing-like
process.

High Importance: A
technological arms race is underway, and Stratasys is the
latest to enter it with the end goal being high quality 3D
printed aluminum parts, particularly non-casting alloy grades
such as 6061 and 7075.

While the industry waits for further
details and independent confirmation of Stratasys’ claims,
numerous academic research groups, startups, and other
corporates are pushing development in this area to begin
addressing the needs present across transportation industries
dependent on aluminum parts.

Some of the organizations working on
this sought after engineering alloy class includes HRL Labs,

Vader Systems
, Elementum 3D, EOS, Desktop Metal, HP, GE
Additive, Velo3D, and Stratasys.

Desktop Metal's Production System is scheduled for shipping 2019 -2020. Photo by Beau JacksonDesktop Metal’s
Production System is scheduled for shipping 2019 -2020. Photo by
Beau Jackson

As valuable as these materials and printer announcements
are, they are only part of the additive manufacturing
ecosystem. Despite fewer than expected software developments,
RAPID+TCT has once again demonstrated the competitiveness and
promise for growth through innovation present in this young
industry.

What are your thoughts about the advances in the additive
manufacturing sector? Contact us if
you’d like to share your thoughts with our readers
.

Voting closes soon in the 2018
3D Printing Industry Awards
, make your vote for the
enterprises leading the 3D printing industry.

For all the latest additive manufacturing analysis and
insight
subscribe to the 3D Printing
Industry newsletter
, follow us on Twitter,
and like us on 
Facebook.

Find talent for a project, or advance your career in 3D
printing. The 
3D Printing
Jobs 
board is live.

Featured image shows the Keynote theater at RAPID +
TCT 2018. Photo by Beau Jackson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *