Formnext 2016: Massive advances in 3D printing & additive manufacturing
What 3D printed items will show up next in your home and office? The answer…almost everything.
I discovered the next generation of intelligent manufacturing solutions, and they were all displayed at the formnext 2016 exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany.
Over the course of the conference, from November 15-18, I saw the enormous potential that arises from combining additive manufacturing and conventional manufacturing methods.
Formnext focuses on the efficient realization of parts and products, from their design to production. It brings together the world's leading manufacturers in additive manufacturing technologies as well as renowned and innovative companies from industrial tooling, materials, mechanical engineering, prototyping and digital processes.
Hot trends in intelligent additive manufacturing
After attending formnext 2016, a few obvious themes started emerging. Surprising to some, one apparent trend shows that additive manufacturing and 3D Printing is certainly not a consumer product. It is not only for prototyping anymore, but being used for short-run production. Digitalization is transforming business models, and additive manufacturing is right in the middle along with IoT, data and analytics.
Smart 3D Printing companies are partnering with large well-established businesses, and for good reason. These bigger companies have the expertise with automation processes along with world-wide distribution and sales channels.
An example is the partnership between two seemingly different companies – Siemens and Stratasys. On one side, Siemens has many years of experience in automation technology and the digitization of production. On the other, Stratasys is a much younger company, but boasts valuable experience in 3D printing materials and extrudes. The two companies have now partnered together to sell 3D printing solutions to select industries and companies like Boeing and Ford, where they can now offer a full-service solution, including helping to digitize and automate production and processes. This may be one of the hardest pieces of a business workflow to change.
Siemens has also partnered with TRUMPF, a leading global high-tech company. And lesser-known business called AddUp, a global metal additive manufacturing company, has partnered with Fives Group and Michelin, leveraging the strength of Michelin's distribution and sales channels.
Stratasys has also developed the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator, integrating its core additive manufacturing technologies with industrial motion control hardware, along with 3D printing software capabilities provided by previously mentioned Siemens. This Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator is designed to revolutionize the 3D printing of composite parts, and the results are very impressive. Watch the highlights below.
Imagine being able to make almost impossible shapes. With 3D printing there is no need for fixtures or tooling, and this level of freedom allows adopters of 3D printing to make beautiful yet highly efficient products.
With over 300 exhibitors at formnext 2016, 52 of which are classified in the design and product development category, we’re sure to see a massive leap forward in the complexity of 3D printed designs over the next year.
Get ready for the next wave of metal 3D printing to begin. Today, a common process used by metal 3D printing manufacturers is patent protect, and that essentially controls the market. But that patent is expiring in December, and it will open up the floodgates for innovation.
But how do you 3D print metal in the first place? Well, the metal materials start as beads or powder, which are then melted with a laser beam to sinter the metal powder into a variety of forms. The list of metals being 3D printed are growing, including stainless steel, aluminum, pure titanium, copper alloys, ceramic, chrome, tungsten and more. And the potential applications are enormous, so new developers are chomping at the bit awaiting the patent expiration.
In 2017 it should become possible for others to develop 3D metal printers at much lower costs, making them more accessible in the same way that companies like MakerBot did with the plastic extrusion process. For small manufacturers who cannot afford the large commercial metal 3D printers, this could be a big deal.
How your early adopting business can leverage 3D printing & additive manufacturing
Formnext 2016 highlighted the advantages of being an early adopter who uses 3D printing and additive manufacturing to find financial and production benefits.
To be competitive in some industries, businesses need to look at ways of improving the way they innovate, manufacture and bring their products or services to market. In some industries such as aerospace, healthcare and manufacturing, these early adopters are able to differentiate their workflow. Here are three business drivers to consider.
Low volume production
Your business can take a product from the digital design stage to a final part with no intermediate production steps. 3D printing eliminates the need for tooling and its associated costs, so your entire process and budget are streamlined.
Life cycle sustainability
3D printing processes can be highly material-efficient, producing very little waste by using only the minimum material needed to make a part. The process gives you the ability to position material only where material is needed, so you don’t get scraps lying on a plant floor, recycling back to the beginning of the manufacturing flow or finding their way into garbage bins.
— Marney Stapley (@marneystapley) November 17, 2016
Increased part production
Traditional manufacturing of parts may go through several stages of production, adding plastics and metals at subsequent steps to achieve strength, insulation, conduction and other requirements. By using multi-material 3D printing, these stages of production can be made more efficient.
For example, using a combination of insulating polymers and conductive metallic inks, it is now possible to embed simple electrical pathways into plastic components, something traditionally achieved only through multiple component assembly.