How these European companies are using additive manufacturing to make incredible products.
Pictured below (left to right): Joris Peels (3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Consultant from Netherlands), Rachel Park (freelance writer from the UK), Marney Stapley (Fabbaloo and MTS), and Kerry Stevenson (Editor and Founder of Fabbaloo).
Additive Manufacturing Europe 2016 was held June 28 - 30 and was touted as "the business show for additive manufacturing / 3D Printing." And it didn't disappoint. I crossed the pond to Amsterdam to take part in this incredible event as part of the media team for Fabbaloo, a daily online publication focusing on the 3D print and additive manufacturing industries.
The conference demonstrated the continued trend away from the consumer 3D Printer market and towards this new manufacturing process for businesses in large industries like healthcare, aerospace and automotives.
Understanding the ROI of moving from traditional manufacturing to digital fabrication may be a challenge, and aside from demonstrations of products and printers, Additive Manufacturing Europe set out to help answer questions revolving around that topic. Traditional methods of thinking are hard to shift, however, when that mindset changes it can be revolutionary.
What is additive manufacturing?
"Additive manufacturing" is often synonymous with 3D printing, a process of following a 3D design to create something seemingly out of thin air, but it focuses more on enterprise-scale production. Additive manufacturing uses materials like metals, plastics and different composite materials that start in a fine powder and then are built layer upon layer to create an object. Instead of traditional methods that subtract from an object, like using a lathe to carve stair railing or a vase out of a wooden block, this new manufacturing process adds the materials together.
"Moving beyond 3D printing’s benefits for design and prototyping, additive manufacturing is today a technology that also allows for the creation of complex new products with entirely new properties – lighter, stronger and less wasteful." - Additive Manufacturing Europe
Industries can uncover huge benefits from this new way of manufacturing, which can help build highly technical and complex components that are very strong while still lightweight. Components can also be customized relatively easily and small batches of parts can be manufactured at lower costs—something that usually requires high batch volumes in traditional manufacturing.
This is why many smart 3D print companies have switched focus to industrial commercial and professional applications, where the market is set for massive expansion. And this is why Additive Manufacturing Europe attracts some of the brightest minds in tech and innovation. Take a peak at the quick highlight reel below.
As the Digital Strategy Manager for MTS, my main responsibly is developing strategies to transition manual processes into digital ones that have a greater impact. And I was lucky to talk with many business leaders in Amsterdam about digital fabrication, which also requires moving manual processes such as standard metal manufacturing to digital manufacturing.
Some industries have already revolutionized their production process, making products and parts using new digital methods. And the outcomes are proving successful for these future-thinking businesses who can reinvent their processes.
Imagine the possibilities for the industries mentioned earlier—healthcare, automotive and aerospace—where the immediate need for such products is so apparent. By creating parts that are lighter, stronger, customized and cheaper to produce, they can move even faster to enhance technology and the applications for use.
I learned what innovative companies in Europe are doing in this field of manufacturing, and discovered even more possibilities of transforming a business, digitally. Here are some of the key highlights.
Hoganas is a company providing additive manufacturing of small and complex metal parts, and there isn't another company in the world today capable of what they are doing.
Their process begins with an object in a CAD file. It is sent to their 3D Printer which builds the object, layer by layer, using metal powder. Once the build is completed, the object is sintered to add strength. The result is a metal component or part with high resolution and tolerance. This is proprietary technology that Hoganas calls "Digital Metal®."
Their focus is in large series manufacturing where it's possible to print quickly and create cost effective complex metal components for industrial use.
One application of this technology is for dental and medical devices that can be 100% customized. This is important for designing intricate tools that require a complex set of parts and components.
The aerospace industry can also benefit from this innovation in printing, as Digital Metal® can create lightweight but strong metal components that can have hollow or mesh interiors. This seems to help solve one of the main challenges of aircraft design.
From Poland, ZMorph has a multi-tool 3D Printer that seems to do everything. It 3D prints, CNC mills, laser cuts and engraves—all possible by using various tool attachments.
Up until now, a design project combining different production technologies would require the use of several different machines. ZMorph's machine can now do it all, which significantly lowers manufacturing costs.
Imagine making a product that requires 3D printing different product designs that would usually need two completely different machines. Now with just one machine, you would be able to make small gears that withstand wear and tear, plus bigger gears made with the CNC Mill attachment that are sturdy and lightweight. It's the best of both worlds in one machine.
ColorFabb announced steelFill as the latest addition to their expanding range of special materials. The Dutch company says steelFill will help optimize production on certain 3D printers.
Aside from the metal filled filaments, which have the highest loads of metal particles in them compared to similar products, they also have three natural filled filaments: woodFill, bambooFill and corkFill.
We also visited the 3D Hubs office right in the heart of beautiful Amsterdam. This startup is an accelerator that has grown to become an international company that connects you to a growing list of over 32,000 local 3D printers. Upload a print file, choose a material, select a local 3D print hub, and your digital design can become a physical reality.
What really struck me was the rapid success of this small accelerator company. If 3D Hubs can expand to the world-wide scale, the possibilities are enormous for similar startups in Winnipeg's business community. I wonder who the next 3D Hubs will be?
Fabbaloo is a daily online publication focusing on the 3D print and additive manufacturing industries. We provide deeper analysis of developments in current and future technologies as well as corporate matters. If there’s something happening in 3D technologies—especially FDM, SLA, SLS and stereolithography, we’ll have an opinion about it.
About the Author
Marney is the Vice President, North Forge Fabrication Lab. The North Forge Fabrication Lab provides access to advanced digital fabrication and prototyping equipment with support from entrepreneurial and innovation communities. In her spare time, she helps to shape one of the world's most respected blogs dedicated entirely to Additive Manufacturing / 3D printing. She is also a volunteer for TEDx Winnipeg as a team member who selects and works with engaging speakers.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marney Stapley