MAG EUROPE EDITION VOLUME 27 ISSUE 5
EXAMINING THE ENDANGERED THE SUMATRAN RHINOâ€™S ANATOMY EXPLORED WITH PROTOLABS AND 3D TECH
A look at the lifecycle of additive manufacturing powders
PRODUCT DESIGN How 3D tech is speeding up consumer product design
How industry aims to plug the engineering skills gap
VOLUME 27 ISSUE 5 ISSN 1751-0333
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EDUCATION MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND
from the editor
SAM DAVIES ASSISTANT EDITOR
The art of manufacturing is thousands of years old and, in the last few hundred, we’ve come through a number of industrial revolutions. Yet, talk to any business executive in the manufacturing sector today and they’ll tell you there’s a skills gap that needs to be combatted, that the size and condition of the talent pool doesn’t reflect the industry’s requirements. Asking how a skills gap has happened - has been allowed to happen - is likely to invite a complex answer that cites a myriad of intertwining causes: economy, job opportunities, public service budgeting, etc. The solution, however, is more straightforward. And increasingly, private companies are taking the initiative. In a word: education. In a sentence: nurturing the skills of apprentices, helping graduates apply their knowledge, appetising teenagers during work placements, and, more and more, appealing to schoolchildren. Among all the benefits additive manufacturing offers to industry, perhaps being able to plug in a desktop machine in a classroom and engage children in an engineering tutorial is up there with the lot. GE Additive, this academic year, will provide its one-millionth K-12 pupil with access to 3D printing since 2017. At TCT Show this month, schoolchildren will get a taste of the technology through the Inspired Minds programme with support from Ultimaker, Autodesk, HP and Rolls-Royce. And in our education feature this issue, there’s more. Renishaw (p39) is installing 3D printers in classrooms similar to GE, but is also installing classrooms in factories where with every imparting of knowledge comes a link to a real-world job. Similar problem-centred learning happens further up the education ladder, like at Virginia Commonwealth University (p43), who have partnered with MakerBot to enable students to harness 3D printing technology across its engineering, medicine and dental departments. We also spotlight Carbon’s learner-centred approach (p45) this summer as they hosted a Kode With Klossy boot camp where the message to the girls was one of positivity and support and the message to the industry was that these girls need more opportunities. Circling back, Renishaw is also committed to encouraging females into the sector and is looking to nip misconceptions around engineering in the bud. As good as all these programmes are, showcasing how children can channel creativity to solve real-world problems and planting that seed when they’re at their most impressionable, alone they won’t be enough. The call for more education programmes on a conference stage, at a trade show or in the pages of a magazine might feel about as new as the manufacturing trade itself, but that makes them no less imperative. As it falls to industry to take the initiative, there should be plenty of inspiration in this issue.
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VOLUME 27 ISSUE 5
8. EXAMINING THE ENDANGERED
11. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SLS POWDERS Head of Content Dan O’Connor chronicles the life of an SLS powder from development to disposal.
19. DATA ACQUISITION
Carpenter Additive on how it hopes to accelerate additive adoption after combining its data knowledge with that of LPW.
23. SURVEYING THE ROAD AHEAD
How greater experimentation of AM materials could reshape conventional vehicle design.
25. METAL MAKERS
Deputy Group Editor Laura Griffiths takes a look at one of the biggest launches of the year: BASF’s Ultrafuse 316L filament.
47. ACCELERATING DESIGN
Laura reports on two days at Steelcase for Autodesk’s annual Accelerate event
3D printing and CT scanning combine to produce a highly detailed replica of a Sumatran rhino’s skull.
49. MUSIC TO THE EARS 27. THE DEGREE OF FREEDOM: 3D PRINTING CERAMICS AND GLASS Assistant Editor Sandra Tschackert talks to XJet and Glassomer about their ceramic and glass 3D printing endeavours.
31. PUSHING FOR PERFORMANCE IN POLYMER POWDERS Freeman Technology & the University of Exeter on the importance of precisely quantifying flowability in materials development.
A round-up of the biggest stories from this issue’s key focus.
Sam talks to two brothers about their automated ear-cleansing headphones.
53. SPACEBOK, THE JUMPING SPACE ROBOT
Sandra looks at a legged robot designed by ETH Zurich to work in low gravity conditions.
54. IN FOR A PENNY
A new take on the age-old design of the toilet brush.
57. ON-DEMAND AND IN-DEMAND
Meet the latest desktop vendor operating out of New York City.
39. FACTORY RESET
Assistant Editor Sam Davies explores the importance of Renishaw’s education outreach programme.
43. MAKING THE NEXT GENERATION
59. PUSHING PRUSA
Josef Prusa speaks candidly to TCT about the maker community, industry adoption and his no nonsense mantra.
66. ONGOING QUEST FOR WISDOM Todd Grimm on how best to absorb the relentless flow of information in AM.
Laura speaks to Virginia Commonwealth University about its MakerBot Innovation Center.
45. OPPORTUNITY PENDING
Carbon highlights the importance of equal opportunity through a collaboration with Kode With Klossy.
DESKTOP 3D PRINTING
EXAMINING THE END ANGERED 3D PRINTING: A CREATIVE RESOURCE FOR CULTURAL ADVANCEMENT AND SCIENTIFIC UNDERSTANDING
ight now is an exciting time to be in manufacturing; it is an industry that is rich with change. Of course, industrial innovation is a constant, but the technological progress we’re seeing at the moment is the most significant in decades. Not only are we moving towards the ‘smart factory’ model where integrated manufacturing systems operate according to customer demand; we’re also seeing major developments in specific manufacturing processes. And nowhere are these developments more revolutionary than in 3D printing. It’s interesting to note that as 3D printing evolves, the adventures at the cutting edge of this world are sometimes in the pursuit of cultural advancement or scientific understanding. For example, the creation of high fashion garments, the realisation of art installations, the understanding of ancient civilisations. These kinds of projects are increasingly aligning with digital manufacturing, where we often witness a perfect symbiosis of engineering and culture or the natural world. This synergy is very well illustrated in the recent collaboration between digital manufacturer Protolabs, industrial tomographer Yxlon, and Hamburg University’s Natural History Centre (CeNak). Through their collaborative
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project, industrial imaging techniques and 3D printing allowed a near extinct species of rhinoceros to be closely researched without interference, offering new information about their living conditions.
3D PRINTING TO PROVIDE RESEARCHERS WITH NEW INSIGHT
The relics of extinct animals, and the examples of those near extinction, allow us to conclude very little about their actual living conditions with any certainty and it is difficult to name hard facts based on purely superficial analysis. Climate change, the disappearance of habitats, not to mention poaching by humans mean that more and more species of our present wildlife are threatened by extinction or have already disappeared from the face of the earth. As a consequence, CeNak is engaged in research into biodiversity and evolution, using state-of-the-art X-ray technology and 3D printing. Detailed analysis, using computer tomography and high-resolution 3D printed models, offer up a range of completely new opportunities for basic scientific research.
DIGITISING THE SUMATRAN RHINOCEROS
CeNak’s recent exhibition, entitled “Vanishing Legacies: The World as a Forest”, aimed to draw attention to the plight of the Sumatran rhinoceros. It is estimated that there are only 100 animals of the species still alive and CeNak has owned a skull of one since the 1920s. Prof. Thomas Kaiser, Head of Mammalogy and Palaeoanthropology at CeNak used the exhibition as an opportunity to look for partners capable of making a more detailed study of the
ACCURACY AND DETAIL
skull. The expert’s choice was Yxlon International, a specialist company focusing on industrial radiography and computed tomography. The goal was to create a 3D scan and print of the skull, for the purpose on the one hand to draw attention to the near extinction of this critically endangered species at the exhibition, and on the other hand to be used for scientific investigation into the mammal. At Yxlon, normally more at home with castings, engines and electronics, this extremely challenging task featured among the rapidly growing demand for applications in the natural sciences. In previous scans, Yxlon had only studied small animals such as frogs, snakes, fossils or individual animal organs; the skull of the Sumatran rhinoceros, which was many times larger, therefore posed a remarkable challenge. “Ultimately, for specimens as big as this, we need to use an appropriately large system and special recording techniques to obtain
SHOWN: PROTOLABS 3D PRINTED SUMATRAN SKULL ON DISPLAY
the maximum possible resolution,” explained Dr. André Beerlink and Philip Sperling, Sales Manager Science & New Materials at Yxlon. In the end, it was decided to use the YXLON FF85 CT system with the dual helix technique, in which the skull was rotated several times during the scanning process in order to image it completely and obtain good resolution. As a result, it was possible to achieve the goal of the team of scientists working with Prof. Kaiser of obtaining the most realistic and high-resolution digital 3D volume to simulate biomechanical behaviour.
After the tomography and some postediting of the raw data and scan files, the experts at Yxlon turned to Protolabs to replicate the skull through a highly detailed 3D print. Using Protolabs’ stereolithography service, a high accuracy, finely detailed replica was printed in Accura Xtreme White 200 material. Thanks to the computed tomography scan and the 3D printed replica, it was possible to detect and record the finest structures, inside and outside the skull. The researchers at CeNak were furnished with a wealth of new information which had remained hidden during previous research. New insights into the bone structure plus the biomechanical positions of the jaw parts in relation to each other immediately enabled the scientists to gather new evidence regarding the animal’s diet and way of life which were hitherto unknown. Daniel Cohn, Managing Director of Protolabs Germany, commented: “Even if reproducing the replica presents a special challenge, all the effort is worth it for such a faithful 3D print. We are proud to provide a great service to science with our replica and also to contribute to the protection of the species.”
A CREATIVE RESOURCE
The example of the Sumatran rhinoceros has shown that 3D scanning and 3D printing can be used to create deceptively real replicas of rare fossils and bones that are invaluable for research and teaching. Modern technologies can be used to make assumptions about the way animals live and behave and, at the same time, they can create exemplary research objects for tests and further research into living creatures that are endangered or have long since ceased to inhabit our earth. The success of this project, like many others that push the boundaries of scientific understanding, was down to the collaborative approach between Protolabs, Yxlon and CeNak, but more so down to the revolutionary developments we’re seeing in 3D scanning and 3D printing. Additive manufacturing technologies should not be reserved for the purely industrial landscape, but should also be used as a creative resource to push the boundaries in cultural and scientific contexts.
A RARE SUMATRAN RHINO SKULL
SUMATRAN UPPER JAW DURING SCANNING
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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN SLS POWDER WORDS: DANIEL O’CONNOR
o you know what the first selective laser sintering (SLS) materials were?
Sugar, salt and sand. At least that’s according to the Godfather of SLS, Carl Deckard, who told TCT last year that he knew SLS powders would need to be granular, so he started playing with what he had to hand. Fast-forward 30 years, and we’re processing Nylons, PEEK, TPUs, flame-retardant polymers, anti-static polymers. SLS technology can leverage thousands of specific mechanical property needs, depending on both the material and sintering process. The most commonly used powder in SLS is Polymide 12 (PA 12) - a robust and resilient nylon material that’s as good for end-use parts as it is for prototypes. Over the years the compound, the milling, the process, the refresh rates have been refined to a point where one can call SLS a mass production process. The steps involved in making a powder before it even sees an SLS machine are complex; it starts with the chemical compounding. “There are many different processes to manufacture polymers,” explains Moritz Kügler, the Product Manager for Polymers at EOS. “The main source is often crude oil that gets refined and made into monomers. Through
the polymerisation process, these monomers are made up into polymers.” At this point, the chemistry can be altered to add mechanical properties like flame retardancy or elasticity. Post-polymerisation the raw material takes many guises - pellets or extruded wire but either way at this point in the chain, for use in SLS the polymer must be ground and milled into a powder.
BACK TO THE GRIND
Many chemical firms choose to mill themselves. However, there are companies like the Dressler Group who specialise in producing the highest-quality powders for additive manufacturing from some of the toughest materials to grind. “Normally a customer comes to us when they have a material with unique properties for additive manufacturing and tells us that they have a problem turning it into a powder,” says Axel Dressler, joint CEO (alongside brother Jan) at Dressler Group. “We try to figure out what their material requirements truly are and then show them how to achieve that specification using our technology.”
Dressler Group has both an Innovation Lab and Technical Centre, where for the past five years, the company has developed processes for grinding previously difficult materials like TPUs and PEEKs into usable powders for SLS. A customer journey at the Dressler Group usually involves exploration in the lab and technical centre, where they can take small trials of the powder for testing, before returning for production quantities. “We have a lot of machines in both our technical centre and on our production line,” explains Jan Dressler. “It is important that we select the right machine to make the right powder. Trying to make powder when you have compounded a material filled with glass or carbonfibre is a challenging process. It has taken us more than three years to develop a process which can be used for previously ungrindable materials.” The Dressler Group will be showing the world this technological development for the preparation of additive powders at both K Show and the upcoming Formnext event in November. The sibling management team are very excited about the possibilities; after all, new materials equal new applications.4
SLS PROCESS BY EOS
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LIFE OF AN SLS POWDER CHEMICAL FORMULATION
PREPARATION FOR AM (MILLING & GRINDING)
SIEVING & MIXING VIRGIN POWDER WITH USED POWDER
USE IN SLS
DEPOWDERING RESIDUAL POWDER POSTPROCESSING
BEAD BLASTING & DYEING
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Despite all of that front-loaded work behind the preparation of an SLS material, the powder is still not ready for processing in a machine. The virgin powder requires mixing with material that has already been used to flow correctly on a device; the majority of powders have well-defined refresh-rate data sheets developed through years of trial and error. Take the typical PA 12 material; EOS recommends a refresh rate of 50% virgin powder mixed with 50% recycled powder to ensure sufficient part quality. EOS has some customers who are more focussed on cost than part quality; they bring that refresh rate down to 40% virgin powder. However, EOS’s Moritz tells us how crucial adherence to refresh rates can be: “Refresh rates differ from powder to powder, but say we have, for example, a flame retardant material, where you usually have the flame retardant chemicals applied on top of the surface of the powder, these coatings can be volatile during the process. So if you were to recycle that material, you couldn’t guarantee that it’s still flame retardant.” It is not just the machine and the powder that affects the optimum refresh-rates. EOS recommends that you increase the virgin powder ratio if, for example, you have a densely packed job, this may be slightly more expensive, but proper nesting can optimise other areas such as machine time. Managed correctly, cost increases are negligible. Keeping track of the powder used has often been a problem, particularly for the super users who go through tonnes of powder a week. Like a lot of early additive
issues, the problems come when, for example, your one additive employee leaves. Without robust data management, it’d be impossible for the next incumbent to know what materials have been used and what materials are okay to be recycled. Errors in logging materials can result in tonnes of powder, and therefore money, wasted. The proper disposal of the powder also does not come cheap. Firms like Russell Finex are looking to close the loop on the issue with automated systems like its awardwinning AMPro Sieve Station. After extensive research and working with high-profile users like New Balance on its 3D Printed Midsole project, Russell Finex put together a technology that automatically evacuates powder from build chambers recovering powder and sieving with virgin powders.
THE PRINTING PRESS
Once you have that perfectly mixed powder, it is time for use in an SLS machine. SLS is, for a good reason, still a go-to method for high-quality part printing. The likes of EOS, 3D Systems and Farsoon have a vast industrial range of machinery, and then there are companies like Formlabs and Sinterit bringing the technology to the desktop. What happens inside those machines is a variation of a theme; the mixed powders are sintered using a laser to form solid parts suspended in powder (meaning the process, unlike others, doesn’t require support material).
Once a job is complete, the parts head to the depowdering station, where a vacuum is used to reclaim reusable powder. The powders surrounding the parts have often come under stress from the heat source and therefore are waste. The next step is dependent on the requirement for post-processing or not. After depowdering, SLS parts retain a powdery rough surface finish, but the mechanical properties are ingrained and for fit and form prototyping, postprocessing is often not required. However, SLS printing is now a manufacturing platform for mass production. BMW Group use the technology for their Mini Yours Customized dashboard fascias, the Royal British Legion are using the technology for the mass-manufacture of one of its popular poppy badges. Certainly for consumer projects the post-processing steps become essential. The most common forms of post-processing are bead blasting and colour dyeing. Companies like AMT in the UK and DyeMansion in Germany have taken steps to automate this previously labour intensive step, and automation is key to unlocking SLS’s potential as a mass manufacturing tool. One of the most significant case studies for the mass manufacture of parts using SLS is a Chanel 3D Printed mascara brush, which is available in major retailers across the globe. Estimated figures show that the service bureau making the parts, Erpro, has made over one million mascara brushes for the French fashion giant.4
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“This is a single-use application where 3D printing is price competitive [with injection moulding],” says EOS’ Moritz Kügler. “We are very proud of it and we are working on this kind of application to multiply, where the price is not just competitive for a single part but competitive for mass-produced parts made 100,000 times. I think this will be the fastest-growing market for SLS in the coming years.”
It’s often said of AM that it is good for the environment as we only use the materials we need. This is not strictly true. As alluded to throughout this piece, there is going to be leftover powder to be disposed of. A source at a leading service provider, talks us through what that powder is and how they dispose of it. “Powder reclamation is pretty simple - any powder that is stuck to the part is waste, any that falls off is good to [re]use. We give the parts a light tap to encourage the powder to fall off, but no more. This maintains a good balance for the 50:50 old:new powder ratios. A professional waste disposal company collects around 400kg of waste powder from us per month - this is a mix of glass from the depowdering machine and PA 2200. It is difficult to be certain of the mix, but as an estimate, we buy 500kg per month - 25% becomes a part, 25% is waste and 50% reused for refreshing the next build. I’d say that 125kg of the powder taken is PA 2200 and 275kg is glass.” Dr Sören Griessbach, founder of GS-PRO, has a particular bee in his bonnet about the amount of waste SLS produces. “In my opinion, there is too much waste, particularly with filled material like carbon-fibre, glass or aluminium filled, where only 10% of the build cake becomes parts, and the rest is dumped. Nylon 11 is also a mess - about 40% of the material is waste. The PA12 is slightly better and since HP released Multi Jet Fusion the amount of virgin powder required was reduced to 25%. That still means you create about 10% waste, which is roughly 2-3kg every day for each machine or 0.75 tonnes per machine a year.” GSPro has been working on a mechanical treatment as a solution to this issue; its patented technology allows SLS users to reduce the virgin powder requirement to 15% while maintaining mechanical properties. Dr Griessbach’s passion started at his father’s 3D printing service company, VG Kunststofftechnik GmbH, which stored four tonnes of waste powder. The company investigated ways to reuse it and Dr Griessbach spun his technology out to GSPro in 2012. The world of SLS powders is fascinating and in the space of three decades we’ve moved from Carl Deckard printing shapes with sugar to the likes of BMW, Chanel and New Balance mass producing products with the technology.
“THIS IS A SINGLE-USE APPLICATION WHERE 3D PRINTING IS PRICE COMPETITIVE.”
SHOWN: CHANEL 3D PRINTED MASCARA BRUSH
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DANIEL O’CONNOR SPEAKS TO THE TEAM BEHIND CARPENTER ADDITIVE AT THEIR CARPENTER TECHNOLOGY PARIS AIR SHOW CHALET TO FIND OUT HOW INTELLIGENCE IN MATERIALS AND DATA WILL ACCELERATE ADDITIVE ADOPTION.
n these democratically challenging times, we hear the phrase, “a week is a long time in politics” a lot more than usual. The expression is used to signal the phenomenal rate of change in the political landscape, but those of us in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry will be pretty used to this speed of flux. Nowhere is the rate-of-change more evident than at the company we all formerly knew as LPW Technology. In the two years since I last met up with the management team behind the metal AM powder specialists, it has: moved to a new stateof-the-art HQ, been acquired by a global leader in metal powder, and integrated into a new business division, Carpenter Additive. The Carpenter Additive team has the might and decades of metallurgical processing experience of the Carpenter Technology Corporation to call on. The creation of a business unit dedicated to supporting hundreds of customers in metal additive
manufacturing was a testament to the work the team has done in bringing metal AM powders in line with certifiable production processes. The group combines it’s foundational capabilities in powder manufacturing with innovative powder handling and traceability , and finally with component prototyping and production using Carpenter Technology’s portfolio of specialty alloys and metallurgical processing solutions. Many of the original team remain in senior positions, and at Paris Air Show I was able to catch up with two of them; Vice President and General Manager, Ben Ferrar (BF) and Will Herbert (WH), who has been shaping Carpenter Technology’s corporate strategy since 2016 and is now Carpenter Additive’s Director of Technology and R&D. Topics up for discussion started with a bit of background on Carpenter Technology’s
additive vision and the acquisition: WH: Traditionally, what Carpenter Technology does is innovate around new alloys for performance. Where we add a lot of value is as a materials partner; we understand performance limits to the alloys, we understand how they’re applied into this particular service environment, and therefore, we can help with the chemistry and the processing. Additive was a natural progression for Carpenter Technology, particularly as we already had the powder manufacturing. The first step was to bring in some AM machinery, and then we acquired a Californiabased company that fabricates additive components, now called Carpenter Additive - Camarillo. That gave us the full reach into the customers’ application, understanding the synergy between the material processing and the post-processing. The next logical step was working with LPW, who was an excellent customer, becoming a partner, and then acquiring them fully. BF: The acquisition made perfect sense, especially with the technology and products that legacy LPW had developed. Looking at a much broader, end-to-end manufacturing process is critical to being able to understand customers’ requirements. As an AM materials company, it’s very easy to think that customers’ requirements are as simple as ‘what material?’ We’re looking beyond that. The experience within Carpenter 4
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MATERIALS Technology is about creating highly qualified processes. We have our powder manufacturing facility in Athens, Alabama, and across the street from that is a vast manufacturing facility with high-levels of automation that dwarfs the additive industry in terms of kilos and tons. We’re doing that every day to a level of mission-critical quality. DOC: You hear stories about the earlier days of metal AM with powders in wheelbarrows, something you’d never see in the aerospace industry, fast forward to now and there’s pretty much a 3D printed part on every stand at Paris Air Show. What’s been the most significant change in the past decade or so? BF: What happens in the early adoption stages of an industry is always fascinating. I remember people saying of additive manufacturing a decade ago, ‘Oh, you just load a CAD file and press print, and your part comes out the other end.’ As you get further down the road, you realise that this isn’t about just pressing print; the value that we can get out of these technologies is a lot more than the original definitions of the technology. We have a set of technologies, which are going to develop almost more quickly than humans can fathom. We have to depend on data to be able to make the decisions for optimisation and that is a huge, existing strength of Carpenter Additive. When you have end-to-end data knowledge capabilities, you start to be able to put statistical limits around materials design envelopes, equivalent to tried-and-tested materials such as castings, and production reliability. That’s what the aerospace companies require to trust AM as a production technology. WH: The aerospace industry is necessarily very conservative with new technology, and we’ve heard pretty much the same thing from many of the people here, which is a variation on the theme of, ‘how do we trust the material is going to perform to our application? Both in the powder, but also when it is made into parts? And what does it take us to get to the full confidence?’ The answer today is, ‘a lot of money, a lot of time, and a knowledgable materials partner.’
As we compile more data at scale, those barriers will come down very quickly. You can present customers with more upfront data to demonstrate that the AM material is going to behave in a fundamentally controllable and measurable way. We have 130 years of data on the cast & wrought forms of those alloys and we have some of the best metallurgists in the world who can analyse the comparisons and identify what drives the process-property outcomes. DOC: With such a breadth of machine choice out there, is one of the difficulties for data gathering for a materials company in the variations of the machine manufacturer? WH: Typically, most customers like the ones at the Paris Air Show, aren’t going to make a fuss if you make machined parts on a Mitsubishi or a Mazak. The challenge for the AM machine companies is to get themselves to that stable level where they’re actually boring. Boring because it works every time without thinking, and then the differentiation will come from automation, additional metrology and monitoring tools, and so on. But we’re a long way from that, which is why you need a reliable materials partner who is used to nondestructive testing, is used to looking at micrographs of materials and understanding the statistical results. Yes, there are variations, but inside the box each one uses a controlled energy source to fuse or bind a powder so the physics is the same. DOC: When we talk about additive manufacturing of metals here at Paris Air Show a lot of that revolves around powder bed fusion technologies,
which was obviously LPW’s core. However, we’re starting to see a trend with HP and Desktop Metal and ExOne of binder jet or metal injection moulded powders, can you apply the same levels of knowledge to those technologies? WH: I think we can add almost more value to that process because it’s a more tricky metallurgical technique. The material is not as solid as you get from the melting with a laser or electron beam for example, it’s a solid-state technique where there are many chemistry effects from having a binder as the glue. The powder is a lot finer which typically results in a stickier material; the end product is only 60% percent dense or so as printed, and you have to then consolidate it up to 100%. There’s a tremendous amount of value Carpenter Additive can provide for binder-jetting processes. BF: Technology choice is applicationdriven; there’s an economic argument behind the binder-jet technologies. It’s seen as an easier step into AM, but in fact it requires a different type of metallurgical understanding, skill, and production setup. However, perhaps you don’t require as critical a component, and because the economics of lower cost, it means it’s less risk. These two different technology sets [powder-bed fusion and binder-jetting] aren’t the only ones we’re going to see with 3D printing layer-based processing of metals. We’re working with customers that are making leaps and strides from a technological standpoint. I believe what we’ll see certainly over the next five years is more consolidation, and more diversification as people start to focus on niches and opportunities driven by data. Carpenter Additive is, and will continue to be at the center of those opportunities.
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DEVELOPING THE FUTURE OF METAL MANUFACTURING VISIT US AT UNIQUE PATENTED
MULTI-LAYER CONCURRENT PRINTING TECHNOLOGY
September 24-26 Birmingham, UK Booth B56
55X FASTER THAN MARKET SPEED*
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*Aurora Labs defines Market Speed as the speed at which a comparable machine can print Titanium (CP-Ti). Market research has shown this to be 81.7 g/hr or 1.96 kg per day.
Show at: TCT s u e e 0 S nd D10 3a, sta Hall 3&
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SURVEYING THE ROAD AHEAD
BEN SMYE, HEAD OF GROWTH AT MATMATCH, LOOKS AT THE ROAD AHEAD FOR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING MATERIALS IN TRANSPORT.
emarkably, the notion that we would one day be able to construct functional, three-dimensional objects by effectively drawing them was first imagined in 1945, featuring in Murray Leinster’s Things Pass By. The science-fiction short story includes a scene in which a man constructs a spaceship by spraying one layer at a time. Today, AM promises a wealth of benefits to transport manufacturing. Components manufactured using AM techniques are typically more lightweight than their subtractive manufactured counterparts and boast similar levels of strength and robustness, all while the overall cost of production is lower and manufacturing speed is increased. AM also opens up opportunities for design engineers to experiment with material structures to improve the integrity of components. The technique makes new designs possible, as more complex components with mesh or lattice structures can be produced easily. Designers can incorporate these structures into component design, allowing the product to possess the same strength and sturdiness using less material, in turn reducing total weight. With these factors in mind, it’s no surprise that a 2018 report by the Aerospace Technology Institute estimated that 35 per cent of the total AM market will be driven by the aerospace and automotive industries. For sectors like transport where poor material selection can lead to or exacerbate serious incidents, the choice of materials is critical. For AM, the source of these materials is also an important consideration.
For example, a 3D printed metal component for aircraft might experience limited density due to porosity, which can lead to cracking and material fatigue. This can occur due to the AM process itself, but it is also symptomatic of a poor-quality metal powder feedstock introducing gas pockets into the process. Sourcing metal 3D printing powders from reputable suppliers using comprehensive materials databases can give transport design engineers a greater understanding of the many materials available for AM. For cars, a brake caliper could be 3D printed using a titanium powder, which would offer a lightweight and high strength product ideal for this application. Alongside this, the pistons for the caliper could be 3D printed from phenolic resin to provide durable, corrosion-resistant properties. We’re also increasingly seeing alloy materials appear in AM-suitable feedstock forms, providing further opportunities for 3D printing in transport engineering. Materials such as VDM Metals’ Powder 625 or Deutsche Edelstahlwerke’s Printdur Ni625, both of which are powdered nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloy for 3D printing, exhibit enhanced corrosion resistance due to their composition, making the alloys a good fit for components on ships and seafaring vehicles.
As the range of materials expands, we also see a similar trend towards sustainable and ‘green’ materials emerging, as can be found in the wider materials sector. AM as a process is more efficient and less wasteful than conventional, subtractive manufacturing. Not only does the process itself use less raw material as it can be more precise, but the technique is typically used to produce parts to specific demand, effectively eliminating the need for excess production. This subsequently lowers the energy usage of the process. In fact, a 2014 study by Gebler, Uiterkamp and Visser stated that 3D printing has the potential to reduce the total primary energy supply by 2.54–9.30 exajoules, and lower CO2 emissions by up to 525.5 megatonnes by 2025. It stands to reason that AM will continue to become more widely used in many industries, and this offers a unique opportunity for transport design engineers. It allows for greater experimentation of materials, at a lowcost, to reshape what we consider to be conventional vehicle design. We might not yet be at the stage where we can spray a spaceship into existence, but if design engineers experiment and don’t let this opportunity pass by, this could be a stop on the horizon.
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METAL MAKERS WORDS: LAURA GRIFFITHS
he ability to 3D print with metals on the desktop has long been the dream for many a maker. When a certain Desktop Metal teased its name back in 2015, the anticipation was high for a lower-cost, accessible solution, and even before that, companies like The Virtual Foundry have been providing users with high density filaments to affordably print in metal and ceramic. Taking a similar approach, the additive manufacturing (AM) arm of global chemical company BASF has formally launched a metalpolymer 3D printing filament onto the market. First unveiled around two years ago, Ultrafuse 316L has been through an extensive testing process with select customers and partners, and is said to enable simple and cost-efficient production for functional metal prototypes, tooling and end-use parts on any extrusionbased 3D printer. That’s “any” printer within some key guidelines provided by BASF, such as an enclosed chamber, but like any similar threepart bind and sinter process, it uses a familiar plastic extrusion technique to create a so-called green part which goes through a debinding and sintering process to remove the binder and leave a solid 316L stainless steel product. Desktop 3D printing leader Ultimaker has already confirmed the material’s print profiles will be added to its growing marketplace for its Ultimaker S5. Paul Heiden, Senior Vice President Product Management at Ultimaker, commented: “3D printing professionals worldwide can then use FFF technology to produce functional metal parts at significantly reduced time and costs compared to traditional methods.” Ultrafuse 316L is based on industrial-grade materials used in the MIM industry and is made up of approximately 90% metal content with a mix of polymer particles to act as a binder. BASF says the material’s high metal content and even distribution within the binder matrix reduces the risk of defects, while the ability to handle metal particles in a solid filament form reduces potential hazards associated with other metal powder-based processes such as selective laser melting. For the debinding and sintering steps, BASF will also be offering services to help users find partners to finish their parts. BASF explained: “Since the investment in an expensive system is not necessary and the customers can access our network for debinding and sintering, the entry into metal 3D printing is therefore very
ULTRAFUSE 316L TO DELIVER SOLID STAINLESS STEEL PARTS FROM EXTRUSION-BASED PRINTERS
low and not expensive. Many already own an FFF printer and can therefore start directly with printing of metal components.” With the ongoing race for lowercost metal 3D printing and officefriendly systems, the launch is believed to be “the biggest leap” so far in expanding the accessibility of metal 3D printing to a wider range of users, as Dave Gaylord, Head of Products at desktop printing solutions provider, MatterHackers told TCT: “The ability to produce true, pure, industrial-grade metal parts easily and affordably is a huge technological advancement for the desktop space and shifts the mindset of thinking about what is possible with a desktop 3D printer. “Affordable desktop 3D printers are constantly finding applications in new places from the home, office, workshop, to a studio or manufacturing floor. The addition of metal 3D printing allows the next level of adoption - I see Metal Injection Moulding facilities and classical
machine shops really embracing the fast iteration cycles and production capabilities of BASF’s new material in conjunction with reliable hardware that is available today.” BASF says it plans to add more metal materials to its portfolio, but for now, the company believes Ultrafuse 316L is a good place to start for this type of technology. BASF added: “The process is becoming more and more professional and reliable, so that the requirements of the industry can already be achieved with the technology. FFF printing is cost-effective and easy to use, so everyone can access the technology quickly and easily.”
ULTRAFUSE 316L FILAMENT
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Transform your business with industrial 3D printing Digitization is rapidly impacting the manufacturing world. Make the decisive step towards an advanced and agile production with industrial 3D printing â€“ including connected part and data flow. EOS provides a comprehensive solution and service portfolio, and is your trusted partner for implementing 3D printing into the production environment. Together, we are shaping the future of manufacturing.
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THE DEGREE OF FREEDOM: 3D PRINTING CERAMICS AND GLASS WORDS: Sandra Tschackert
ho says 3D printing always means working with plastics or metals? Though the methods for manipulating other materials for additive processes might prove a bit trickier, they are gradually finding their way into the industry. The advantages of printing with ceramics and glass are clear: the possibility of manufacturing intricate, complex parts can be combined with materials that offer desirable properties for a range of applications. Two companies who are exploring these ‘exotic’ materials from a 3D printing perspective are Israel-based company XJet and the German start-up Glassomer. Earlier this year, XJet announced the use of its NanoParticle Jetting technology with ceramics for various applications, with two
recent examples; a cryotherapy probe with internal complexities used with a robotic guidance system to freeze and destroy breast cancer tumours, and components for a “passive beam steering” technology used in a 5G network antenna. At this year’s Rapid. Tech & FabCon 3.D tradeshow, TCT talked to Haim Levi, VP Manufacturing & Defense at XJet, about the potential of 3D printing with ceramics.
The focus of XJet, Levi says, is on “smaller parts, which are highly accurate, complex, and detailed, [and printed] in high numbers. Wherever we can find the combination of these three parameters, that’s an excellent application for us.” The company’s NanoParticle Jetting technology enables ultrathin layers, making it suitable for smaller, more intricate parts. Ceramic material – in this case, zirconia – is especially desirable due to its behaviour and properties, which include wear resistance, high temperature capability and low thermal conductivity.
In addition to the cryotherapy probe and 5G antenna, Levi talks about a further ceramics application, a small solid-state gyroscope that XJet makes out of zirconia. It is essential for navigation systems and needs to perform very accurately. Found in all types of aircraft, in smart missiles, rockets, submarines and combat vehicles, it helps to navigate and tell the user exactly if and how much they are diverting from their path.
“The accuracy is high and zirconia is excellent for that because of its electrical insulation, isolation and thermal isolation capabilities,” Levi says. Compared to metal, which would have previously been used for this device, ceramics, he adds, “can provide highly improved performance.” 4
GLASSOMER’S METHOD OF PRINTING GLASS ALLOWS FOR MICROMETRE-SCALE CONTROL
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SAMPLES OF XJET’S CERAMIC PRINTING TECHNOLOGY AT RAPID.TECH
“WE CAN NOW MAKE STRUCTURES IN THE RANGE OF TENS OF MICROMETRES. THAT ISN’T POSSIBLE WITH TRADITIONAL PROCESSES.”
With 3D ceramics printing being a fairly recent development in the industry, XJet is one of a limited number of companies offering the service. “We are at the very beginning of additive manufacturing ceramics and technical ceramics in general,” Levi continues. “We shall see it in internal combustion engines, jet engines, in cars and aeroplanes and everywhere where we need really good resistance to wear and temperature, good insulation and more. Amazingly, a nice number of people are [already] interested in ceramics, are asking questions and are starting to think about it seriously.”
3D printing with glass, however, is an even more recent endeavour. Founded in 2018 as a spinoff of the University of Freiburg’s Neptune Lab, Glassomer was pronounced winner of the start-up award at Rapid.Tech + FabCon 2019. The company has developed a method for 3D printing glass with the help of polymers – hence the company’s portmanteau name – which are removed from the part after printing. Prof. Bastian E. Rapp, CEO and CoFounder of Glassomer, explains the idea: “Glass is a material which is very stable mechanically, chemically and thermally. The [traditional] technologies are hundreds of years old and don’t yield particularly high resolutions. We wanted to make glass accessible for 3D printing and therefore developed a formulation which we call glassomers. Glassomers are glass nanoparticles with an organic binder [that] can be structured in the same way as plastics.”
HAIM LEVI SHOWS EXAMPLES OF THE INTRICATE SHAPES THAT CAN BE ACHIEVED WITH 3D CERAMIC PRINTING
The shape of the object is achieved via a stereolithography process. The result is a plastic part formed with large amounts of glass powder, which is then placed into an oven to burn away the plastic binder. The remaining glass particles are sintered together, resulting in a compact glass part. “We can now make structures in the range of tens of micrometres,” Rapp continues. “That isn’t possible with traditional processes such as glass blowing, which only makes rough structures, or cutting, which has limitations.” The benefits of structuring glass in this way, particularly in the manufacture of smaller, more intricate parts, can for instance be used for the optics employed in smartphones, where the material offers improved functionality. “[A smartphone] is supposed to work, regardless of whether you’ve just taken it out of your pocket and it’s 37 degrees, or it’s winter and minus 10 degrees,” Rapp explains. “Plastic lenses undergo big changes in their optical properties depending on the temperature – glass ones don’t. Glass functions just as well at minus 10 degrees as it does at 50 degrees. […] Compared to plastic lenses, they don’t age. Pictures taken on a smartphone that is three or four years old don’t look as good anymore; that’s not because the screen surface is old, but because the lenses have become dull.” As with other materials, 3D printing with ceramics and glass allows the manufacturing of objects that simply wouldn’t be possible with traditional methods. Rapp concludes: “It’s about the detail, the resolution, something which in the design world we like to call the ‘degree of freedom’.”
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PUSHING FOR PERFORMANCE IN POLYMER POWDERS WORDS: Jamie Clayton, Operations Director at Freeman Technology & Professor Oana Ghita, College of Engineering, Maths and Physical Sciences at University of Exeter
s 3D printing becomes more established for finished part production, the demand for new feed materials intensifies. Meeting the performance profile for demanding aerospace, automotive, and medical applications calls for the ability to tailor properties such as weight, strength, flexibility, heat resistance and biocompatibility. Polymers are often the answer, with significant untapped potential for further development, particularly when fillers are factored into the material design equation for added functionalities. This raises the critical question of how best to characterise new candidate materials. What can we measure to predict printing performance and by extension the quality of the finished component? To what extent can testing, as opposed to a trial, answer the question, â€˜Is this a good material for printing?â€™ Examination of the technology used for printing polymers provides context for answering this question. In 3D printers, polymers are used as filaments, deposited as droplets, bonded together in the form of laminated sheets or selectively cured from a bulk liquid phase. Here, though, the focus is on characterising materials for powder-based processes: binder jetting and powder bed fusion. A defining feature of these processes is a requirement to rapidly and efficiently spread powder in layers of around 100 microns thick. These are then joined using an appropriate binder or by laser melting. For commercial applications, powder bed fusion is the more common approach for polymers with a wider range of printers and materials to choose from. This is despite the relatively high build speeds associated with binder jetting and its potential for full colour printing, as commercially realised by printers such as the 3D Systems ProJet CJP x60 range. Polymers for binder jetting tend to be acrylate-based, with coloured printing achieved using coloured binders on white powders. For powder bed
FIGURE 1: WITH DYNAMIC TESTING, POWDERS CAN BE MEASURED PRECISELY, UNDER HIGHLY RELEVANT CONDITIONS TO DIRECTLY ASSESS THEIR COMPATIBILITY FOR 3D PRINTING PROCESSES
fusion, polyamides (including nylon) are a popular option; alternatives include polystyrene, polypropylene and glass-, carbonand aluminium-filled materials. The
introduction of the EOS P 800 has extended the range of polymers for which printing is feasible. New introductions include a polyetherketone (PEK) specifically for high temperature printing commercially knows as EOS PEEK HP3, that competes with metals in terms of the properties of finished components. 4
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FIGURE 2: BFE (A), STABILITY (B) AND FLOW RATE (C) TEST DATA HIGHLIGHT THE WS₂ FILLED PEEK COMPOSITES AS BEING CLOSELY SIMILAR TO THE COMMERCIAL PEK HP3 PRODUCT
When it comes to assessing the physical characteristics of new powders then it is the defining requirement for rapid, consistent flow and layer formation that is crucial. And it is important to look beyond the flow properties of virgin material. Determining the impact of passage through the printer and, in the case of powder bed fusion, any localised heat-related degradation of loose powder close to the path of the laser is essential. An effective recycling and blending strategy for polymer powder not incorporated into a finished component is vital for economic production. Differentiating a powder that can perform efficiently in the build chamber from one that will not calls for powder testing technology that can reliably characterise flow with a high level of sensitivity. The challenge of quantifying powder flowability is shared with a number of industries and it is helpful to examine a standard method for powder testing, used routinely by the additive manufacturing industry to assess metal powders, to illustrate the issues that can compromise measurement. The Hall Flow test (ASTM B213) involves measuring the time taken for a known mass of powder to flow through an orifice of defined diameter. It is a simple, manual, intuitive test and relatively quick to carry out but has some important limitations. Since powder is simply poured into the discharge funnel by the operator prior to testing, there is no real control over the state in which the powder is tested. This absence of any sample preparation, along with the manual nature of measurement, tend to result in relatively low repeatability and reproducibility, compromising the ability of the test to differentiate closely similar samples. Furthermore, some powders simply fail to flow at all,
producing a somewhat uninformative ‘null’ result. Dynamic powder testing with a powder rheometer is a more sophisticated approach with a track record of relevance for 3D printing. Dynamic properties are evaluated by measuring the axial and rotational forces acting on a blade as it rotates through a powder sample. This provides a far more complete assessment of powder behaviour than can be obtained from a single number test. For example, a downward traverse of the blade pushes the powder against the confining base of the test vessel, generating the metric Basic Flowability Energy (BFE). This quantifies how the powder will flow when in a low stress state and subject to forcing flow conditions. BFE is a particularly sensitive metric and can often identify differences that impact a process, that other powder testing methods fail to detect. Repeat BFE measurements quantify the physical stability of a powder via a Stability Index (SI). BFE can also be measured at different blade speeds to determine flow rate sensitivity (Flow Rate Index (FRI)), which indicates whether the powder flows more easily when subject to higher shear rates. The action of the blade can also be reversed to exert a gentle, lifting action on the powder via an upward traverse, generating Specific Energy (SE) values that quantify unconfined flow properties in the low stress state, how a powder will behave when subject to gravity. A key benefit of dynamic testing relative to other techniques is that it has been successfully used to differentiate powders that print well from those that don’t. Researchers at the University of Exeter and the Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing (CALM) recently used dynamic testing (FT4 Powder Rheometer, Freeman Technology) to evaluate the properties of novel filled polymers made specifically for 3D printing, polyetheretherketone (PEEK) nanocomposite powders filled with either C-coated Inorganic Fullerenelike WS₂ nanoparticles (IF-WS₂) or graphene nanoplatelets (GNP). Figure 2 shows a selection of the results obtained including comparative data for a commercial PEK product, PEK HP3 (commercially known as EOS PEEK HP3).4
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FIGURE 3: SEM IMAGES HIGHLIGHT A DIRECT CORRELATION BETWEEN BFE DATA AND THE HOMOGENEITY/QUALITY OF PRINTED COMPOSITE SAMPLES (TRIPLE LASER EXPOSURE; A) 1WT%GNP B) 5WT% GNP C) 1WT% WS₂ D) 5WT% WS₂)
The BFE values of the WS₂-based composites are closest to that of the PEK HP3 with the 1wt% WS₂ exhibiting the highest value. Particle packing has a marked impact on BFE, with efficiently packed particles presenting considerable resistance to flow. High BFE values, perhaps counterintuitively, therefore tend to be associated with good printing performance. These data identify the WS₂-based composites, especially the 1% material, as the preferred choice in terms of printing performance. SI values lying predominantly in the range 0.9 to 1.1 indicate that all the composites are physically stable. FRI values for the majority of the powders are lower than for the commercial products, a beneficial effect since lower FRI values tend to be associated with lower interparticle cohesion. SE values for all the materials (data not shown) are comparable, indicating similar levels of performance in terms of unconfined flow behaviour, which is governed by mechanical interlocking and friction between the particles. These results demonstrate the comprehensive insight provided by dynamic
testing and its ability to identify new materials as closely similar, or otherwise, to commercial materials with proven print performance. To confirm correlation between these data and printing performance, samples were printed with each of the composites using HT-LS (single powder layer). The WS2 composites (figure 3c and d), with higher BFE values, produce better quality samples than the GNP analogues (figure 3a and b). The 5wt%GNP composite, which has the lowest BFE, produced a sample with a rough, flaky surface while the 1% WS₂ composite, the novel material identified as having superior powder rheology, produced a sample with a notably smoother surface than all of the others. Those working at the forefront of powder printing are increasingly recognising the importance of flow properties and their critical role in defining material specifications for additive manufacturing. Technology that can precisely and relevantly quantify flowability has an important role to play in the development of new materials for the effective exploitation of 3D printing in an increasingly broad array of applications.
“TECHNOLOGY THAT CAN PRECISELY QUANTIFY FLOWABILITY HAS AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW MATERIALS.”
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Visit us at stand A 71
AP&C TO SUPPLY TITANIUM POWDERS TO ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING VENDOR TITOMIC Titomic has signed a titanium Ti6AI4V powder supply agreement with GE Additive company AP&C for use on its Titomic Kinetic Fusion (TKF) additive manufacturing process. The companies have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to combine their expertise to develop new titanium and titanium alloy powders for Titomic’s flagship 3D printing process. Both Titomic and AP&C serve a host of companies in the aerospace, defence and industrial markets to facilitate their manufacturing needs. The latter will now
supply the former’s clients with aerospace grade titanium Ti6AI4V, and work closely with the vendor to develop industry standards to outline the best practices for storage and handling of titanium powders. They will also work together to develop custom-made homogenisation powder systems for TKF and explore the optimisation of coarse titanium powders (50um - 150um) for use with the process. As Titomic has explained previously, being able to process powders with irregular morphology can reduce the cost of materials for users.
LINK3D LAUNCHES MATERIAL TRACKING SYSTEM MODULE FOR ADDITIVE MES WORKFLOW SOFTWARE
aerospace and nuclear industries. Both have been optimised for use of Digital Metal’s additive DIGITAL METAL LAUNCHES manufacturing technology at the TWO SUPERALLOYS FOR request of current and potential BINDER JETTING TECHNOLOGY clients. It means Digital Metal Digital Metal has announced the customers now have five material availability of two new superalloys on options to choose from, having its DM P2500 binder jetting platform. already had access to stainless The new grades are DM 247, which steels 316L and 17-4PH and is based on the non-weldable M247, titanium Ti6AI4V. and DM 625, an Inconel 625-grade. Digital Metal’s binder jetting The former is a material often used technology is able to process for the production of turbine blades, these superalloys by printing in while the latter is applied in the ambient temperature without manufacture of chemical processing applying any heat, while a equipment, seawater applications separate sintering step is able to and for a host of components in the densify the parts without melting.
Link3D has launched a newly integrated module into its Additive MES Workflow software which will enable better managing of material and consumable serial numbers. The Material Tracking System will also allow batches and order quantities to be managed and, per the company, help to allow traceability throughout the entire 3D printing production process. It has been integrated into Link3D’s flagship product to help organisations identify bottlenecks within their current additive manufacturing operations and reduce material and inventory waste as best they can. With the Material Tracking System, users can track material documentation like specification sheets and quality analysis,
manage materials procurement based on usage and inventory, trace materials used in each production run to the printer part, and monitor environmental variables that may lead to defects. They can also record their purchase history across all material and consumable vendors and utilise the Production Scheduling module within the MES Workflow platform to link this data to each printed part.
3D printed cemented carbide for your industrial tools and components. Watch the video about VIBENITE® 480 at
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FACTORY RESET ASSISTANT EDITOR SAM DAVIES SPEAKS TO RENISHAW’S SIMON BRIGGS AS THE COMPANY AIMS TO MAINTAIN THE TEACHINGS OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, ART AND MATHS (STEAM) SKILLS IN SOUTH WALES & GLOUCESTERSHIRE.
nside a workshop, there’s not a sound; no scribble of a pencil or the sawing of wood or the scratching of sandpaper or the cranking of a vice or the click of a mouse or the hum of a 3D printer. Silence provides the backdrop at every pause for thought. Renishaw Education Outreach Officer Simon Briggs is sat in an otherwise empty classroom inside the company’s Fabrication Development Centre (FDC), a floor-level above the company’s manufacturing operations in Miskin, South Wales. He is experiencing the kind of peace and quiet that only comes weeks into the summer break when schools are out, children are home, and people like him prep. This is not new to Briggs, who joined Renishaw after years working as a design & technology (D&T) teacher in a local school in South Wales. Before that, he was an engineer in the Royal Air Force, but for the last decade or so his focus has been on the next generation. So too has Renishaw’s, who developed the education outreach team a few years back, and now has Briggs and his colleague Rebecca Bound in
place to lead the programme which spans primary education, secondary education and higher. “What we look towards is engineers for the future,” Briggs tells TCT. To appetise, Renishaw invites local schools to its FDC on an almost daily basis. Meanwhile, a printer loan scheme sees ten desktop system distributed to 30 schools every year, with teachers trained up to use the technology and Renishaw staff on hand to take lessons if teachers lack the confidence to do so. A work experience programme invites secondary school children to spend some time with the company, while a graduate scheme helps university alumna transition into the world of work and put theory into practice. Renishaw also has an apprenticeship scheme that has run for 40 years, training young adults up over a fouryear period. It is much needed. Briggs, as an engineer-turnededucator, is in danger of being labelled a ‘dying breed’. While it’s increasingly hard to attract people into the teaching profession at every level and in almost every subject, the engineering
sector is fighting a nationwide skills gap. Draw a Venn diagram and at the centre is D&T, faring about as well as you might imagine. The UK Government’s initial teacher training (ITT) census has recorded recruitment of teachers being below its target to varying degrees each year since 2012-13. This last academic year, the recruitment of D&T teachers at both primary and secondary school level was around 70% below target. This is compounded by a 23% decrease, per Ofqual, in the number of GCSE entries in D&T between 2018 (117,605) and 2019 (90,805). This latter figure is to be caveated with the 9% increase in art & design entries, where there will be at least some crossover in the skills taught, in the same timeframe. But still, there’s cause for concern, isn’t there? “Not for us,” Briggs answers, “because we continue to do our outreach work and support the schools in the best way we can. I think there are some schools that can rely on us for guidance and help, like the loan of a 3D printer during GCSE coursework. If they weren’t able to get the loan of that printer, they would struggle to complete some coursework for some children. “It’s becoming more important that we continue this great education outreach work that we do to support 4
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EDUCATION SHOWN: RENISHAW HOSTS A ‘GIRLS IN TECH’ EVENT
“IT’S BECOMING MORE IMPORTANT THAT WE CONTINUE OUR EDUCATION OUTREACH WORK.” the schools that are struggling in many different ways: it could be staffing, it could be budget cuts, but if we continue what we’re doing, it should support the local schools in the areas around South Wales and Gloucestershire.” Gloucestershire is where Renishaw is headquartered and where, soon, there will be a second FDC to help expand the company’s education outreach influence. The company sees the skills gap, it sees the budget constraints schools are enduring, and it sees the decline in the interest of design and technology skills. It refuses to stand by idly. Through its printer loan scheme and a range of site visits, Renishaw is reaching more than 10,000 primary school kids every year. It offers 100 work experience opportunities to secondary schoolchildren each summer. A company record 68 apprentices were employed in 2019. And 73 graduates have recently been welcomed into the company too. Graduates and apprentices are handson with the heaviest of machinery inside Renishaw’s doors, working in different divisions throughout the company, before having the opportunity to take up a permanent role. Work experience students will operate in groups of six to research and develop a new product, with each taking responsibility in one of either design, production, manufacturing, purchasing, project management or project marketing. And, at primary level,
the children are taught the fundamentals of engineering technologies, whether it be 3D printing with a desktop machine or coding with BBC micro:bit, in a real-world context. Every activity is linked to a job role in the engineering sector, and a subsequent tour of the factory will help visitors join the dots. “It’s a nice trip when they come here and they have fun, but they’ve also got to go away having learnt something,” Briggs says. “It could be 3D printing, it could be coding, it could be about the apprenticeship scheme, but what the idea is when they do leave here, they’ve got a different idea, perhaps, of what they came here thinking an engineer was because they’ve got misconceptions of what engineers do. Some of them don’t think females can be engineers, they think it’s dirty and smelly, [they think] it’s a low paid profession. We’ve got to try to get over those hurdles while they’re here and [send them] away with a positive thought of what an engineer is.” The question of pay can be answered with direct comparisons to other professions, the subject of cleanliness can be countered with a tour of their almost spotless facilities, but the other one, the concerns around whether females can be engineers, that’s harder to solve. Because of course they can, but they might already be conditioned to think otherwise. It’s one of Renishaw’s
biggest challenges, Briggs says. The company tries to combat this by inviting allgirls schools to the FDC and engaging with local workshops specifically designed to encourage young girls into STEAM, having female employees on hand to share their experiences. Briggs says the company has seen small signs their efforts are working, whether it be improved engagement with activities or a minor increase in the number of females applying for its work experience, apprenticeship and graduate schemes. But like everything Briggs and his team do, it will take a while to see the fruits, and it might only happen in the immediate vicinity. “We’re long term,” he emphasises. “Hopefully we will see results in the near future of more females going into the engineering field, the recruitment numbers going up for people taking engineering degrees, numbers at A level physics, for example, increasing, GCSE increasing. We might not see it nationally, but we might see it through schools in the local area because they know that perhaps Renishaw could be somewhere they could work in the future.” And so, as Briggs sits in his empty workshop, he is planning. The FDC in Gloucestershire is currently being built. What will follow is an extension and expansion of the 3D printer loan scheme. Encouraging young females is a priority, and so more open days orientated to females are to be arranged. Finally, he wants to open a dialogue with more parents, encouraging them to visit the sites in Miskin or Gloucestershire, “because they’re the influence we don’t always get to speak to.” This is all being done to ensure the scribbling, the sawing, the scratching, the cranking, the clicking, and the humming all continue, whether it be in a classroom of a school, or perhaps just as likely going forward, in a workshop above a factory.
SHOWN: THE FDC AT RENISHAW’S MISKIN SITE
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MAKING THE NEXT GENERATION T WORDS: LAURA GRIFFITHS
he call for more education in additive manufacturing (AM) continues to be sounded, whether it’s to plug the gap for more AM-orientated designers or skilled engineers. Today, several institutions and research centres are receiving the message loud and clear and responding with the launch of AMfocused courses and centres – just look at the growing list on our online TCT Education Guide. MakerBot intends to lead the way. The Brooklyn-based desktop 3D printing company has long had the education market in its sights, targeting a range of learning levels through the delivery of guidebooks for schools and the establishment of its MakerBot Innovation Center programme. A number of universities around the world, from Singapore to Italy, have built these centres within their campuses, bringing racks of 3D printers to students and faculty members across multiple disciplines. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is just one university which has been home to a MakerBot Innovation Center at its MNE Innovation Lab since 2016 and currently runs a farm of over 30 machines. The facility covers “a little bit of everything” according to Charles Cartin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and Director of MakerSpaces for the College of Engineering at VCU. “We’ve done work for College of Engineering, School of Dentistry, School of Medicine, anthropology, and numerous other departments across the VCU campus,” Cartin told TCT. “We just had someone pick up an order today, a jig and fixture setup, for the Department of Radiation Oncology. It’s everything across the board that we could think of in terms of projects and use.”
SHOWN: MAKERBOT 3D PRINTERS AT VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY
Walking into the centre you will be greeted by six clear cabinets housing MakerBot machines; 26 Replicator 5th Gen, a trio of larger Replicator Z18s, one Replicator+ and a MakerBot Mini, all connected by the Innovation Center Management Platform, a web portal which allows any student to submit a print to the queue. There’s also additional 3D printers from Ultimaker, Stratasys and Dremel, along with 3D scanning equipment from Creaform, and a MakerBot Method beta system, which has mainly been used for test printing. “We have a faculty member from anthropology that has some [MakerBot] systems in house and has come here to use the Beta system, the Method, to test
THE CENTRE IS USED FOR “A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING”
its capabilities by printing several historical, archaeological, and paleontological scanned objects,” Cartin explained. “The thing we’ve been doing a lot of now is taking CT scans and converting them over to models that can actually be printed for either research, testing, or display. I knew it was doable, but it’s just amazing to see how everyone is utilising the technology within various fields of study.” The lab is supported by a full-time staff member to run the day-to-day, but the university also hosts AM-focused courses to prepare students for the fundamentals of 3D printing, including an in-depth look at its history and types of processes. While there are many opportunities for students in further education to engage with the technology, regardless of their subject area, for a generation of digital natives, is there a need to introduce students to 3D printing even earlier on? “The issue now is this technology is becoming the mainstream for the classroom environment,” Cartin offered. “Students, K through 12, I have friends that are teaching that now, their opinions vary, but there is one common thread. Most students now are more hands on and want to use technologies. You can do everything with a smartphone, tablet, or any similar device. Now, it’s more available and I think it’s better for the students to understand how something physically works.” As VCU plans to expand its Makerspaces by another 9,000 square foot, the aim is to upgrade its 3D printer fleet and repurpose its current machines across different departments within the school to encourage even more access. Evidently, the skills the university is teaching are in high-demand. Several students who have passed through VCU’s courses and benefited from the centre have gone on to secure employment within the industry, including some AM super-users. “We’ve had several, they’ve gone through the courses and are currently employed with several companies around Richmond,” Cartin concludes. “We have students that went to Boeing, just recently graduated, in their design division that deals with additive manufacturing.”
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OPPORTUNITY PENDING WORDS: SAM DAVIES
ifteen teenage girls sit before a Nigerian-born American resident who oversees the marketing, communications, education and community experience of a company valued at more than 2 billion EUR. Questions readied, hands raised, inspiration pending. They were inside Carbon’s headquarters in Redwood City, Silicon Valley, for a two-week Kode With Klossy boot camp. Dara Treseder was the woman stood before them, the woman who had used her contacts to get them here, the woman who left her family at the age of 15 to complete her A-Levels in the UK, who went on to study undergraduate at Harvard University, MBA at Stanford, work for Apple, Goldman Sachs, GE Business Innovations, and now Carbon. That, in hurried fashion, was the answer to the first question. “How did you get here?” asked by one girl on behalf of the 15, and, probably, her entire peer group. A lot of young women don’t see a clear pathway to success in technology and engineering, or a guaranteed source of support when they’re ready to start a family, and haven’t been encouraged into these industries in the first instance. “One of our core values is embracing difference and inspiring people to challenge what’s acceptable,” Treseder told TCT. “We know that for that to happen you have to see and experience in order for you to reimagine, redefine, what’s possible, re-write the rules of how you make things. And for us, in addition to doing this in our everyday work, and doing this across different industries, it’s so important that we’re helping the next generation, and specifically thinking about underrepresented minorities.” The young women were there primarily to undertake the Kode With Klossy custom curriculum which includes a Web Applications module, where the children focus
SHOWN: MARGARET NYAMUMBO, MIDDLE CENTRE, AND DARA TRESEDER TO HER LEFT, WITH THE KODE WITH KLOSSY SCHOLARS
determination and some encouragement. As this generation of women pushes at the STEAM career doors, the hope is that employers are opening them from the other side, and underrepresented groups are walking into working environments where diverse talent can thrive. Treseder recommends a framework she devised with a former GE colleague, Jessica Straus, called R2P2: Recruit, Retain, Promote, Protect. This framework exceeds handing out jobs to the underrepresented and highlights the importance of keeping workers happy, supporting their ambitions to progress while starting families, and providing ample promotion opportunities. “It’s got to be a top-down, bottom-up push,” Treseder emphasised. “If you don’t have senior women who are helping to be the inspiration and continue to show, ‘look it’s possible, hang in there,’ you’re going to have a leaky bucket.” Programmes like Kode With Klossy, stories like that of Nyamumbo and Treseder, and attitudes like that of Carbon, are all about lighting a spark, paving the way, giving the underrepresented the confidence to apply attributes they’ve likely always had, while pulling heads out of the sand, making organisations and industries aware of subconscious oversights. Inspiration harnessed, skills in progress, opportunity pending.
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ACCELERATING DESIGN WORDS: LAURA GRIFFITHS
DEPUTY GROUP EDITOR LAURA GRIFFITHS REPORTS ON TWO DAYS AT STEELCASE FOR AUTODESK’S ACCELERATE EVENT.
at in the dangerously comfy auditorium of office envy facilitator and prime example, Steelcase, the impact of user-focused product design is hard to ignore. My coffee is sitting on it, my jet-lagged back is resting on it – perfectly engineered workplace furniture. Steve Miller, Chief Information Officer at Steelcase, addressed the crowd of Autodesk users and partners at this year’s Accelerate event, hosted at Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his view on what it takes to maintain the relevance of a business which started out by introducing the world’s first fire-proof waste basket in 1912 and is now behind the décor of some of most agile office spaces around the globe. First piece of advice? There is “no ribbon cutting”, according to Miller, you have to change every day in order to stay competitive and Steelcase has injected much of that thinking into its products. As I type, I’m sat on a sofa that wouldn’t look out of place in my lounge or in TCT’s board room with a table that swings around to function as both a laptop work space and a place to perch my coffee (Note: I finished this article sat on yet more pink and turquoise Steelcase furniture in the lounge at Grand Rapids Gerald R Ford Airport). Keeping the end-user at the core of product design is crucial and other companies like Crown Equipment, a manufacturer of forklift products which also took to the Accelerate stage, is taking that a step further. Empathy, according to Director of Industrial Design, Paul Magee, is a key component for successful product design. For Crown, understanding the experiences of end-users who may be driving forklifts for eight hours at a time, enables better solutions and makes it easier to communicate change. The company has also found this to be true when introducing new technologies into its own design process, namely in the case of generative design, a seemingly complex tool that churns out alien shapes based on set constraints and desires, and Autodesk’s “big bet”. For that reason, Autodesk’s Stephen Hooper explained how design-to-manufacturing tech needs to be rationalised to make sense for businesses today,
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which he referred to as “making it real”. Autodesk maintains these technologies are not here to “replace” but rather “augment” the human being in the design process. “Now with the advent of things like 3-axis and 2.5-axis milling, you’re starting to see the application in the mainstream and it’s pretty difficult to pick out the difference between a computer-generated design and a human-generated design,” Hooper told TCT. “You want to make it a collaborative process between the human and the algorithm. Most humans don’t want to just specify a problem and then have a solution handed to them, they actually want to co-author with the computer.” Examples of generative could be seen in Autodesk’s collaboration with Volkswagen on the reimagining of a 1962 classic microbus complete with organic wheel structure, seat support, side mirror mounts, and steering wheel. These super lightweight orange pieces were not produced directly with AM but rather with 3D printed moulds and casting by Aristo Cast. In fact, Paul Leonard, the company’s Chief Engineer and VP, insisted “investment casting is the original AM.” It’s another example of making it real, taking an entirely new
process and merging it with familiar techniques. Another was Reebok, whose Senior Engineer for Performance Engineering Beth Wilcox explained how the sportswear giant uses datadriven design and hinted at a generative project with Autodesk. You won’t find generative trainers at retail any time soon, but for certain instances, such as the reengineering of a classic lifter shoe, it could have substantial benefits in reducing weight and material use. It’s a gradual process, and to avoid a complete culture shock, it’s important to focus on not just the tech, but the people at the centre of design to manufacturing. Hooper added: “You need to help users make that leap.”
SHOWN: GENERATIVELY DESIGNED VW BUS WHEELS
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MUSIC TO THE EARS WORDS: SAM DAVIES
ave you ever heard the saying ‘if you want something doing, do it yourself’?
Meet Aadil Diwan, the co-founder and CTO of SafKan Healthcare – he’s a perfect proponent of that philosophy. He was 13 years old when ear wax impactions in his left ear would begin to see him join the 12 million Americans regularly in a clinical practice with a syringe sticking out of his head. A painful process, he recalls. A messy one too.
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“Fast forward ten years and I’m a biomedical engineer,” Aadil picks up the story. “So, we,” that’s him and his brother, CEO Sahil, “set out to improve this procedure and we did so by combining the irrigation, which is what a primary care physician will do, with micro-suction, which is what an ENT specialist will do. And we wanted to make this a handsoff automated procedure. Designing this device like a pair of headphones accomplished that.” The wacky idea to invent a pair of earcleansing headphones won SafKan the
Protolabs’ Cool Idea! Award, thus earning the company a grant to turn conception into real-life product. In their endeavour to do that, Aadil and Sahil have utilised an in-house Formlabs Form 2 and Protolabs’ 3D Systems equipment to validate their design, prototyping the ear pads, casing, and the four containers that hold the solution and waste, in an ABS-like material. The tips were printed in a soft flexible material, while the top head strap was CNC machined in ABS for added strength. Design locked down for manufacture, SafKan’s OtoSet headphones, from across a room at least, look like a standard pair of designer headphones. But rather than firing one’s guiltiest of pleasures deep into the eardrums, they are instead soothing the wearer with a cocktail of room temperature water and hydrogen peroxide or saline. This solution is held in the top containers of the ear pads, while the waste is pulled into the bottom containers, which are to be disposed of along with the tips. In between, the irrigation is directed at the walls of the ear canal to dislodge wax wherever it is located, before continuous suction then withdraws the outpour liquid and wax. This is all independent of a healthcare assistant who, oftentimes, isn’t trained to perform the traditional procedure, which itself isn’t even the most productive method, per SafKan.4
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One cycle of this automated procedure lasts roughly 35 seconds. Aadil says he used to be in the clinician’s for up to 30 minutes. He’s hoping to return to those practices to sell his alternative, new-tech method.
“WE’RE GOING TO SEE A TIPPING POINT WHERE WE WOULD BE ABLE TO DO PRODUCTION 3D PRINTING.” “[Using a syringe] is difficult because it’s a blind procedure,” explains Sahil. “You don’t really know where the wax is inside of the ear and you’re shooting a jet stream straight in the eardrum which has a high complication rate. We wanted to take those big risk factors out and a pair of headphones allows you to do that. We’re the experts at cleaning ears so we’ve put all that research into the design of the tip and how the firmware operates with the pulse irrigation married with continuous suction.”
SafKan is currently going through the FDA clearance process and is hoping to start taking orders within the next six months – a wish list of physicians for its beta programme has already been drawn up. The company is a beneficiary of newtech methods too, pointing to 3D printing, and with it the support of Protolabs and guidance of an eight-strong advisory team of clinicians, as to how the company is in this position after just two and a half years. The plan is to supply OtoSet directly to consumers in the long-term, which means, for now at least, injection moulding will be called upon to produce one-size-fits-all devices at big scales with medical-grade plastic. But with 3D printing technology continuing to develop and the company conceding everybody’s ears are different, that mightn’t always be the case. “We’re starting with one standard size, similar to how an otoscope has a standard size for adults and children, but we’ve seen a lot of other companies focus on personalisation and customisation. It’s something we’re open to and something we’ll have to figure out,” says Sahil. “I think at some point we’re going to see a tipping point where we would be able to do production 3D printing,” Aadil offers.
SAFKAN’S OTOSET EAR CLEANING HEADPHONES
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S P A C E B O K, THE JUMPING SPACE ROBOT
WORDS: Sandra Tschackert
he Mars Curiosity Rover has been remotely exploring the Red Planet for the last eight years and although it remains operational, the rugged terrain has caused significant damage to its wheels. Could a more flexible rover design lead to a longer-lasting and deeper exploration? Enter the world of legged robots with SpaceBok, a project led by the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich with the goal of designing and creating a legged robot capable of walking and jumping in low gravity conditions. After all, that’s how Neil Armstrong moved after the first Moon landing – by hopping and jumping. “The motivation for developing the SpaceBok originated from the thought that future missions to the Moon or Mars could advance into increasingly difficult and steep terrain, and for this, versatile exploration robots would be needed,” says Hendrik Kolvenbach, supervisor of the SpaceBok project. “Particularly the exploration of craters is interesting, as these could potentially hold water and other resources which could for example be used as fuel for rockets or as habitats, and would therefore be useful to humans.” The SpaceBok may be a little wider than the springbok that serves as its inspiration and only reach to about knee-height, but with a little imagination you can recognise the similarities in the prototype – especially when it comes to the jumping motion. Some might also be reminded of the models produced by Boston Dynamics, but the SpaceBok is distinguished by a design specifically intended for energy-efficient movement in low-gravity conditions and socalled dynamic walking. “Dynamic walking is characterised by its capability to momentarily put itself in an
unstable position (just like humans and animals do) to increase the efficiency of the movement at higher speeds,” Kolvenbach continues. “This would be interesting on the Moon, as you can leverage the low gravity to progress, for example, in a jumping motion.” 3D printing is an obvious aid for a prototype such as the SpaceBok and the ETH team directed the printing in the most part towards the robot’s torso. “As it is a prototype, a lot of parts were changed even during construction, and 3D printing allowed us to make changes flexibly and at short notice,” Kolvenbach explains. “In addition, many of these parts feature complex geometries, which in this way could be achieved quickly and at low cost. For the most part, we used plastics, which have the additional benefit of being lightweight and ultimately allow the robot to jump higher.” The project team mainly uses MakerBot and Ultimaker FDM printers. They are currently working on different
versions of the robot’s feet, and the speed and low cost of additive manufacturing means iterations for sole textures can be produced and tested quickly. For parts which need to withstand forces during jumps and landings, a HP Multi Jet Fusion printer and Nylon materials were employed. Having constructed a functioning prototype, the project moved to its next phase, with the SpaceBok and its behaviour in different gravity conditions being tested at ESTEC, the European Space Agency’s Space Research and Technology Centre. At ESTEC’s facilities, both zero gravity as well as generally reduced gravity can be simulated. The SpaceBok tests were conducted with the help of an extremely flat floor and air bearing platforms. Although these tests are somewhat limited, as they do not take place in a completely threedimensional space, they did allow the team to test and adjust the orientation of the robot during its flight phase, to ensure that the robot lands safely after each jump. This leaves only one question: Will this jumping robot actually be sent into space one day, to aid in exploratory missions on the Moon or on Mars? Kolvenbach is hopeful: “Since the opportunities are apparent, we hope that the chances [of a space mission] will increase with each successful test. There is an increased research interest in legged robots here on earth, for example for parcel delivery, rescue missions or autonomous inspection. Ultimately, all these developments contribute to making the technology more robust and efficient, and therefore also make them interesting for space exploration.”
AT ESTEC, THE SPACEBOK IS TESTED ON AN EXTREMELY FLAT FLOOR TO SIMULATE REDUCED GRAVITY
HENDRIK KOLVENBACH, SUPERVISOR OF THE PROJECT, PREPARES THE ROBOT FOR A TEST
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IN FOR A PENNY A
26th birthday spent almost entirely in a bathroom in Birmingham, it was time for a re-think. No, not your typical morningafter story; Tom Keen was testing the water at the 2018 Kitchen and Bathroom show in the NEC with FlushBrush, a detachable, self-cleaning toilet brush. The head of the brush lives inside a cradle hooked onto the rim of the toilet, while the handle is stored on a stand attached to the bathroom wall. To use, the handle is simply pushed into the head to clean the bowl, with a button releasing the head back into the cradle, where magnets ensure smooth placement. A rubber-coated aluminium strip maintains the cradle’s positioning and the toilet’s flush routinely washes over the brush head, and thus, a potentially cleaner solution is presented. Tom’s motivation to invent this product came when he moved into a flat where the only item left behind was
BRUSH HEAD WITH CRADLE
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a used toilet brush - “and when I say used, it had been very improperly used,” Tom kindly divulges. FlushBrush has come some way since then. Birmingham was the first time the concept had been shown to anybody who wasn’t a) a friend or b) an employee at Idea Reality, the product design studio Tom collaborated with. Just days after patent documentation was filed, Tom sought some valuable feedback on his early prototype. “People were quite right in saying it was too big and had too many corners, [but] there were a good number of people who were encouraging: ‘you’ve got the good seed of an idea, but this concept you’re displaying needs some improvement,’” Tom recalls. Up to this point, Tom and the Idea Reality team had combined their respective vision and expertise to agree on a design that would utilise a push-fit system with tactile feedback, rather than a screw action, to attach handle to head. Powder bed fusion technology had been harnessed to prototype the handle, stand and cradle, while the PolyJet process was selected to print the brush head in a siliconelike rubber material. While the size of the product was of concern for trade show attendees last year – the handle is now standard size, while the cradle is no bigger than toilet freshener blocks currently on the market – there were some more nuanced issues to solve in the design. Namely, the push-fit join mechanism was reliant on there being enough force generated to connect the handle and head, but the wishbone arms that had been integrated into the cradle design were initially too delicate to take such force. At this stage, Idea Reality were outsourcing their 3D printing needs, which meant prototypes couldn’t be turned around in a day. But, fortunately for Tom, his aerospace engineer friend saw the FlushBrush project as a chance to test his newly purchased Rhino modelling software. Having modelled different stress outputs, he determined the current wishbone arms might be at risk of snapping if too much force was applied. IdeaReality then used
SHOWN: ULTIMAKER’S S5 MACHINE WAS USED TO PRINT 10 PROTOTYPES IN FOUR WEEKS
“IT MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE ONCE IDEA REALITY BOUGHT THEIR OWN 3D PRINTER.” this information to make adjustments to the design, increasing the reliability before another prototype order was placed. A few months on, Tom was given the nod to present his product on Dragon’s Den, a BBC TV show where inventors and entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of investors, but with just a month’s notice. Lucky, then, that Idea Reality was now running an Ultimaker S5 in-house. Without it, the company’s Design Director James Lamb is sure, “we wouldn’t have been able to iterate and perfect the product before the filming deadline.” “Once Idea Reality got their 3D printer in, we were able to knock out a number of different parts, that was really helpful,” Tom adds. “Before that, we were relying a lot on theory. It made a big difference once they bought their own 3D printer.” Ten prototypes were printed with the S5 (though the PolyJet process was still used for the brush head), and the design refined, in those four weeks. A number of the investors on the show expressed an interest in the product, with Tom eventually accepting an offer of £50,000. Next, a crowdfunding campaign is to be set up to take pre-orders and gauge the market. The plan for Tom then is to make small tweaks and come up with the most one-sizefits-all product he can, to prove the side project that ‘got a bit out of hand’ is justified, and to make sure being consigned to a bathroom in Birmingham was a 26th birthday as well spent as any other.
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ON-DEMAND & IN-DEMAND WORDS: SAM DAVIES
SHOWN: THE R3 PRINTER
itting impatiently as the clock ticks towards deadline, a line is drawn under a business venture started in a New York dormitory between two
friends. Exacerbated, Dan Downs and Paul Sieradski had hit a wall. Their 3D printing business had begun with a solitary desktop FFF 3D printer, expanded to include multiple machines, and catered for designers, students and architects in the local area. Having completed that last order – just – the pair came to a conclusion. “If the 3D printed future was coming, these printers weren’t the ones to print it.” The backstory is told in a series of posts on R3 Printing Inc’s Instagram profile, which is building up to the commercial launch of the R3 Printer at the end of the year. This product will be Downs’ and Sieradski’s answer to those frustrating times operating as an independent service provider. Harnessing that experience, the pair have become vendors, hoping to give back to its former peers a ‘robust’ printing platform capable of manufacturing on-demand, at speed, at scale, and in large sizes. “Our innovation focuses around speed,” Downs, co-founder and Business Development lead at R3 Printing, told TCT. “We’ve developed an optimised extruder assembly, [which] is very compact and has a little bit of automation in place.” The printhead is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. When designed, Sieradski, who is in charge of Product Engineering, offboarded a lot of the componentry for cooling and movement, reducing the weight by around 80%. The result is a printhead that can accelerate and decelerate faster, the increased mobility giving it greater freedom to produce parts that are almost the size of the 420 x 370 x 350 mm build area. There is an additional sensor in the printhead which powers R3 Printing’s Active Overheat Protection feature. Active Overheat Protection monitors heat absorption and pauses the print when a critical threshold is reached, meaning users won’t be surprised with a print jam that can take the best part of an hour to fix and exposes them to injury. Meanwhile, on materials, the R3 Printer ‘can print anything it can melt – the max core heater is 450°C – so basically everything’. The company has also pledged never to lock its printers to particular materials, gathering from a comprehensive customer discovery interview process that ondemand manufacturers weren’t happy when the only provider of suitable materials was the machine vendor themselves. “This kind of thinking was very popular a few years ago, a lot of companies raised venture capital dollars having a consumables style business model
where you’re making money with healthy margin on those consumables, but we find that to be honest, you’re treating your customer poorly. And that’s not really who we are,” Downs explained. R3 Printing is pitching itself as a customer-orientated business, aiming to attract investment from venture capitalists without compromising the offering to the user base. And while the investment dollars stack up - 329,451 EUR at the time of writing – R3 already has industrial suitors. The Defence Innovation Lab, a Hudson Valley-based non-profit, has teamed up with the company to help ready its technology for use by such organisations as the Department of Defence. Through this alliance, R3 Printing is privy to valuable advice around military standards and legal compliance and has opened a direct dialogue with the US Air Force. “What was clear was that our platform focuses on robustness, responsiveness, and being an effective, reliable platform for on-demand manufacturers,” said Downs. “That happened to, prospectively, fill some problems that were being studied by the United States Air Force. [Despite R3 Printing’s primary focus being the enterprise market,] we would not be opposed, down the road, to specific
“OUR INNOVATION FOCUSES AROUND SPEED.” productisation for US military endusers.” The military’s use cases typically revolve around manufacturing parts on-demand, at the point of need, to shorten supply chains and reduce downtime, shipping a printer instead of a whole load of components, and using that printer to replace parts temporarily to keep the mission moving while the traditionally manufactured piece is ordered. This existing need is exactly why Downs and Sieradski have changed lanes, and why, as the clock ticks towards the commercial launch, they might still sit impatiently, but excitement brews instead of frustration. “Design for manufacture [of the R3 Printer] has a lot of challenges, but we’re cruising through them nicely,” Downs finished. “We have a great network of supporters, consultants, a solid team, great investors. Things are going nicely and we’re looking forward to launching.”
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Desktop 3D Printing
PUSHING PRUSA WORDS: LAURA GRIFFITHS
LAURA GRIFFITHS SPEAKS TO PRUSA FOUNDER JOSEF PRUSA ABOUT MAKERS, BREAKING RECORDS AND DOING THINGS HIS OWN WAY.
hat do you get when you combine a 3D printer farm, 16 tonnes of Haribo Bears, and the ethos of the Rep Rap project? To find the answer, you need look no further than Prusa Research’s factory in Prague and its stack of 130,000 plus machines sold. Like most start-ups, Prusa Research’s origins can be traced back to a basement, a two-person band, and little more than a passion project. Founded by Josef Prusa back in 2012 after he and his brother Michal began tinkering with 3D printing to make parts for DJ equipment, Prusa Research has steadily established itself as a leading force in the 3D printing community, finding a strong fan base in both the maker space and professional market. Unlike other start-ups, however, Prusa Research didn’t go via the Kickstarter route or in search of an investor like the many 3D printing companies that
have come and gone before them. Though that led to a somewhat slower start, the privately held company has more than caught up, and last year was named the fastest-growing tech company in Central Europe by Deloitte with a turnover that rose from 149,000 EUR in 2014 to 45.83 million EUR in 2018. With 59,776 3D printers sold last year alone, Prusa Research says it has amassed over 10% of the desktop market share, according to estimations by Wohlers Associates. To what does Prusa Research attribute its success? Passion and no nonsense. “I think for a good business, to start is to be passionate about the thing and to be really into it. If you just want to start a company and then you start searching for something you would make or the company would make, [that] is the wrong way around,” Josef tells TCT. “That’s why I don’t much like the start-up scene right now because everybody wants to be the entrepreneur and they want to be a part of the “bros” and then after that, they start thinking about what to do.” Prusa likes to do things its own way. Go to any 3D printing trade show, you will spot Prusa’s team a mile off, a young crowd in black t shirts which read “Everyone is a maker only I am a printer” and usually the last ones on the dance floor. But has that cool maker identity ever hindered Prusa as the desktop industry fights to be seen as a serious contender on the manufacturing scene? 4
“WE DIDN’T RIDE THAT HYPE WAVE.” SHOWN: ORIGINAL PRUSA I3 MK3
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Desktop 3D Printing
“I don’t think it’s good or bad. It’s the way it is, and I quite enjoy that,” Josef said. “We don’t have to wear suits at these shows and try to be overly nice, you know. We can just show up in T-shirts and chat with everybody the way we want. That is very freeing in this industry.” Josef himself is a key part of the company’s identity – his name appears twice in the company’s full moniker after all. He is a dominant figure in the Rep Rap community with the tattoo to prove it, was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30, and doesn’t look or sound like your typical CEO running a nine-storey manufacturing facility with 300 employees. When Prusa first came to be, it wasn’t uncommon to see eccentric CEOs and figureheads leading the desktop 3D printing revolution that never quite happened (I’m looking at you, Bre Pettis). With the maker community such an integral part of Prusa’s success, it makes sense to put a face to a company name, so much so Prusa placed an inflatable version of himself atop of the first Prague Maker Faire last year, but Josef says in the early days the company chose to remain low-key and stay clear of overpromising. “We weren’t trying to tell everyone “alright, we are coming to the industry”,” Josef comments. “We didn’t ride that hype wave [and] we also sold the printers ourselves. That
means that if somebody came to us, we asked him what he was going to print … because at that stage, it was super easy to sell a printer to anyone, right? If it wasn’t for them, we just told them which technology they should use.” It is this attitude that has earned Prusa a community of impassioned users who regularly share prints and hacks on the new Prusa Printers online hub and are eager to support the company in the comments section on YouTube in the face of any, and arguably very few, negative reviews. Popular channel Maker’s Muse commented during a review of the Prusa i3 MK3 that, “it can be tempting to buy into a company at almost a religious level” and you certainly get a sense of that with Prusa’s fandom. According to Josef, having that open dialogue with the community is what encourages Prusa to innovate, arguing that the maker community can often be harder to please than big industrial users. “It is very important for us that we have this community because it is pushing us very hard,” Josef explains. “Also, they can tweak
SHOWN: JOSEF PRUSA INSIDE PRUSA RESEARCH FACTORY IN PRAGUE
the printer, modify them, and if they find something which is an improvement, it is always good inspiration.” On first glance, Prusa’s current model, the i3 MK3S, doesn’t look like anything special - it is a standard desktop-sized, plastic extrusion-based technology with open source design files readily available online. Place one next to a current generation Ultimaker or MakerBot and its simplistic orange and black frame is unlikely to win any prizes for aesthetics but that has never hampered Prusa’s success. “We just never bothered with making it look pretty for the designers but we always worked on the functionality,” Josef says, reeling off the many accolades the machine has received including scoring first place in MAKE: Magazine’s 3D printer shootout two years in a row. Priced at 699 GBP for the kit, recent features include a new filament sensor, rebuilt extruder, improved silent mode, and a new magnetic heat bed with replaceable spring steel sheet. This year, the company also introduced its first MSLA printer, the Original Prusa SL1, which Josef says has been received positively by professional users, particularly in the dental industry. The hardware has come a long way from the first Prusa Mendel, a chunky piece of DIY kit referred to as the Ford Model T of 3D printers, and so too have the company’s sales. An excited tweet from Josef back in 2010, now pinned to the company’s blog, celebrated the success of five Mendel kits sold in three days. Now, it’s more like 6,000 a month. This is all made possible by Prusa’s 500-strong printer farm which churns out parts for Prusa machines day in day out. A whole set of plastic components for one MK3 printer can be produced in 27 hours and 80% of those machines are sold as kits, which Josef believes is a strong indicator of the strength of the DIY movement. “It is very nice from the point that if you build a printer, you know how to repair it,” Josef4
SHOWN: PRUSA MANUFACTURES ITS OWN FILAMENTS ACROSS 13 LINES
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Desktop 3D Printing
SHOWN: FULL SET OF PRINTED PARTS FOR AN MK3 CAN BE MADE IN 27 HOURS
“IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR US THAT WE HAVE THIS COMMUNITY BECAUSE IT IS PUSHING US VERY HARD.”
offers. “FDM printers, even the ones which cost hundreds of thousands of Euros, they can still have a jam or something like that, so people think it’s an advantage that they know how to assemble it. For us, if something like that happens, it means that we can just ship a new part.” Everything is and has always been done in-house. Machines are shipped to customers directly from Prague where 24-hour support is available in seven different languages. Each machine is rigorously tested and comes shipped with a testing protocol sheet to prove it. Last year, Prusa also began manufacturing its own Prusament filament across 13 lines, and with the help of robotics, aims to achieve non-stop production to keep up with demand. With the user community never too far away from Prusa’s plans, there is also a fully equipped maker space which hosts regular 3D printing classes. “We never had resellers so we were always in direct contact with the customers in the community and this proved very important for us because you have instant feedback from the people,” Josef adds. “If you are just a manufacturer and somebody else is doing the selling for you, you don’t always get all the information back. At the beginning, it was much tougher for us to do it this way because we not only needed to learn how to make the printers at scale but we also needed to learn how to ship all the printers, how to run a such a big web shop, and how to do the customer support for all these people. It was more difficult but now it’s paying off that we have this direct contact.” With the i3 MK3S now firmly in the hands of users – not to mention a new world record achieved just last month for most 3D printers operating simultaneously (1,096 to be exact) – Prusa is now gearing up for TCT Show where it will be showing its latest hardware and materials. Looking ahead, what can we expect to see next? “There is always a new printer on the horizon” Josef adds with a sense of excitement in his voice, “we are kind of restless in that regard.”
VISIT PRUSA RESEARCH AT TCT SHOW ON STAND E30. 062 / www.tctmagazine.com / 27.5
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he respite is coming to a close as the conference season returns from its summer hiatus. And once again, the season kicks off in a big way with the TCT Show. At this well-attended, annual event, a Hall of Fame inductee will be announced, TCT Awards will be bestowed, presenters will share their insights, and AM products will be on display for all to see and discover. Although the summer did give us a break from the deluge of reports on new companies, new products and innovative applications, it was by no means a quiet period. In meteorological terms, the past few months were the tropical depression to the conference season’s category 5 hurricane. We know it is coming so now is time to prepare for the information onslaught. I stumbled on a quote by John Naisbitt that is perfect in capturing the dynamics of the AM industry amongst the deluge of information. In his book “Megatrends,“ Naisbitt said, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” This is so very true. However, if I can be so bold as to append to this famous quote, I would add “and craving wisdom.” Scientist and author E. O. Wilson added context to Naisbitt’s quote in his book ”Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.” In it he wrote, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesisers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” Not to say that I have the right information or that I make wise choices, I see that Wilson’s words may explain how I became one of the nominees for the TCT Hall of Fame. Those that engage with AM are drowning and starving, and in the quest for wisdom they are seeking some external synthesis. It just so happens
is a stalwart of the additive manufacturing industry, having held positions across sales and marketing with some of the industry’s biggest names. Todd is currently the AM Industry advisor with AMUG.
066 / www.tctmagazine.com / 27.5
that that is a role I have happily played. While I am honoured and humbled by the nomination, I fully expect to stand to join the applause for the inductee, not receive it. The other nominees are titans in AM that don’t just synthesise information. They have put that wisdom to work to create, tune and deploy powerful AM technologies over the past three decades. These titans deserve recognition, but the need for synthesisers to distill what the titans deliver is immense. Not only do we have to absorb and understand the information that is presented, we must also dig in to uncover the subtle nuances that differentiate AM solutions, even for those that use the same fundamental process. A selection made without synthesis, using the filters and parameters that apply to your needs, would be like throwing a dart while blindfolded (or after many pints). The blind throw may score, but it is unwise. The AM information flow is relentless— and exhausting—which means that your organisation needs to have individuals that absorb the deluge, investigate the facts, separate the wheat from the chaff, and make wise decisions. I know, it is a lot of work and a lot to ask, but what is the alternative…a staid, slow-moving industry? I am exhausted by the information, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you don’t feel the same, hand over the AM reins to someone that does. Otherwise, your organisation will be making decisions based on the facts that were, not the realities of today. One last point, and one that I made nearly a year ago (see “Alternate Realities” from November 2018), don’t try to take shortcuts. The synthesis to a wise decision should not be made by adopting the experiences of others. Your company’s goals and requirements are unique. To make a wise decision, you must investigate the information available in terms that apply to your situation. Don’t accept others’ realities as your own when making selections to support your AM initiatives.
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