TCT NA Issue 5.5

Page 1


A look at the lifecycle of additive manufacturing feedstock



How industry is looking to fill the skills gap




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Hirtenberger. Ingenuity. Engineered



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ISSN 2059-9641



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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 or condition of the talent pool doesn’t currently 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, appetizing 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 in September, schoolchildren got 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. While companies like GE and Renishaw are installing 3D printers in classrooms and classrooms in factories, similar problem-centered learning happens further up the education ladder, like at Virginia Commonwealth University (p25), 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-centered approach (p24) 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. As good as all these programs 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 programs 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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ExOne discusses its latest machine launch, the X1 160PRO.




Head of Content Dan O’Connor chronicles the life of an SLS powder from development to disposal.


Assistant Editor Sandra Tschackert talks to XJet and Glassomer about their ceramic and glass 3D printing endeavors.


Carpenter Additive on how it hopes to accelerate additive adoption.


Deputy Group Editor Laura Griffiths takes a look the significant launch of BASF’s Ultrafuse 316L filament.


20 Product Design 20. MUSIC TO THE EARS

Assistant Editor Sam Davies talks to two brothers about their automated ear-cleansing headphones.



Sam speaks to a product design company using a self-developed 3D printer to create lighting products on demand.



Carbon highlights the importance of equal opportunity through a collaboration with Kode With Klossy.

Desktop 3D Printing


A look at the new Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle and S3 desktop machine.


Josef Prusa speaks candidly to TCT about the maker community, industry adoption and his no-nonsense mantra.


Meet the latest desktop vendor operating out of New York City.


Laura speaks to Virginia Commonwealth University about its MakerBot Innovation Center.


Todd Grimm on how best to absorb the relentless flow of information in AM.



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n advance of Formnext, ExOne revealed its upcoming 10th metal 3D printer - the X1 160PRO - which will enter the market as the largest metal binder jetting system and one that incorporates two decades of improvements to deliver reliable, sustainable production of metal parts. With build dimensions of 800 x 500 x 400 mm, the X1 160PRO delivers more than 2.5 times the build volume of the nearest metal binder jet system available today.



Built for high throughput and large-part production, the new machine features: •P atent-pending Triple ACT (Advanced Compaction Technology) for dispensing, spreading and compacting metal powders, which is critical to delivering consistent part density across the entire build area •A n all-new recycling system for binder fluids that delivers lower operating costs and ensures that sustainability gains delivered by 3D printing are carried through the entire process •A n open material system capable of printing six qualified metal materials, as well as other fine powders, such as ceramics •N ew Industry 4.0 cloud connectivity and process-linking capabilities enabled by Siemens MindSphere “The X1 160PRO is big, fast and smart — built for highquality serial production,” said ExOne CEO John Hartner. “Our technology roadmap has been leading us to this machine for more than two decades, as we methodically tackled a series of process challenges. We’re incredibly proud of what this model means for the future of metal 3D printing and sustainable production of large metal parts.” The X1 160PRO also rounds out ExOne’s metal binder jetting line-up, which now offers three sizes. The Innovent+ entry-level system is used for research, design and small part production. The midline X1 25PRO 3D printer is large enough for production of most metal parts manufactured today and begins shipping this quarter. The new X1 160PRO, slated to ship in late 2020, enables serial 3D production of the largest parts.


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The X1 160PRO comes at a time of unprecedented interest in metal binder jetting. Since 2015, a variety of companies have entered, or announced plans to enter, the metal binder jetting market. For ExOne, the new competition demonstrates the real potential the market now sees in binder jetting. ExOne commercialized the first metal binder jet 3D printer in 1998, with the RTS-300, but had no metal competitors for most of the two decades that followed as it continued developing the technology. “We’re excited about the renewed interest in binder jetting,” said ExOne CEO John Hartner. “It validates what we’ve known for decades that binder jetting is going to be the winning technology when it comes to metal 3D printing for production. Other technologies are just too slow. “But speed isn’t the only reason consensus is building around binder jetting. Our team has now advanced the technology to a point where it reliably produces extremely high-quality parts. Our end-to-end workflow is also far less complex than other processes. So, we welcome comparisons against new entrants, as well as other metal 3D processes.”


In fact, ExOne’s innovation is partially responsible for inviting the new competition. In 2013, while working with an aerospace manufacturer, ExOne began printing highly dense single alloys with

a median particle size of 9µm. Using ultra-fine powders such as these helps to ensure the particles sinter together to form a dense, uniform microstructure that delivers reliable functionality and performance.

to tool steels and Inconels, R&D work continues on reactive metals that are the most challenging to 3D print: titanium and aluminum.

Previously, ExOne metal printers processed a larger powder that delivered a porous part which required infiltration with another metal to achieve full density. Word of ExOne’s ability to print metals without infiltration spread quickly in the additive R&D community, and the new competition soon followed. With two decades of lead time, the Pittsburgh-based ExOne is already the market share leader in binder jetting for sand, metals and ceramics, and its metal experience is unmatched. About half of its machines installed globally are metal 3D printers. ExOne also operates an ondemand metal production facility, with 25 metal binder jetting machines running 24/7 to make parts for industrial customers. ExOne has considerable operating, service and support experience, which has been critical to its advancements. For example, the ExOne team has optimized its print speeds for each of its qualified materials to deliver the highest quality part.


ExOne has a strict qualification process for approving materials in its open-system printers. Today, six metal materials are qualified, including the popular industrial stainless steels 304L, 316L and 17-4PH. But more metals are coming. In addition

“The potential to transform metal part production with our machines, in the materials we can print today, and what we have coming, is huge,” Hartner said. “The automotive, aerospace, medical and energy industries produce billions of metal parts a year. By switching from traditional manufacturing to our 3D processes, ExOne can liberate designers and engineers to develop innovative solutions that weren’t previously possible, and they can be delivered faster and more affordably.”


With the reveal of its newest printer, ExOne is also showcasing its larger production vision, which includes new automation and Industry 4.0 connectivity features.

ExOne’s team has been developing automation that delivers a build box directly from the 3D printer to a curing oven and automated depowdering station, before prepping for final sintering. With onboard sensors and Siemens MindSphere, ExOne’s new machine will also offer in-process monitoring, remote access and factory integration capabilities. “The team at ExOne believes it’s time to make metal production smarter,” Hartner said. “There’s no reason to delay – we have metal 3D printers that are commercially available today featuring mature technology. We’re ready to make metal production more sustainable and enable the innovative designs of tomorrow.”



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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, and 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 polymerization 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-polymerization 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 specialize 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 Center, 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 Center, 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 Center 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 carbon-fibre 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 Formnext in Frankfurt, Germany in November The sibling management team are very excited about the possibilities; after all, new materials equal new applications.4


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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 refreshrates. 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 optimize 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 tons 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 award-winning 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.


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 uses its the technology for the Mini Yours Customised dashboard fascias, and the Royal British Legion is 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 postprocessing are bead blasting and color dyeing. Companies like AMT in the UK and DyeMansion in Germany have taken steps to automate this previously labor intensive step, and automation is key to unlocking SLS’s potential as a mass manufacturing tool.4



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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. “This is a single-use application where 3D printing is price competitive [with injection molding],” 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 left-over powder to be disposed of. A source at a leading service provider talked 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 PA2200. 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-fiber, 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 metric 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 metric 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.

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he 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. The focus, according to Haim Levi, VP Manufacturing & Defense at XJet, 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.” Ceramic material – in this case, zirconia – is especially desirable due to its wear resistance, high temperature capability and low thermal conductivity. In addition to the cryotherapy probe and 5G antenna, Levi talked about a further ceramics application, a small solid-state gyroscope that XJet makes out of zirconia. Found in all types of aircraft, 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.” With 3D ceramics printing being a fairly recent development, 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 airplanes 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 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.” 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 which can be in the range of tens of micrometers. 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. Rapp explains: “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 are 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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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. In 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 state-of-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 its 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 California-based 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 postprocessing. 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

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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 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 missioncritical 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, fastforward 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 realize 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 optimization and that is a huge, existing strength of Carpenter Additive. When you have end-toend 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 knowledgeable 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 analyze the comparisons and identify what drives the processproperty 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 non-destructive 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 molded 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 binderjetting processes. BF: Technology choice is application-driven; 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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The Event for 3D PRINTING & ADDITIVE INTELLIGENCE TCT 3Sixty is our successful flagship event re-imagined for 2020.

360-degree (Adjective) comprehensive; incorporating all points of view on a subject

TCT 3Sixty goes beyond simply raising awareness and adoption. It is focused on developing a real understanding across industry of the potential of additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology, this deeper 360-degree understanding will increase adoption at all levels of design, engineering and manufacturing.


As the UK's premier showcase of additive manufacturing & 3D printing technology it is the perfect place to talk to an engaged audience eager for real insights, advice and to acquire technology solutions.

SEPT/OCT 2020 NEC, Birmingham, UK

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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 low-cost desktop 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 somewhat similar format to the latter, the additive manufacturing (AM) arm of global chemical company BASF has formally launched a metal-polymer 3D printing filament onto the market. First introduced around two years ago, Ultrafuse 316L has since 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 extrusion-based 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 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 industrialgrade materials used in the Metal Injection Molding (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 compared to 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 for finishing their parts. François Minec, Managing Director and CCO at BASF 3D Printing Solutions, explained: “It makes investment in an expensive system unnecessary, and customers can access our


network for debinding and sintering. This makes the entry effort into metal 3D printing very low and inexpensive. Even better, many customers already own an FFF printer and can therefore start printing metal components directly.” With the ongoing race for lower-cost metal 3D printing and office-friendly 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 MIM 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. Minec added: “FFF printers have been regarded as the hobbyist's choice in the past, with the industrial sector leaning more towards the other 3D printing technologies. We can now see that FFF printers’ significant improvements in accuracy and reproducibility make them very suitable for industrial uses. For metal applications, whenever low part-cost is crucial and surface quality is less important, metal FFF could be an attractive alternative.”



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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. “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 hands-off automated procedure. Designing this device like a pair of headphones accomplished that.” The wacky idea to invent a pair of ear-cleansing headphones won SafKan the Protolabs Cool Idea! Award, thus earning the company a grant to turn conception into real-life product.

In their endeavor to do that, Aadil and Sahil have utilized 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.

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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, newtech method.


“[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 program 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 molding 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 personalization and customization. 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.



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n San Francisco, September 2018, the senior management of a designer lights manufacturer gathered for their quarterly strategy meeting in what is looked back on as a significant juncture in the company’s story.


Subsequent to that gathering, the vision of an automated manufacturing plant set some years previous was kicked into action. Gantri had recently expanded, increasing its 3D printing capacity by eight times when it opened its San Leandro Gantri Factory with 80 printers now running 24/7. But to grow as the company plans, Gantri estimated it would need to invest in thousands of off-theshelf machines, which would require further modifications. That, the company assessed, was not a viable investment. “We realized, at some point, we’re going to need something custom to ourselves,” Gantri CTO Christianna Taylor told TCT. “When we think about how we want to expand the manufacturing line, we need to think about efficiency and what else we want to integrate.” Taylor, among those in that strategic meeting, was responsible for the preliminary engineering work that followed. She spent two months surveying the market, looking, first, to see if there were viable options already out there, and when there weren’t, what constitutes a good efficiency for a desktop 3D printer. At the other side of this assessment process would be a big change. “We don’t make technology decisions lightly,” Taylor said. “[We consider] is this going to benefit us? Is this the right strategic move for us? Is the solution we’re coming up with good enough for what we want to do?” Gantri believes the answer to all three questions is yes. In August, the company unveiled the Gantri Dancer, an extrusionbased, multi-gantry machine with a build

volume of 16”R x 24”H. The four gantries have full access to the entirety of Dancer’s rotating circular print bed, meaning there is no dead zone and prints can be built in a quarter of the time, per Gantri. Dancer uses corn-based PLA materials co-developed with colorFabb and, with the print bed and spools accessible from the front, is ready for complete automation. This November, Gantri will start migrating its workload over to the Dancer systems with a second batch to be installed next June. They will be used to produce an everexpanding portfolio of desk and floor lights on-demand and, the company hopes, do so at much quicker rates. “There are a lot of great printers out there [that] can print to our standards, but the problem is that our longest print takes five days, and most take two to three days,” Taylor said. “If we can get that down to one day on the printing side, we are bringing down that customer experience of taking four weeks to print, assemble and go through an entire process to two weeks. This is why Dancer came into play.”

Gantri’s products are developed with a team of freelance designers in the ‘Create Hub.’ While 3D printing means designers aren’t constrained by minimum order quantities, ideas still have to be pitched and rationalized. Needing to conform to the company’s roadmap, drawings and mood boards have to be submitted to Gantri. Gantri also vets each design to guarantee originality and ensure nothing identical is being sold by the likes of IKEA or Design Within Reach. Then the manufacturability is assessed, making sure the design can be printed without failure, and the exterior isn’t too difficult to finish. “We’re not here to change their aesthetic,” Taylor explained. “We are here to make sure that it’s actually possible to manufacture and the end user has a good experience with it.” Integral to that is testing. Designs are checked to make sure bulb isn’t too close to material, that the light doesn’t break if tipped over, and that it is durable enough to survive shipment in the back of a UPS truck. When all concerns are satisfied, design files are sent to San Leandro

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where the frames will be printed, assembled, passed to a third party to paint and then shipped. Now that a fleet of Dancers has been installed in the Gantri Factory, Taylor is stepping up the company’s automation plans, which is primarily what she was brought in to do in 2017. Having come through NASA as a graduate researcher and later working as a systems engineer at aerospace company Microcosm, Taylor recently founded a company called Intelligence Space where she has worked with artificial intelligence (AI) to design navigation, hardware and simulation systems.

deployed to paint custom shapes, and as a source of data analysis so customers and designers benefit from better recommendations and insights. Automatic job scheduling is also to be integrated, while quality checks and assembly will also be automated one day. Ultimately, all of Taylor’s work is being done to streamline Gantri’s operations. While a two to three month lead time is typical for Gantri to go from concept to available product, it can take the best part of a month to print, assemble, finish and ship after an order is placed. That’s a long wait for the type of accessory that is readily available at your local department store.

She has leveraged this experience to develop a roadmap for a comprehensive integration of AI. The technology will be used to monitor print quality and identify blemishes on behalf of the production team, to control the advanced robotics that will be

And yet, compared to Taylor’s work in the aerospace sector, the time flies by. Her impact at Gantri is much more tangible and that’s most evident during the company’s quarterly strategy meetings. Taylor and Gantri are keen to maintain the pace.


“I love strategy and vision, but with a 20-year lead time you might get one thing, two if you’re lucky,” she said of the aerospace market. “At Gantri, I’ve gotten to oversee software launches, hardware launches, multiple industrial engineering launches. I worked on Dancer in a year and now we’re getting it in the factory. I have an immediate effect on the products I do.”



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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 USD. Questions readied, hands raised, inspiration pending. They were inside Carbon’s headquarters in Redwood City, Silicon Valley, for a twoweek Kode With Klossy boot camp. Dara Treseder was the woman standing 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 on building web-based software with JavaScript, HTML and CSS, and a Mobile Applications Development module, which does what it says on the tin with Apple’s Swift programming language. Scholars


who have completed both modules have all the tools required to begin developing apps. At Carbon, the group was also treated to a tour of the facility, had hands-on access to its Digital Light Synthesis technology, received 3D printed bracelets to take home, and not only got to question Carbon’s female employees, but took in a presentation from Margaret Nyamumbo, another source of inspiration. Nyamumbo was brought up in Kenya on a coffee farm owned by her grandfather. There are thousands of these farms in the East African country, 99% of them owned by men but with women providing 89% of the labor – much of which is unpaid. She has recently started up her own coffee company and gives 25% of the profits to support access to credit for female coffee makers back home. Blockchain has been implemented to provide total transparency – consumers know what they’re drinking and, more importantly, where their money is going. It all came together to show what’s possible to the 15 young women with the power of technology, an

unwavering 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 emphasized. “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.” Programs 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 organizations and industries aware of subconscious oversights. Inspiration harnessed, skills in progress, opportunity pending.

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he call for more education in additive manufacturing (AM) continues to be sounded. Today, several institutions are receiving the message loud and clear and responding with the launch of AMfocused courses and centers; MakerBot intends to lead the charge. The Brooklyn-based desktop 3D printing company has long had education in its sights, targeting a range of learning levels through the delivery of guidebooks for schools and the establishment of its MakerBot Innovation Center program. A number of universities around the world, from Singapore to Italy, have built these centers 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 tells 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.”


Walking into the center 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, which allows any student to submit a print to the queue. There’s also printers from Ultimaker, Stratasys and Dremel, along with Creaform 3D scanning equipment, and a new MakerBot Method beta system. “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 its capabilities by printing several historical, archaeological, and



paleontological scanned objects,” Cartin explains. “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 utilizing the technology within various fields of study.” The lab is supported by a full-time staff member to run the day-to-day, and the university also hosts AM-focused courses to prepare students for the fundamentals of 3D printing. Yet, while there are many opportunities for students in further education to engage with the technology, is there a need to introduce students to 3D printing earlier on? “The issue now is this technology is becoming the mainstream for the classroom environment,” Cartin suggests. “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 current machines across different departments within the school. Evidently, the skills the university is providing are in high demand. Several students who have passed through VCU’s courses and benefited from the center have gone on to secure employment within the industry, including at some AM superusers. It can be hard to keep up, as Cartin explains: “We've had several, they've gone through the courses and are currently employed with several companies around Richmond. We have students that went to Boeing, just recently graduated, in their design division that deals with additive manufacturing.”

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ows of people spill into the aisle, glasses of champagne in one hand, smartphones stretched above the head in the other. In this industry, it can mean only one thing. At this time, at this show, it was Ultimaker launching to market the S5 Pro Bundle and the S3 desktop machine. The S5 Pro Bundle includes the Air Manager, designed to better control the build chamber’s environment, and the Material Station, which stores up to six spools of filament at sufficient humidity levels. The S3 is being brought to market as a ‘composite ready’ desktop platform that gives new adopters of 3D printing a more affordable alternative to the S5. These new product developments come as a direct consequence of the company’s open materials programme, which now has around 80 partners within it. With users having access to a wider range of materials on Ultimaker machines, and those machines being increasingly applied in professional settings, the company has sought to increase the reliability of its platforms. “Our goal is to make 3D printing easy, reliable and accessible in order to accelerate the world’s transition to digital distribution and local manufacturing,” commented Paul Heiden, Senior Vice President Product Management at Ultimaker,

in a company press release. “We have heard many professional users express a need for a more enclosed 3D printing environment and we understand the desire for good, dry material storage and smart material handling in order to reduce the risks of humidity, dust and human error. “The accessible Ultimaker S3 is capable of reliably manufacturing smaller parts and models at a price-point that removes the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs and SMEs to adopt 3D printing.” The S5 was launched at RAPID + TCT 2018, the same event in which the company’s open materials programme was announced, and now represents over half the machines the company has ever sold, per Heiden. But wanting to increase the confidence companies felt when using the printer, and

recognising a demand for such an addition, the Air Manager has been integrated to provide a closed, inside-out air flow to filter 95% of ultra-fine particles created during the printing process. It also aims to help companies meet health and safety standards and to reduce the need for their employees to tinker with the printer to maximise the quality of builds. “If there’s anything we have learnt over the years, it’s that professional users have virtually zero tolerance for experimenting,” Heiden told TCT. “They just want to use the printer as a production method. By building this top cover on the S5, we had to ensure that the print profiles that come with the materials, the Ultimaker materials or the third party materials, would be adapted in such a way that it could manage the air suction that this cover generates to ensure SHOWN: THE S3 HAS BEEN DESIGNED AS A 3D PRINTING ENTRY POINT FOR SMES

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Desktop 3D Printing

there is a stable chamber environment and that it doesn’t in any way influence the print results in a negative fashion.” By adding this top cover, Ultimaker’s materials partners are having to ‘adapt’ their material profiles to ensure the suction of the Air Manager’s filter does not negatively impact the quality of prints. Those material adaptations have already been completed for Ultimaker-developed materials ready for launch, while S5 machines and top covers have been shipped to every material partner to do the same for their products. Heiden expects the bulk of these adjustments to be carried out within the next two months, ready for an array of filaments to be loaded into the Material Station. Up to six spools can be stored in the Material Station's enclosed chamber, which works to maintain humidity at around 40%, a sufficient level to work from according to Ultimaker’s partners. Each spool is placed into the Material Station by hand with the end of the filament being fed into a mouth which will sense that a) the material is loaded properly, b) exactly which material product has been loaded, and c) when spools are about to run out so the machine can get ready to draw from the next one. Ultimaker’s Cura Connect software integrates with the Material Station to manage print jobs based on which machine is adequately loaded for the application. The Material Station also marks the beginning of the end for ‘one of the most iconic things about Ultimaker printers, but also one of the most annoying’ as Heiden puts it: materials are now front loaded, instead of being stored on the back side of the machine. It was 2017 when Ultimaker began to realise, though that was a nice way of presenting its machines, ergonomically it was a pain point for customers. A year later, as the company matured, its eyes were opened again. “In 2018, we delivered on our promise for an open materials system and, as a result, we noticed there were many materials that had some sort of sensitivity to humidity,” Heiden explained. “It was not just about front loading, it was also about making sure that material conditions would stay in such a way that a machine could continue to use, for instance, PVA even in somewhat humid environments that the new polyamides that were coming to market from third parties could deal with, so that was the second thing and thirdly, make sure that if a certain spool is at its end then a new spool is automatically started. It is supposed these enhancements, the Air Manager and the Material Station, will lead to gains for Ultimaker’s professional customers.




Materials partners DSM and BASF gave praise to the new additions to the S5 platform upon their launch, reckoning they are another step towards industrial applications for fused filament fabrication technology. That is what Ultimaker is going for, as further demonstrated by the launch of the S3. This machine is being offered as a cost-effective, almost entry-level platform for companies just starting out in their deployment of additive manufacturing for production and will displace the Ultimaker Extended 3 once current stock is sold out. Boasting a smaller build volume than the Ultimaker 3 Extended – 230 x 190 x 200 mm vs 197 x 215 x 300 mm – Ultimaker has prioritised technical capability over size. The S5’s CC Print Core, which features a hardened nozzle that won’t falter after extruding fibre-reinforced

materials, has been integrated, while the feeder wheel at the back of the machine has been replaced for similar reasons. Other features of the S3 include a heated build plate, advanced active levelling, more accurate stepper drivers, and dual filament flow sensors which will pause print jobs when filament runs out. With the adoption of its technology increasing in industrial environments, Ultimaker has committed to engineering new capabilities to keep pace with its customers boundaries as boundaries are pushed. Not only has it sought to better the control it has over the print environment on the S5, and advance the capabilities of its Ultimaker 3 line, but in doing both Ultimaker has given manufacturers more options. “People reach a certain plateau of professionalism and that’s really easily reached. They’ll use that printer every hour of the day,” Heiden said. “I think if you want to start with printing go and have an S3. If you’re one step ahead and start using 3D printing to start using the printed objects, don’t even think about buying anything else than the S5 Pro Bundle.

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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 164,000 USD in 2014 to 50.42 million USD 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 tshirts 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?


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“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 its founder 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 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 749 USD 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 the4

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DIY movement. “It is very nice from the point that if you build a printer, you know how to repair it,” Josef 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 MKS now firmly in the hands of users – not to mention a new world record achieved for most 3D printers operating simultaneously (1,096 to be exact) – Prusa has just introduced its latest and smallest machine to date; the Original Prusa MINI promising “all the bells and whistles you’re accustomed to” with any other Prusa printer at half the price of the i3 MK3S kit. “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.”

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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. Exasperated, 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 optimized 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. 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. “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 435,000 USD 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 organizations 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.

“OUR INNOVATION FOCUSES AROUND SPEED.” The military’s use cases typically revolve around manufacturing parts ondemand, 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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grimm column


he TCT Show's opening in Birmingham, UK signalled the end of respite as the conference season returns from its summer hiatus.

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 the 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 synthesizers, 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 that that is a role I have happily played. While I was honored and humbled by the nomination, I fully expected to stand to

join the applause for the eventual, and thoroughly deserving inductee, Professor Gideon Levy. All the other nominees are titans in AM that don’t just synthesize 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 synthesizers 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 organization 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 organization 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.


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.

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