This week CADimensions is attending the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) event in St. Louis, Missouri – perhaps the most significant professional 3D printing conference this year. In order to keep you up to date on the current state of the 3D printing industry and technology, we will be releasing a blog every day about what we found most significant. This is part one of that series – “Live from AMUG!”
As an engineer working in the 3D printing industry, the question comes up frequently: What’s next for 3D printing? We have seen so much growth over the past decade in 3D printing capabilities that sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint where exactly we’re headed. The morning keynote from Day #1 of AMUG featured Todd Grimm’s take on six key trends we’re seeing in 3D printing today. Todd Grimm is an expert who has been working in the Additive Manufacturing industry for 27 years. Today he primarily works as a consultant and author. While it’s difficult to relay all the valuable insight from Todd, I’m going to attempt to go over the highlights.
1. Hardware – Metals, OEE, lower prices
3D printing hardware has changed a lot in recent years, and we can expect the same throughout 2018. More and more companies are pursuing creating metal 3D printers with various processes, wether disruptive or established. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of additive machines is becoming more of a priority for customers adopting the technology and at the same time 3D printing companies are starting to prioritize measuring and improving upon their machine’s OEE. 3D printers will continue to drop in price due to a very competitive landscape. That being said, Todd finds it very unlikely that a 6-figure printer will come down to five figures anytime soon. The quality of hardware, software support, and reliability is distinctly in a different class, requiring the higher price tag.
2. China – New processes, improvements on existing processes, clones
China has a very strong 3D printing landscape, and we can only expect more out of them. While there are plenty of “me-too” clone 3D printers leveraging FDM or SLA technology coming out of the far east, there are also companies pursuing new processes entirely, or making significant improvements to established technologies. Todd mentioned a few companies that are creating large format SLA machines, and SLS systems for both metals and polymers with massive build volumes up to one meter.
3. Software – Direct from CAD, Predictive, Generative Design, workflow, Security
3D printing software for a lot of machines can be very primitive, with a steep learning curve before a user is able to really dig in to the machine’s capabilities. In the last two years, we’ve seen processing software for 3D printers move from using mesh STL files to supporting direct-from-CAD model files. While this may seem insignificant, it saves a step in the workflow of 3D printing. In addition, users can achieve a higher accuracy of parts coming off their machine, and avoid common mesh-translation issues like faceting from low-polygon models. Processing software will become more predictive, offering feedback and guidance on the printability and orientation of a model before printing. Generative design to allow computer algorithms to design organic, optimized parts will continue to develop. A great example that was a detailed demo of is Desktop Metal’s Live Parts. Improvements in workflow and file security will continue to develop. After looking at the incremental improvements just last year in GrabCAD Print, and we can verify that the workflow is vastly improved.
4. Processes – Continuous, monitored, post-processing, materials
Emerging ways to create 3D prints will continue to develop. Continuous methods like Carbon’s CLIP technology with minimal layer lines and more uniform strength will be a significant pursuit of 3D printing companies. 3D printers will become more monitored, offering in-process inspection to a higher degree. The post-processing associated with 3D printing will see more and more time reduction, as more support material and automated finishing options become available. Year-over-year a multitude of 3D printing materials are released, and the industry shows no signs of slowing.
5. Applications – Manufacturing, niche targeting
Companies will continue to pursue true Additive Manufacturing – trying to mass-produce products in a time and cost-competitive nature to conventional processes like injection molding or machining. This is no easy task but we have seen the very beginning of promising examples like Carbon, HP, or Stratasys’s Continuous Build Demonstrator. In 2018, the costs and time are inching closer and closer to that of conventional mass production. Companies will focus more and more on niche targeting within 3D printing. The future of 3D printing is very unlikely to be an all-in-one machine that prints plastic, metal, ceramics, and electronics. Rather, creating separate machines to create the best tool to satisfy a particular application and business segment will be the progression of the technology.
6. Business – Partnerships, big names, expansion, acquisitions
Partnerships and acquisitions have been occurring in the 3D printing world for years, and we can only expect more as companies aim for higher capabilities, and need to work together to get there. “Big names” and brands will continue to attempt to enter to competitive landscape. Just last year, Kodak announced a 3D printer, and Apple and Disney seem to be granted patents of some sort each year. Time will tell who decides to enter the industry, and when. Businesses will continue to expand their 3D printing efforts, and form internal teams to address how 3D printing can be implemented effectively.
It is an exciting time to be a part of the 3D printing industry! These six trends will drive the future of the technology, and as it develops, will enable businesses in all sectors to operate more effectively. Check out day two’s recap and day three’s.