ORLANDO, FLA. — Advocates for additive manufacturing populated a dedicated NPE 2015 3-D pavilion and showed the technology at numerous other exhibits during the March 23-27 show in Orlando. In addition, NPE conference sessions highlighted the quickly growing market niche.
The next platform for those proponents is the Rapid 2015 show, set for May 18-21 in Long Beach, Calif. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is organizing the event for the 25th year and has booked more than 200 exhibitors and scheduled sessions relating to 3-D printing, scanning and additive manufacturing.
The growing number of polymer materials for 3-D printing — often expensive proprietary liquid resins — include standard and color formulations and some fiber-reinforced types of ABS, polyphenylsulfone, polycarbonate, polylactic acid, nylon and the high flow polyetherimide blend Ultem 9085. Metals also are available.
Stratasys, 3D Systems top industry
Serial acquirers Stratasys Ltd. and 3D Systems Corp. are among the largest players in 3-D printing with respective 2014 market shares of 18.3 percent and 15.9 percent. Stratasys was present in several NPE exhibits, but 3D Systems was mostly absent.
Regarding the two firms, “there are few at that size and ability to acquire other companies,” said Terry Wohlers, principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo. Wohlers pegs the 3-D printing market's 2014 global sales at $4.1 billion.
Stratasys has dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn., and Rehovot, Israel, and, as of Dec. 31, employed more than 2,900. Stratasys reported 2014 sales of $750.1 million of which printing systems and materials accounted for 81.6 percent and services for the remainder.
Recent Stratasys acquisitions included Solid Concepts Inc. of Valencia, Calif.; Harvest Technologies Inc. of Belton, Texas; GrabCad Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.; Hafner's Büro of Stuttgart, Germany; and certain assets of Interfacial Solutions LLC of River Falls, Wis.
In February, Stratasys integrated Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies with its legacy RedEye service under the new brand Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.
Among the Stratasys product lines, MakerBot Industries Inc. of New York markets consumer models in its Replication line for $1,375-$6,499. Stratasys acquired MakerBot in 2013.
In a significant merger on Dec. 1, 2012, predecessor Stratasys Inc. became an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary of Objet Ltd., and the company changed its name to Stratasys Ltd.
3D Systems of Rock Hill, S.C., employed 2,136 as of Dec. 31 and had 2014 sales of $653.7 million of which products accounted for 43.3 percent, materials for 24.3 percent and services for 32.4 percent.
In addition to Rock Hill, 3D Systems assembles products in Andover, Mass.; Herndon, Va.; and Airport City, Israel. The firm's Quickparts service business has 13 locations in eight countries.
Recent 3D Systems acquisitions include Easyway Design and Manufacture Co. of Wuxi, China; Cimatron Ltd. of Giv'at Shmu'el, Israel, near Tel Aviv; 70 percent of Robtec of Diadema, Brazil, near São Paulo; botObjects Ltd. of New York and London; and LayerWise NV of Leuven, Belgium.
3D Systems has distribution agreements for its equipment with units of Tokyo-based technology powerhouse Canon Inc. An agreement for Canon Japan to market, sell and support 3D Systems printers was announced in March 2014 and a comparable arrangement with Canon Europe was unveiled in February 2015.
Forecast 3D stays independent
The largest remaining independent service provider is believed to be Forecast 3D of Carlsbad, Calif.
Co-founders and brothers Corey and Donovan Weber established Forecast 3D in 1994 and appear determined to remain independent amid the industry consolidation. Forecast 3D occupies 42,000 square feet and employs 97 including eight service engineers across North America.
“We have seen a progressive shift over the last decade with customers finding more and more uses for additively manufactured components in end-use applications,” Donovan Weber, chief operating officer, said by email. “We are incredibly excited with the latest advancements in the types of materials being brought into the arena as well.”
Weber suggested new materials will be more important than emerging technologies in how parts will be printed. “As long as parts are built in layers with current production technologies, it is the materials that are going to deliver the next wave of successes for additive manufacturing,” he said.
Forecast 3D acquired key assets and technical expertise from service provider GROWit LLC of Lake Forest, Calif., in April 2014. Operations were consolidated in Carlsbad.
3-D activities at NPE 2015
A line incorporating a Davis-Standard LLC extruder and Conair Group upstream and downstream equipment demonstrated production of ABS filament for use in 3-D printing.
The demonstration aimed to show how to boost productivity and increase precision of the plastic rods or filaments.
Conair's extrusion development and testing laboratory in Pinconning, Mich., assembled the demonstration line and reported throughput rates of 400-600 feet per minute. Conair said those rates were three to four times faster than the industry's current production rate.
The line had a Conair model 100 mobil drying and conveying system, a 2-inch Davis-Standard Super Blue extruder, a Conair GRH-1.0 extrusion die for filament/rod production and a Conair HTMP series multi-pass cooling and sizing tank.
At its NPE exhibit, Arburg GmbH & Co. KG of Lossburg, Germany, operated two Freeformer 3-D printers demonstrating its additive manufacturing technique for offset printing with resins such as ABS, polycarbonate, nylons and elastomers. Initial commercial Freeformer deliveries occurred in March in Europe.
The firm's U.S. unit, Arburg Inc., is getting a Freeformer laboratory and services of an Arburg-trained additive manufacturing manager at its new Rocky Hill, Conn., facility.
In its booth, Milacron LLC of Batavia, Ohio, used a Stratasys 500 Connex2 multi-media system to print 3-D core and cavities for installation in a quick-change DME mold base for rapid prototyping on a Roboshot S15iA electric injection molding machine.
Sabic Innovative Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass., displayed the prototype of a 3-D printed economy class aircraft seat made with fewer than 15 components under license from Studio Gavari design of Brunico, Italy, and the highly publicized 3-D printed car from Local Motors Inc. of Chandler, Ariz.
Phoenix Proto Technologies LLC of Centreville, Mich., described its use of a Stratasys Objet 260 Connex2 printer to make aluminum tools in days for molding up to a million parts. The firm can produce samples from 3-D printed cavities in hours. Phoenix Proto has collaborated for about five years with Toshiba Machine Co. America and had a presence in Toshiba's NPE 2015 booth.
Prototyping, casting and machining service provider Scion Technologies Corp. of Valencia, Calif., is a certified ProParts partner for 3D Systems and utilizes 3D Systems' stereolithography, selective laser sintering and advanced technology and materials.
Cimquest Inc. of Branchburg, N.J., resells Stratasys equipment in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, lower New York State and western Connecticut and, through its Rapid Inspection LLC subsidiary, provides external and internal measurements of molded plastic parts using scanning technology from Iris 3D Solutions of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The Standard Machines Inc. division of Comdec Inc. in Newburyport, Mass., is marketing digital light processing technology that can transfer an entire image layer by layer. SMI represents Hueway Technology (Hong Kong) Co. Ltd. of Shenzhen, China.
InterPro LLC of Deep River, Conn., acquired two Boy 50-ton injection molding presses as an adjunct to its custom additive manufacturing, prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services. For prototyping, InterPro operates legacy 3D Systems machines that can use Somos stereolithography materials from Royal DSM NV of Heerlen, the Netherlands, rather than costlier proprietary 3D Systems resins.
HP in the wings
Major corporations including Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., are exploring the market.
As part of a “blended reality” initiative, HP is developing its version of 3-D printing with thermal inkjet-based Multi Jet Fusion technology. Observers including Wohlers believe HP's deep resources and technological reach could rewrite the rules for the 3-D printing industry.
Among smaller players, publicly traded ExOne Co. and Voxeljet AG are early-stage makers of 3-D printing machines.
ExOne uses a jetting technology to deposit layers of powdered industrial-metal materials and chemical binder agents. ExOne of North Huntingdon, Pa., reported a loss of $21.8 million on 2014 sales of $40.9 million.
Voxeljet of Friedberg, Germany, manufactures industrial 3-D printing systems and operates service centers in Germany, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Voxeljet reported a loss of $5.2 million on 2014 sales of $19.6 million. Ingo Ederer, CEO and founder, told analysts he does not expect Voxeljet to be profitable until 2017.
Another provider, computer-program specialist Materialise NV of Leuven, Belgium, focuses on 3-D printing software, surgical implant solutions and industrial production and had a profit of $2.27 million on 2014 sales of $98.9 million. On March 12, Materialise reported its acquisition of software developer CENAT of Ghent, Belgium, from Test & Measurement Solutions.
America Makes pushes 3-D
The federal government encourages 3-D printing technology through the America Makes innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.
The institute, part of the new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, was established in August 2012 and aims through Defense Department and private funding to boost U.S. design, material, technology and workforce capabilities in 3-D printing. America Makes has a network of more than 100 companies, non-profits, academic institutions and government agencies.
Forecast 3D's Donovan Weber believes the America Makes institute is “trying to tie into what can be a great opportunity to champion our domestic manufacturing to remain here in the states. Additive manufacturing helps support the idea of a ‘re-shoring' of manufacturing back to America, work that was given away to the rest of the world by our grandfathers and fathers before us.”