25 Key Milestones Driving Additive Manufacturing in 2019
04 December 2019
2019 marks yet another positive year for the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. This year, the industry has continued to mature into a production-ready process, with more companies adopting the technology or ramping up their involvement in the industry.
To highlight the evolution of AM, we’ve compiled a list of the key milestones that shaped the industry in 2019.
1. Desktop Metal delivers its first Production System
In March, Desktop Metal delivered its first Production System to a currently undisclosed Fortune 500 company. First unveiled in 2017, Desktop Metal’s Production System is powered by its Single Pass Jetting technology, which it says, makes it more than 100 times faster than quad-laser metal printers, 4 times faster than the closest binder jetting alternative and up to 20 times lower cost-per-part than today’s metal 3D printers.
With the machine officially in the field, the industry is eager to see if the Production System can truly deliver what its name suggests.
In addition to that announcement, Desktop Metal has also recently launched the Shop System at Formnext. The new 3D printer is designed to bridge the gap between the Studio and Production systems.
These 2 milestones are particularly crucial for the advancement of metal binder jetting technology, which could soon become a new high-volume production method.
2. HP launches a new line of Jet Fusion 3D printers
In the polymer segment, HP continues to innovate its Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology. In May, the company unveiled the 5200 series of its MJF 3D printers.
The new 5200 series is part of a natural progression at the company. While the 500/300 series of 3D printers targeted functional prototyping, and the 4200 series is aimed at short runs and production, the newest series is targeting volume production, with accuracy and repeatability likened to injection moulding.
Among the most notable features of the 5200 Series is the upgraded power of lamps inside 5200 3D printers. This enables the new system to fuse powder in a single pass, as opposed to a two-pass mode in the previous systems. As a result, the system has 40 per cent improvement in productivity and opens up possibilities for 3D printing of high-temperature materials.
Early users are reporting good results so far. Wind turbine producer, Vestas, for instance, is using the technology and TPU material to produce protection components for their windmill blades. HP itself is also leveraging its technology to produce components for its other printing machines.
Clearly, this announcement broadens the company’s AM operations significantly and enables HP customers to truly exploit digital manufacturing.
3. AI-powered multi-material 3D printing from Inkbit
Earlier this year, Inkbit, a start-up of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), unveiled an industrial 3D printer with machine-vision and machine-learning technologies.
While Stratasys’ PolyJet process, which is capable of delivering a wide variety of textures and colours of UV-curable plastics, has been on the market for a while, this technology is mainly used for prototyping.
Inkbit, on the other hand, envisions production applications for its new technology. To make this possible, the company is equipping its machine with machine-vision and machine-learning systems.
The vision system comprehensively scans each layer of the object as it’s printed, to correct errors in real-time, while the machine-learning system uses this information to predict the warping behaviour of materials and make more accurate final products. This combination also opens up the technology to a wider variety of materials than are found in traditional ink-jetting 3D printers.
This development marks important milestones: one is for multi-material 3D printing, which could soon be used to make end-use products, and the other is the use of AI, which enables greater process precision and automation.
The two combined could ultimately lead to a major breakthrough in polymer 3D printing. Inkbit’s printer is currently available to select customers, including Johnson & Johnson, as part of an early release programme. The first systems will ship to select customers in 2021.
4. EOS’ Fine Detail Resolution (FDR) 3D printer
At this year’s Formnext, EOS showcased its Fine Detail Resolution (FDR) polymer-based 3D printing technology. The new process uses a CO laser to 3D print delicate, yet robust, polymer components with fine detail resolution surfaces and a minimum wall thickness of 0.22 mm.
EOS claims that it’s the first manufacturer to develop a CO laser solution for powder-based industrial 3D printing. The majority of current SLS machines use one, or a few CO₂ lasers.
The CO laser type creates an ultra-fine laser beam that has a focus diameter reportedly half the size of current SLS technologies. One important consequence of this added precision is new exposure parameters that can result in parts with extremely fine surfaces.
In addition to new technology, EOS also launched a Shared Modules set-up, which is a series of peripheral devices to help automate and accelerate AM in production.
The modular hardware enables users to implement equipping, unpacking, transporting and sieving activities parallel to the AM build process.
EOS’s developments indicate the growing demand for professional, production-ready solutions, suggesting that the technology is rapidly coming of age.
5. Markforged reveals AI software Blacksmith
3D printing software is becoming smarter, as more companies are starting to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the technology. Markforged’s Blacksmith software is one example, marking the ongoing evolution in advanced AM software.
‘The first example of Adaptive Manufacturing’, as the company calls it, Blacksmith is a software that makes manufacturing machines ‘aware’, so they can automatically adjust programing to ensure every part is produced as designed.
Essentially, this means closed-loop control, where designs are analysed and then compared to scans of the part, and the process is automatically modified to build the parts as they were intended.
Markforged believes its Blacksmith AI tool will be ‘particularly powerful’ as the adoption of metal AM grows, ensuring that the production process is repeatable and accurate.
The more data Blacksmith is given, the tighter the tolerances it will get when producing parts. In 3D printing, Markforged is currently producing tolerances comparable to casting. The pursuit of the Blacksmith platform is to get as close to the digital CAD file as possible.
Ultimately, software like Blacksmith is a stepping stone for digital manufacturing. According to Markforged, 3D printing is just the beginning. The company envisions that its Blacksmith AI could connect all machines in a factory. It will eventually enable a generation of machines that know what they’re supposed to make and can adjust themselves to produce the right part every time.
6. nTopology launches nTop Platform
While 3D printer capabilities are steadily advancing, mainstream CAD software packages have often lagged behind, unsuited to the specific design requirements of additive.
One company, however, aims to meet the challenges of Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) head on.
Founded just four years ago, nTopology has rapidly become one of the leading generative software tools, enabling engineers to design complex geometries for AM. In order to expand capabilities beyond lattice design, to address the entire engineering workflow, the company introduced the nTop Platform this summer.
With the release of nTop Platform, we’re beginning to see design tools that are specifically able to take advantage of 3D printing technology.
For example, the software enables users to create lighter, higher-performing parts with functional requirements built right in. nTop Platform achieves this by importing CAD designs and converting them into a field representation. Once done, engineers using the platform can very rapidly perform different operations, like topology optimisation and simulation, that would be astoundingly complicated using other separate tools.
Furthermore, nTop’s algorithm is very capable of handling large 3D models that would be difficult to handle in other systems. For example, simulating a large radiator surface would be extremely difficult, but is easy in nTop Platform.
Achieving faster and easier 3D printing design process is one of the key software trends within the industry. Solutions like the one from nTopology could ultimately offer the key, unlocking a much more optimised design workflow for 3D printing.
7. MSC’s Apex Generative Design Software
Earlier this year, software company, Hexagon, acquired AMendate, a German provider of topology optimisation software for AM. AMendate has now been added to Hexagon’s MSC Software, which provides CAE simulation software, with the company announcing the launch of its MSC Apex Generative Design software.
Reportedly, the software provides a high degree of automation for design processes and is also reported to have the potential to improve productivity by up to 80 per cent compared to traditional topology optimisation tools.
3D printing requires a new generation of software solutions that take full advantage of the new design freedoms made possible with the technology. The MSC Apex software could become such a tool. Taking design requirements into account, the software will generate multiple lightweight design alternatives that provide optimal stress distribution and minimised part weight. The software also employs an intelligent smoothing technology that ensures 3D models have a smooth, professional finish.
Combined, these benefits could bring about a simplified design workflow and even reduce the number of design iterations – which can result in significant time saving.
8. Jabil establishes a Materials Innovation Center
Material development and production has been among the key trends shaping AM in 2019.
The year kicked off with Jabil launching a separate business unit, Jabil Engineered Materials, and a 46,000 sq. ft Materials Innovation Center.
The limited choice of materials has been a significant obstacle to the adoption of 3D printing, according to the company. To overcome this, the new unit focuses on developing, validating and bringing to market engineered materials for industrial 3D printing.
When developing materials, Jabil takes application requirements – from its own units, using 3D printing or external customers – and converts them into materials that can be printed.
Importantly, Jabil will not only use new materials internally, but will also provide them to the open market, so that more companies can benefit from a wider material choice. So far, the company has launched PETg, PETg ESD, TPU 90 A and TPU 90 A ESD, but it plans to deliver more in the future.
Creating new materials is only one way Jabil serves AM users. Establishing confidence in existing materials for new applications is yet another goal the company pursues.
Excitingly, Jabil anticipates a future in which it will routinely use 3D printing as a high-volume production method, with facilities distributed around the globe. Reliable and production-ready materials will be one of the keys to making this future a reality.
Jabil is making a concerted effort to integrate materials into its AM business, to offer the full package. This engagement in 3D printing could ultimately help to advance the AM industry as a whole.
9. Sandvik’s diamond composites for 3D printing
There have also been a number of milestones achieved in the composite 3D printing segment. Perhaps the most impressive of them is the first-ever 3D printable diamond composite, developed by Sandvik.
But why 3D print a diamond composite?
Diamonds are considered to be some of the hardest structures on the planet. Outside of the realms of jewellery, diamonds are widely used for industrial applications.
Although the creation of synthetic diamonds is nothing new, the process can be both costly and complex, while producing complex shapes of this material is almost impossible.
And this is where 3D printing comes in.
The technology is hailed for its ability to bring complex designs to life, which can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with conventional manufacturing.
It is important to note that Sandvik is not directly printing with diamonds but with a composite material. The major part of the material is diamond but in order to print it, it needs to be cemented in a hard matrix material, keeping the most important physical properties of pure diamond.
Upon testing, Sandvik has reported exceptional hardness and heat conductivity, as well as low density, corrosion resistance and good thermal expansion of its new material.
We’re excited to see how industries will use diamond composite 3D printing. According to Sandvik, the impact of this new material will be seen in advanced industrial applications, from wear parts to space programs, in just a few years from now.
10. Henkel joins SYMPA project to develop SLA materials for automotive
‘We have a set of materials that are fairly well accepted today within the automotive space. So what we’d really like to see is the [AM] industry starting to adapt some of those materials. That would make our testing and validation, as well as our application use, a lot more suitable for 3D printing’, says Harold Sears, Ford’s AM Technical Leader, speaking in an interview with AMFG.
And the industry seems to be responding to this demand. One of the milestones achieved in this direction is Henkel’s involvement in the German SYMPA project, aimed at advancing new materials and stereolithography (SLA) processes for the automotive sector.
The project partners see vast potential in the use of SLA technologies for automotive applications, especially in the production of custom parts and products. Thus, SYMPA aims to overcome some of the weaknesses of current SLA materials, including low mechanical properties, low durability and low UV stability.
One of the key areas Henkel will contribute to, will be to develop new photosensitive polymers, with increased long-term thermal and mechanical properties.
Thanks to the project, automotive 3D printing could reach a significant milestone, enabling automakers to create reliable, customised parts for cars.
11. Integrating metal AM in automotive series production
The automotive industry is one of the sectors with the biggest opportunity for 3D printing adoption. That’s why companies and research institutions are working hard to translate 3D printing into industrialised, highly automated production processes for car manufacturing.
The Industrialization and Digitalization of Additive Manufacturing (IDAM) project from Germany marks the milestone for automotive 3D printing.
Twelve project partners plan to create AM production lines capable of producing at least 50,000 components per year in common parts production and more than 10,000 individual and spare parts under the highest quality and cost pressure.
In addition, the unit costs of the 3D-printed metal components are to be more than halved, according to the project.
Coordinated by the BMW Group, the IDAM project will run for the next 3 years, helping to establish metal 3D printing sustainably in production.
12. AMFG’s partnerships with EOS and Autodesk
Earlier this month we announced our partnerships with EOS and Autodesk. We believe these partnerships will be instrumental in helping to further streamline AM workflows.
The EOS partnership is aimed at connecting machines to software platforms to enable customers of EOS machines to easily manage their entire AM operations, using our Manufacturing Execution System (MES).
Through AMFG’s MES software, EOS customers can also prepare build jobs and set important parameters, like part orientation. Builds can then be sliced and the data sent directly to an EOS 3D printing system.
In the case of the Autodesk partnership, our MES software will be linked with Autodesk’s design and simulation software, Netfabb®, to provide an integrated digital workflow from design to production.
Introducing connectivity and interoperability across the AM workflow, is a crucial piece to achieving a truly end-to-end workflow. Finally, connecting machines within a single platform will enable seamless data flow, which will provide traceability and scalability needed to help push AM to industrialisation.
Investments and acquisitions
13. Stryker’s investment in 3D-printed implants
In 2019, 3D printing in the medical industry has seen a lot of investment activities. The biggest among them has arguably been Stryker’s investment of €200 million (around $225.8 million) into R&D at its facilities in Ireland. This investment includes the AMagine Institute, which is responsible for the development of 3D printed implants for the spine, head and joints.
Such commitment from Stryker is indicative of the huge potential 3D printing holds for orthopaedic treatments.
For more than a decade, 3D printing has been used to produce implants that often demonstrate better performance than traditional alternatives. Furthermore, 3D printing enables implants to be specifically designed to fit a patient’s anatomy, providing a treatment option, where reconstruction with a traditional implant would have been difficult to impossible.
With this investment, Stryker is advancing medical 3D printing and creating an opportunity for more people to benefit from longer-lasting and better-fitting implants, possible with this technology.
14. Carbon raises over $260 million in growth funding
Carbon’s growth funding of $260 million has been among the hottest investment news this year. The most recent influx of cash took the company’s total fundraising up to $680 million and its post-money valuation to over $2.4 billion.
Having been established in 2013, Carbon has continued to expand its portfolio of DLS hardware and material products, as well as ensuring regular updates to its software.
Its machines are now operational around the world, with the company reporting a 33-fold increase in print volumes and a 5-fold increase in print hours in the last 12 months. Users include Adidas, Ford and Riddell, and with this wave of investment, the company looks set to keep the ball rolling towards manufacturing parts at scale.
15. Sandvik’s acquisition of a stake in BeamIT
In addition to investments, 2019 saw a number of strategic moves from large industrial companies. This summer, for example, Swedish engineering tools group, Sandvik, announced the acquisition of a 30 per cent stake in metal AM specialist, BeamIT.
Sandvik joined the AM market in 2013, looking to harness its wealth of experience in materials and post-processing methods to bring powder alloys to market and advise customers through the entire 3D printing process.
Prior to the acquisition, the company integrated its Powder division into its AM division, to bring these offerings together under one business unit. The investment in BeamIT is in line with the company’s ambition to have a growing presence in the wider manufacturing industry – a presence it hopes to achieve by investing in AM.
Like Sandvik, BeamIT has big ambitions in the additive space, projecting an increased demand for parts in the coming years. With Sandvik as a partner and owner, it’s well-positioned to meet that demand head on.
16. GKN’s acquisition of Forecast 3D
Another notable acquisition came from British industrial and automotive corporation, GKN, which acquired US-based 3D printing service provider, Forecast 3D, this year.
With this acquisition, GKM, specialising in metal 3D printing, will be able to cross-promote AM both in metal and plastic.
The move also enables GKN to have a greater reach across the US market and to tap into a completely new line of business, which is polymer AM.
Both GKN and Forecast 3D have also been pioneers in using HP’s metals and plastics platforms. As foundational partners in the HP Digital Manufacturing Network, this acquisition brings together 2 parts producers to further accelerate AM of final parts en masse for customers globally.
17. BASF’s acquisition of Sculpteo
Just a few weeks ago, BASF, one of the largest chemical producers in the world, announced its acquisition of French 3D printing specialist, Sculpteo.
The acquisition will help Forward AM, a subsidiary of BASF dedicated to 3D printing, market and produce new 3D printing materials at a faster pace.
Through the acquisition of Sculpteo, BASF will also be able to provide customers and partners with faster access to 3D printing solutions.
Ultimately, expanding across the AM value chain becomes a key trend within the industry, suggesting that large materials manufacturers now increasingly recognise 3D printing as a viable technology for industrial mass production.
18. A collection of standards for metal AM from the Metal Powder Industries Federation
Standardisation continues to play a crucial role in instilling confidence in AM as a production technology. Although developing of standards is a lengthy and resource-intensive process, there’s a strong push from the industry for more standards.
As a result of this push, the Metal Powder Industries Foundation (MPIF) has published ‘A Collection of Powder Characterization Standards for Metal Additive Manufacturing’ at the beginning of 2019.
A compilation of 9 existing test methods, relating to metallic powdered feedstock, the document is intended to help designers and manufacturers to achieve greater control over metal AM.
Last month, MPIF also released a revised edition of its AM standards collection.
19. Standards portal
Last summer, the America Makes and ANSI Additive Manufacturing Standardization Collaborative (AMSC) published the second version of its ‘Standardization Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing’. The roadmap identifies existing standards and specifications, as well as those in development, assesses gaps, and makes recommendations for areas that most need standards.
AMSC hasn’t stopped just with that, and this year it presented a new way to obtain current information about AM standards. Last month it announced the availability of an online portal through which members and the public would be able to easily access current documentation.
The portal provides a way for the community to observe and track progress in the AMSC, regarding the development of AM standards, The portal shows the AMSC standards development roadmap, where visitors can see the next steps being undertaken.
This provides more transparency into where we’re currently at with standards development.
20. The first specifications for polymer AM from SAE International
As the use of 3D printing in the aerospace industry is growing, there’s a greater need for standards to enable companies to use the technology in end-part production.
To meet this need, SAE International released the first AM Polymer specifications for the aerospace industry. These standards were created following a request from airlines through the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s EMG to be able to 3D print cabin parts.
The 2 standards specify the requirements for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM®) or other material extrusion process and materials used with this technology. Users can use the documents to approve new machines, processes and materials, as well as verify the appropriate configuration and testing methodology.
21. Ford and Carbon debut 3D-printed automotive parts
At the beginning of 2019, Carbon hit the headlines with the first 3D-printed parts in production for Ford.
Together, the companies have developed Ford Focus HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling) Lever Arm Service Parts, Ford F-150 Raptor Auxiliary Plugs, and Ford Mustang GT500 Electric Parking Brake Brackets.
These components were created using Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) 3D printing technology and EPX (epoxy) 82 material and have passed all of Ford’s performance standards and requirements.
With these applications, it’s clear that Ford is laying the foundation to be able to do some pretty impressive things with AM.
‘Additive manufacturing is going to continue to be ingrained more and more into the daily part of what we do as a business’, Ford’s Technical Leader of AM Technologies, Harold Sears, explained in AMFG’s Expert Interview series. ‘Instead of being an exception to the norm, it’s going to be much more accepted as the way it’s done.’
22. The take-off of 3D-printed bike components
This year has seen a handful of specialised bike manufacturers integrating 3D-printed components into their products.
For example, Franco Bicycles has launched a new line of eBikes, featuring a 3D-printed composite frame manufactured by California-based start-up, Arevo. Part of the Emery bike range, the frame is featured in the Emery ONE eBike, making it the world’s first bike with a 3D-printed frame.
One of the unique aspects behind the production of the 3D-printed carbon-fibre frame is that it was manufactured as a single part, as opposed to a multi-piece assembly that is typical for traditional bike frames. Enabling this is Arevo’s proprietary robotic 3D printing process and patented generative design software.
Thanks to 3D printing, the lead time for the Emery ONE bike frame has been reduced from an 18 months cycle to just a few days.
Then the Dutch company MX3D, renowned for its 3D-printed steel bridge, unveiled its Arc Bike II with a 3D-printed aluminium frame. Designed to be lighter and easily customisable, the Arc Bike II has been 3D-printed in just 24 hours, using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing technology, which is very similar to Direct Energy Deposition.
More recently, Gamux, a bike components manufacturer, has launched a new range of 3D-printed bike parts. Among them are Garmin top caps, spring spacers and steerer tube spacers. The latter, for example, is only 1.75 g (10 mm), which makes it one of the lightest spacers in the world, even lighter than its carbon counterparts.
It seems that the trend of using 3D printing for bike manufacturing is really getting traction, enabling more companies to create lightweight and higher-performing bicycles
23. Rocket Lab’s 100th 3D-Printed Rocket Engine
In July, Rocket Lab, a California-based aerospace company, completed the 100th 3D-printed Rutherford rocket engine. The company has been using 3D printing for all of its primary engine components (including combustion chambers, injectors, pumps and main propellant valves) since 2013.
Nine Rutherford liquid-propellant engines power Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which is made from composites and can carry up to 225 kg of payload. The engine parts are 3D- printed using Electron Beam Melting (EBM) technology, which is said to produce engine parts cheaper than conventional processes.
According to Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, the engine has ‘played an integral part in enabling Rocket Lab to make the frequent and reliable launch a reality for small satellites’.
Recently, Rocket Lab proved the reliability of 3D-printed engines once again, successfully launching 4 satellites in orbit with its Electron launcher.
24. Volvo Trucks 3D prints 500 manufacturing tools and fixtures
Having used 3D printing for prototyping for several years, Volvo Trucks North America recently achieved the milestone of manufacturing 500 3D-printed tools. Among them are roof seal gauges, fuse installation platens, drilling fixtures, power steering adapter holders, luggage door gap gauges and luggage door pins.
Each of these parts was produced at the Volvo Innovative Projects lab. The lab enables the company to produce components in-house, using primarily selective laser sintering (SLS) technologies.
The adoption of SLS 3D printing is enabling Volvo Trucks engineers to design parts and print them in a matter of hours – resulting in faster turnaround times and cost savings.
In one example, Volvo says it was able to save over $1,000 per part for a one-piece diffuser used in the paint atomiser cleaning process. In this case, AM also enabled the company to consolidate the traditionally multi-component piece into one part.
While the technology has only been in use for several years, it’s already proving to be a valuable addition to the manufacturing process at Volvo Trucks, significantly saving production time and parts costs, and continually improving quality.
25. New Balance and Formlabs collaborate on 3D-printed sneakers
This year, the sneaker industry has also been shaken up by the partnership between New Balance and Formlabs.
In September, New Balance revealed that it had updated its TripleCell 3D printing platform with the addition of a new sneaker: the FuelCell Echo Triple.
The key innovation behind New Balance’s 3D printed shoes is the Rebound Resin material, which was co-developed with Formlabs. The material combines a number of sought-after characteristics for running shoes, including springiness, support and durability.
This material has been used to 3D print the heel of the 990 Sport sneakers and the forefoot of the latest FuelCell Echo Triple shoes, both featuring a complex lattice structure design.
According to New Balance, 3D printing allowed it to drastically shorten its design-to-manufacturing cycles and completely revamped how they approach the design of their shoes.
2019: Driving AM industrialisation
While these are some of the most prominent milestones in 2019, they are just the tip of the iceberg, with myriads of other developments, partnerships and applications shaping the industry in 2019.
Combined into a bigger picture, they point to an obvious, yet very exciting, trend: the AM industry is becoming stronger, bigger and more consolidated.
Despite the fact that there are still some challenges to overcome, the number of AM applications continues to grow, as industry stakeholders push for more technological solutions. With these advancements, 2020 looks set to continue its trajectory of new opportunities and growth.