Petar Stefanov, Founder & CTO of Spectroplast AG, on the Benefits of Silicone 3D Printing

Expert Interviews

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3D printing is becoming a more intelligent process, as more companies look to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the technology. One example is Inkbit, a US-based start-up, which has developed a multi-material inkjet 3D printing ‘with eyes and brains’.
Although multi-material 3D printing has been around for a while, the technology has been used primarily for prototyping purposes. Inkbit aims to revolutionise the technology by developing an inkjet 3D printer capable of end-part production.
To learn more about the new multi-material technology, we caught up with CEO of Inkbit, Davide Marini. 
In the interview, Marini explains what makes Inkbit’s technology so unique, its key applications and also shares the company's outlook for the year ahead. 

Can you tell me about Inkbit?

[caption id="attachment_12146" align="alignright" width="225"]Davide Marini Inkbit Davide Marini, CEO of Inkbit=[/caption] I was introduced to the inventors of Inkbit’s technology while they were still working on their early prototype at MIT.  At the time I knew very little about 3D printing, yet the idea of endowing a machine with a set of eyes immediately captured my imagination. We eventually spun Inkbit out of MIT in the Summer of 2017.   The key differentiating aspect of our technology is a vision system, integrated inside our 3D printer, that makes the machine intelligent.   As you know, 3D printing works layer by layer, but in our machine each layer is scanned at micron resolution immediately after deposition. If there are any deviations from the expected geometry, they are immediately corrected in real time by remapping the next layer.    This element takes care of all the random errors. For example, it could be a clogged nozzle in the printhead, or any type of error that is not predictable. The interesting aspect of having an integrated vision system is that, not only does it allow us to correct these random errors, but it also allows us to predict material behaviour during the print process.    And we do this because we have access to the data set from each scan of every layer. Let's say, for example, that a material tends to shrink; because we scan every layer, the machine can learn the particular behaviour of that particular material. So the next time it will print a slightly larger geometry to compensate for shrinkage in advance.   It is because we have a vision system integrated into the machine, and have endowed the machine with a set of eyes, that we can now build specialized AI algorithms to pre-empt the systematic errors that may come from specific material behaviour, such as shrinkage, or flow, etc.    There is also another advantage: every part we print comes with a digital record. This is possible because we scan every layer so we can, essentially, reconstruct - almost like in a medical CT scan - each part at the end of the print. This enables customers to perform 100% quality control.    Let's say, for example, that you want to print a very intricate fluid manifold, with an intricate structure of internal channels. How do you know that what you printed is actually what you wanted?    In our case we know, because the print was scanned at every layer. That's a big advantage for the customer.    Lastly, thanks to our vision system, our printer manufactures parts in a purely contactless way. So there's no need for a mechanical flattening device, which is today required by material jetting. And this allows us to print with better materials.    As can be seen, we have lots of advantages, but they all come down to one single principle, which is the idea of a vision system integrated into the machine.   [caption id="attachment_12148" align="aligncenter" width="840"]Inkbit 3D printer Inkbit's technology is powered by AI and machine vision [Image credit: Inkbit][/caption] 

How does your technology differ from other technologies that are currently available?

In terms of the benefits to the customer, there is not a single solution today, at least to the best of my knowledge, that allows for 3D printing of different materials in the same part, and with production-grade materials.    If you imagine a two by two matrix, where on the X-axis we put, say, single material versus multi-material, and on the Y-axis we put prototyping versus production -  that two by two matrix is fully populated, with the exception of one box: multi-material for production.    Today, nobody plays in that space because there is no technology to do that. For example, Polyjet machines make stunningly beautiful parts, but these printers were designed for making prototypes, or parts that look and feel like the real products but cannot be used in the real world. This is mainly because the materials were not intended for that purpose; they’re not capable of withstanding the harsh treatment they would receive in a part, say for example, for a car.     Similarly, technologies like Multi Jet Fusion and FDM, can make parts with excellent mechanical properties, but they're all single-material parts.    Our technology enables to harness the power of inkjet, a technology that has been around for many years, and use it into the world of production.   Our machine is designed for production, for making parts that contain, for example, both a soft and a rigid area, in the same build. Say, for example, you want to build an athletic running shoe that contains both rigid and soft parts in the same print. We want to be able to do that. In terms of applications, we're looking at the medical field where you sometimes need multi-material parts.   In terms of benefits for the customer, we want to develop a multi-material platform, with production-grade materials and with the type of reliability and consistency that is needed for real high-volume production parts, and in a format that enables 100 per cent quality control.  

Could you expand on the types of materials you produce and their benefits, in terms of applications?

At the moment, we have 3 materials, with plans to develop more in the future.   First, we have an epoxy that is a high-temperature-resistant material. And this can be used in applications like electronics, or in areas that require the movement and distribution of high-temperature fluids. Our material is a real epoxy, not a mixture of different chemistries.    The other 2 materials are rigid and elastomeric biocompatible materials. The elastomeric material is particularly interesting, because it has a very high elongation at break -  about 800%.   [caption id="attachment_12157" align="aligncenter" width="600"]PinchValveClipped A 3D printed pinch valve [Image credit: Inkbit] [/caption]

Inkbit has recently announced a $12 million funding round. What does this mean for Inkbit going forward and how does it play into your future plans?

We decided to invite strategic investors to Inkbit, because we very much believe in partnerships. And I believe that in order to develop the best machines and to make the best technologies, especially in 3D printing, it requires expertise in so many different areas.    For example, to  make an outstanding 3D printing machine for production, requires expertise in three different areas. It requires mastering hardware, chemistry, and cutting edge software, especially when we're talking about AI.    So it's just really, really difficult, especially for a start-up company, to master all 3, because it's equivalent to starting 3 different companies.    I really like partnering with existing leading companies that are experts in their field. Together, we can bring to the world something truly spectacular. And so I've invited companies in all these areas.   We’ve two materials companies -  DSM and 3M - some of the world's leading materials companies, and Stratasys, who is the world's leading 3D printing company, especially because they invented inkjet. So they are the world's experts in inkjet technology.    We also have a British company, Ocado. The reason why we really like them is because they bring us specific applications in robotics.  

What are some of the challenges you see when it comes to accelerating adoption of 3D printing?

The first thing, I would say, is materials. We don't have materials, yet, that are at least equivalent to non-3D-printed materials, at least in the field of polymers. I would even venture to say that 3D printing should be able to offer better materials than the ones that are available today for injection molding, but there is still a long way to go. So materials is the number one challenge.    The second challenge is the reliability and accuracy of the machines.  That is, making sure that the machines consistently make parts that are faithful to their 3D model and can operate continuously for long stretches of time.    And the third one, I would say, has to do with the mindset of the product designer, where engineers and product designers are still accustomed to thinking in terms of injection moulding, while 3D printing offers a much wider design space. It will take time to make people aware of the opportunities offered by 3D printing. But this is more of an opportunity than a challenge.  

How are you going about addressing the challenge of changing people’s mindset?

The way we’re doing this, is by focusing on applications and developing both the materials and the machine in close collaboration with our customers.    So, as an example, we have been working with Johnson and Johnson on a product that they were manufacturing with injection moulding. But when they came to us, they invited us to offer our own input into the design itself, which required designing a new 3D printable material.   In collaboration with J&J, we have designed a specific material for this application. Since our system is very modular, we’ll also be able to design an entire machine that will make the product.    Consequently, our approach to the market will be very applications-driven. This means that we want to be close to the customer; we want to first know exactly what product the customer will want to create, and then we'll design the entire work.   

How do you see additive manufacturing evolving over the next 5 years?

I think AM has the potential to change the world. I also think that we are lucky to live in a time where, in front of our eyes, there is a revolution happening in the way products are made. I'm actually very intrigued by the idea of offering the power of a manufacturing line to everybody.   

What will 2020 hold for Inkbit?

The most exciting aspect of the next year will be testing our machines at customer sites. So we will be building a few copies of our machine and it will be our alpha prototype. And we're looking for early adopters. We want to select a few sites, a few customers that are interested in testing the machine at their site.    This will happen within the next 18 months, once we have completed the final design round of our current prototype. And so I would say, within 18 months from now, we want to have at least 5 partnerships for 5 beta installations. So, that's going to be the most exciting aspect of taking our machine to the factory floor.    To learn more about Inkbit, visit: [post_title] => Expert Interview: Inkbit CEO, Davide Marini, on the Potential of Multi-Material Inkjet 3D Printing [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-inkbit-ceo-davide-marini-on-the-potential-of-multi-material-inkjet-3d-printing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-10 08:56:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-10 08:56:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => German multinational engineering and technology company, Bosch, is perhaps the world’s largest supplier of automotive components and an important supplier of industrial technologies, consumer goods, plus energy and building technology.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the company is also heavily involved in additive manufacturing (AM). The technology expedites time-to-market for new products when used for prototyping and, when used for production, it can introduce more flexibility and agility into a supply chain by printing certain components faster and on-demand.  
Bosch uses AM across all of its company divisions and also has a centre of competence dedicated to 3D printing. 
To learn more about how Bosch applies 3D printing across its business, we’re joined today by Jan Tremel, Head of the Center of Competence for 3D Printing (CoC), which belongs to the Powertrain Solutions unit. 
With Jan, we discover what benefits AM brings to Bosch, the challenges of adopting 3D printing in-house, as well as the current state and future of 3D printing in the automotive industry. 
Could you tell me a bit about your background and how you became involved in AM? 

[caption id="attachment_12106" align="aligncenter" width="800"]tremel 3D printing at Bosch  Jan Tremel, Head of the Center of Competence for 3D Printing [Image credit:  Bosch] [/caption]

I first became involved between 2006 and 2007, during the period when the RepRap movement began to gain traction. 
I was fascinated by the technology and built my first 3D printer myself at university. 
At Bosch, I thought of how much simpler it would be if we had access to a small 3D printer. This idea inspired me to make several proposals, which eventually led to creating a centre of competence. 
At this point, Bosch recognised that they would have to integrate this technology, for both plastics and metals, to be able to use it in their ongoing developments for the combustion engine parts that we provide to the market. 
I'm currently located in the Powertrain Solutions business unit. It brings in nearly one-quarter of Bosch’s total revenue per year and incorporates around one-quarter of all the associates of Bosch. Here we try to implement 3D printing in serious projects, like high-pressure pumps for gasoline and diesel, injectors and other hydraulic systems. 
You're currently leading the Center of Competence for 3D Printing. Could you tell me about the work you're doing there and how you're applying the technology?
At Bosch, we have several centres of competence.  
To give you an overview, at Bosch we're divided into 4 major branches. This means we have one branch for building technologies, for example, security cameras, microphones for large arenas, etc.
Another unit is responsible for consumer goods, from ovens to washing machines. 
Then we have the Industrial Technology unit, which specialises in special machinery for heavy industries. 
Finally, my unit is Powertrain Solutions, which is the automotive area. All the units that I’ve described have their own teams that are responsible for the implementation of AM into their product lines. 
In my unit, 50 per cent of my work is devoted to engineering new products. This means that I support my colleagues in the product development department, using 3D-printed components in the new products. 
This requires creating innovative new applications that will benefit from the complexity of the design made possible with 3D printing.
On the other side, I also collaborate with all our manufacturing plants. This means I'm enabling or educating people working directly on assembly lines and on the manufacturing floors, so that they're able to use AM in their daily work. 
Let me give you one example: a maintenance team has a task to keep a production line up and running all day long. And they need, for example, grippers replacement that they can attach to a robot to replace broken parts and prevent downtime.
So I'm organising workshops with them, to show them what's possible with standard materials and a simple 3D printer, so that they can create this replacement part for their equipment. 
Furthermore, we are actively targeting cost reduction scenarios, for example, where we can replace existing designs with 3D-printed parts to save money internally. For example, we have a lot of testing devices that can be improved. With 3D printing, you can improve cycle time of the station itself and, therefore, improve the performance of the whole line. This helps us keep costs down and reduce waste.
What value does 3D printing bring to the automotive industry?
AM adds another useful process to an already well-established process portfolio. In automotive, we use processes like milling and turning, we can coat parts and do plastic injection moulding. These processes are all well understood. 
But all of these processes have certain limitations when it comes to design flexibility and ability to iterate. 
In the automotive industry, production cycles are getting shorter. This means you want to test parts and designs very quickly. In this regard, standard processes can be very expensive and take quite a long time. 
Let me give you an example. If you need the moulding tool for a complicated plastic part, it could take up to 12 to 14 weeks, or even more, to produce. And with AM, you are able to generate the same result in a much quicker time, maybe in 2 to 4 weeks. 
This means you can have at least 3 iterations of a part with 3D printing, whereas with injection moulding you’d have just one that you can use to improve your component. This way, AM enables a much shorter iteration cycle that allows you to improve your component. 
This is just one area where 3D printing can help. 
In terms of series production, I expect that AM will be used to customise cars to a much greater extent than it is today.  It doesn’t make much sense to 3D print mass-produced components like seats or steering wheels. 
But if you have small production volumes, as is the case for luxury cars or sports cars today, AM can enable special parts to be produced for such cars more economically than if you produced them using a traditional technology. 
We’ll see this, first, in a very exclusive line of cars and with a very limited set of parts that are produced. 
As AM processes get faster and better, we’ll eventually see AM production volumes expanding from a few hundred parts to several thousand parts. 
Are there any challenges still to be overcome with AM to accelerate its transition to serial production?
There are a lot of barriers.
One is material limitations. There is still a long way for the industry to go before we have the right materials, both metals and plastics, for car applications. For example, some of our components will require high-quality steel that can withstand very high pressures.
Furthermore, if you take a look at a modern car, there are lots of components made of glass fibre filled plastic materials, that are either not available on the market at the moment, or much more expensive than the materials we use with traditional processes.
For example, you have a plastic component near a combustion motor. This part has very high-temperature requirements towards and is typically made from a polyamide which is filled with glass fibre. AM materials cannot make this part the same way and with the same characteristics we see with traditional plastics today. 
A machined material and an additively manufactured material would have totally different characteristics, because melting material layer by layer, creates an internal microstructure different from what we are used to with standard materials. 
Another barrier is a lack of accuracy and repeatability. There are still improvements to be made to AM systems to enable them to print the same parts across different printers with exact dimensions each and every time.
If you take a look at the connectors and other components that have very tiny holes and very tight tolerances, then this is also a challenge for 3D printers to produce. 
Finally,  we see a lot of manual processes in AM. Although, I admit, the industry is trying to introduce more automation, there are still a lot of manual processes, for example, powder removal in metal 3D printing, which makes the technology very cost-intensive.
Productivity is a crucial factor for the automotive industry, when it comes to AM adoption.   
How do you see AM evolving in the automotive industry over the next 5 years?
The automotive industry has a different approach to applications compared to the medical or aerospace sectors, where products usually have a long lifespan, e.g. 20 or more years for an aeroplane.
The price point in automotive production is also lower, and you have to have very tight price calculations. This means that AM will only be used if it has a clear cost benefit.
I'm quite cautious about saying that AM will be used for serious automotive components in the next few years. It definitely will continue to serve as an accelerator for product development.
It's still a long time before we will see additive manufacturing used for mass production within the automotive industry. 
Is it challenging to convince people of the value of 3D printing, or do you find that people are very receptive to adopting the technology?
It very much depends. When we started, we had quite a missionary approach to convince everybody that 3D printing is one of the greatest things in the world.
Today, we focus more on projects that really make a difference in production. Not everything that can be done additively, should be done with this technology. We're looking quite closely at applications that could benefit from 3D printing. 
In the 4 years since I joined, we’ve seen that many people also already have a printer at home. So we give them the opportunity to use a 3D printer, not only in their private life, but also at work to enable them to do something new.  
Are there any trends within the industry that you're excited about?
That's an interesting question.
I'm very interested in start-ups that can truly deliver on their promises. I’ve seen many start-ups that try to create a business model around a process that was not clearly developed.
But I'm fascinated by new processes that really work. In the plastics and metal areas, we see lots of interesting developments from the larger manufacturers that are getting truly serious about AM. 
Previously, people were happy when they had a part in hand, and you could tell them that it was 3D printed. Today, people care much more about all the technical details, so that the characteristics of the material that was printed are met. 
What I also like is that the market is getting more professional. This means that even for filaments you're able to get qualified technical data, which includes not only mechanical tensile stress, but also safety data sheets. That makes 3D printing much simpler to use in our daily work. 
What does 2020 hold for the Powertrain Solutions business unit at Bosch, when it comes to AM?
The next 12 months will have a clear focus on cost reduction and improving our manufacturing processes internally.
We’ll push for greater availability of 3D printing in Powertrain Solutions. This means there will be more possibilities for our people to use AM for small series to middle series production.%MINIFYHTML96f23783fe349dc6c8282a17ef49a28714% 
    [post_title] => Expert Interview: Jan Tremel on How Bosch Is Using 3D printing at Its Center of Competence
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    [post_content] => Post-processing has often been described as 3D printing’s ‘dirty little secret’. A necessary, yet highly manual and labour-intensive part of the 3D printing process, post-processing remains a huge challenge for companies looking to scale their additive manufacturing (AM) operations. However, this could all change, thanks to advancements in post-processing automation.  
In this week’s Expert Interview, we’re joined by Joseph Crabtree, CEO of Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), a UK-based company that develops automated post-processing solutions. With Joseph, we discuss why post-processing is important, how AMT’s post-processing technologies work and what the future holds for the industry.   

Can you tell me about AMT Technologies?

[caption id="attachment_11769" align="alignright" width="240"]Joseph Crabtree, AMT Technologies Founder and CEO Joseph Crabtree, Founder & CEO of AMT[/caption] We were formed in 2017, in Sheffield in the UK where our facilities include R&D operations, technical support, sales and applications development.    We've got a fully-owned manufacturing facility in Hungary, where we do all of our engineering, design work and manufacturing. That's quite a unique selling proposition of ours - the fact that we do all the design and manufacturing in-house. We've just opened up a 20,000 square foot facility in Austin, Texas, which is going to serve the US markets, and we’ve also just employed our first employee in the APAC region as well. We’re expanding globally and very rapidly.   The aim of the company is to truly enable industrial AM. So until now, companies have been regularly using AM for prototypes with some transitioning to low volume production applications, but really, what we're trying to do is help scale AM technology from low volume applications to full industrial capabilities. We want to make 3D printing a viable alternative to traditional manufacturing.   To be honest, as an industry, we're a long way from that. A lot of buzzwords are used, but actually, the biggest problem today is with 3D printers. Everyone has been concentrating on developing bigger, faster, better printers. That’s only one part of the puzzle. People are starting to focus more on the materials being printed, to bring costs down and increase material availability.    But the challenge remains that the parts coming off the 3D printers at the end of the process are often not suitable for end-use parts.    And when we talk about end-use parts, we’re talking about parts that could be used in surgical operations in the medical industry, or in footwear, aerospace interior applications, under-the-hood automotive applications, or in space applications, for example. None of these examples can be used directly from a 3D printer, unless you post-process or finish them.    And that bit has been overlooked until now because the focus has been on the 3D printers. It wasn't so much of an issue for producing low volumes of parts. The trade-off here was that while manually finishing the parts increased costs, the margins on these parts were higher.    Now that companies are assessing AM for production applications, at higher volumes, the margin is absolutely critical. When post-processing can account for up to 60 per cent of the part’s cost, it can become prohibitive and something needs to be done about it.   Our company focuses on the post-processing chain, and what we mean by that is everything after the print. So, in the case of powder-based AM, this includes the de-powdering stage and surface modification of the part, which means smoothing, sealing, colouring and otherwise enhancing the performance of a part.    The final step is inspection and quality control. AMT is bringing all of these steps in the process chain together with an automated end-to-end solution. It is a technology-agnostic approach, in that we work with all 3D printing technologies.    We are also focused on polymers and, specifically, thermoplastic polymers, which is in essence, powder bed and extrusion-based technologies. More than 95 polymers are validated for our systems. And in actuality, our goal is to provide that end-to-end automation system to the part.   Now with the investment from DSM Venturing and Foresight Group, Williams Advanced Engineering, we can actually complete what we call ‘the polymer to part ecosystem’. So essentially, what we're doing is considering the entire ecosystem for the first time. We look at the materials, we look at how to design the materials for 3D printing, and subsequently optimise the printing process according to material selection.    Fundamentally, what we're doing is material science, combined with mechanical engineering and automation. The post-processing stage enables the tailoring of mechanical properties of the printed part, such that the overall mechanical properties are improved compared with the part that comes directly off the machine.    Combining all of this is absolutely critical for us, and that's why all of our systems are industrial, targeted specifically at the industrial end-user.   

What are some of the current challenges companies face when it comes to post-processing specifically?

  The biggest problem is lack of awareness. So until fairly recently, not only did companies not understand about 3D printing, but they also had no idea that once you get a 3D printer, you have to do some post-processing to the part.    It’s a very difficult situation because the 3D printer manufacturers are never going to sell you a printer and say that the initial output is poor quality and, therefore, you're going to have to buy an additional piece of equipment.    They never spoke about post-processing, but the time and costs of post-processing far eclipse any of the benefits achieved through increased printing speeds. What we hope to enable, is for the printer manufacturers to get further market penetration, allowing them to offer a complete solution to their customers.    It's something no one ever really wants to talk about. This means that education is a challenge in this regard, especially for those customers who are coming into the market now.    As a result, companies buying a 3D printer for the first time may know very little about 3D printing and are now facing the challenge of post-processing. Therefore, it's about educating end-users and showing them that it's not a series of discrete independent machinery items that you need to buy to make this process, say, a one-touch button solution, as maybe some of the promotional videos would have you think.    The second big aspect is that there is no other technology on the market, apart from ours, that is truly automated. Yes, there are post-processing technologies but, typically, they are rehashes of very well-known technologies. None of them are digital.    Currently, you need to be skilled in all those nuanced operations that require this ‘black art’ to run. So that’s really a major challenge. And, at the moment, there aren't any options for post-processing that are really innovative, as well as a digital incentive.   The biggest single challenge, in terms of technology we've seen, is depowdering. No one has come up with a truly automated unpacking and depowdering solution that requires no human intervention. That is a real challenge. It's not just a depowdering and automation challenge, it’s a machine learning, machine sorting challenge, and those are the common challenges that we are tackling.    [caption id="attachment_11770" align="aligncenter" width="840"]AMT's PostPro3D system AMT's PostPro3D system [Image credit: AMT][/caption]  

Do you think that we will get to the point where we will have a fully automated depowdering solution?

  We have partners we're working with to develop real solutions for this. It's a big unlock for them, because again, if you've got your powder bed and you need to remove your parts, there's currently no other way to do it than manually. Even traditional tumbling solutions still need a lot of manual intervention, because one thing humans are very good at is delicate and difficult operations: identification of things (like powder on the part), removing said powder without destroying the part and sorting parts etc. We’re working towards automating these steps to improve time and cost efficiencies.   

How does your PostPro3D technology work?

  PostPro3D is our core technology. It was based on IP licensed from the University of Sheffield and then developed with an Innovate UK grant. It's been in development for about 8 years in terms of fundamental research, followed by industrial research.    It is a chemical vapour smoothing process that uses proprietary chemicals to smooth the surface of a 3D-printed polymer part.    By smoothing the surface, we don't just mean making it aesthetically pleasing, we’re actually engineering the surface of the part. The chemical solution seals the surface and removes the porosity of the part. It also prevents water ingress or gas ingress and actually enhances mechanical properties. The result is a part that has high elongation at break and better fatigue properties.    In addition to that, there are all of the elastomeric materials that we can process, which couldn’t be processed even with mechanical methods, for example. The PostPro3D can post-process parts printed using highly engineered polymers like ULTEM, nylons, TPU, & TPE, etc.    The PostPro3D is the first machine with surface modification technology that we brought to market. It is an industrial piece of equipment designed for industrial end users, with a process chamber size close to 100 litres to process higher volumes of parts.    We've also brought out the PostPro3D Mini. It’s physically a third of the size of the PostPro3D, significantly cheaper but using the same flagship technology to extend usage to research institutes, smaller service bureaus and people who may only have one printer. And that's appropriately priced to be accessible to those people, so they can then try the technology before they commit to anything bigger or expand operations.   The benefit of our process is that all of our parts and processing have gone through cycle toxicity testing and it is currently going through FDA medical approval, etc. So that's really important when we talk about regulated, industrial end-use applications.    In addition, complementary to that technology are our colouring technologies. We have our unique, patent-pending technology on colouring, which allows us to colour and smooth a part at the same time, so you can add colour while smoothing. That, then, also opens a whole variety of other applications.    On the other side, we’ve got our de-powdering systems, which, as I mentioned, we are currently trialling with some of our production partner companies. These allow us to automatically unpack the powder bed, de-powder and remove the parts from powder bed AM systems.    Eventually, we've got to tie it all together. We've got metrology, or inspection systems, that have been developed, in conjunction with the University of Nottingham, and the clever bits are actually in the algorithms and machine learning, not in the hardware. So they’re low cost, which means that we can use them in line with our systems and quality check parts as we go through our processes.    And then the final part is the end-to-end automation, which we call our digital manufacturing system — or DMS — which allows us to automate the entire process.  

You mentioned that you've validated 95 polymers with your solutions. Are you considering metal parts in the future? 

Great question. My background is actually in metallurgy. I graduated from the University of Sheffield in the field of metal additive manufacturing.    But, while metal is my background, I chose polymers, because they are easier to deal with. Metal is a big challenge, because of the industrial type of processes required.    We have filed IP on metal post-processing, and we've developed solutions for quasi-metal components. For example, Desktop Metal’s technology is an extrusion-based process in a polymer carrier, with a metal part clipped inside of it. So we actually have IP and are able to, for example, smooth Desktop Metal parts before they become sintered, and we can then smooth the uncured part. By the time it comes out, you have a nice smooth metal bar.   [caption id="attachment_11771" align="aligncenter" width="840"] Image credit: AMT[/caption]  

What does your recent investment round mean for the company going forward?

  It's completely transformative. We've been a revenue-generating company from the first year of our existence, which is really important because it means there's a great product-market fit. So we're not developing things that are not needed.    What this funding allows us to do, is to accelerate our global growth. It allows us to finish off our facility in Austin and expand properly to the APAC market and in Europe.    But more importantly, this funding enables us to remain agnostic, unlike other companies.   It was because we wanted to remain agnostic that we chose DSM as a materials chemical company. This gives us access to all the materials and chemistry expertise that they're renowned for on the traditional and additive manufacturing side, but, essentially it also allows us to drive towards a complete industrial AM ecosystem that can only benefit us.    But then on the other hand, we've got Foresight Group, Williams, which is a billion-pound VC. This gives us access to all of their materials chemistry, analytics expertise, Formula One engineering provenance of the last 50 years, plus all the data analytics, engineering costs, product optimisation, design optimisation, etc. Finally, Foresight Group gives us access to huge VC power capital markets.   Additionally, through the sales channels, it gives us a network of sales, marketing and potential distribution, which is ready to go. So, it really accelerates our journey to scale up.    

We've spoken a lot about the challenges with post-processing, and how you're tackling that. Moving aside to talk a little bit more generally about 3D printing, what are some of the challenges you still see in the industry that could still be potential barriers to entry?

  For us, again it's the same challenge. Companies looking to adopt 3D printing are faced with so much choice. And it's really about breaking down the hype surrounding it. There isn't as much marketing hype as there was, but there is still quite a lot.    Besides, I still think one of the biggest challenges is that for many companies the technology is just not ready to bet on. For instance,  if you buy a CNC machine today, you can be machining parts tomorrow — and machining parts to a very high quality. Similarly, if you buy an injection moulding machine and have a tool, you can do the same. I'm simplifying a bit, but broadly speaking, this is a challenge the AM industry faces.   If you buy a 3D printer, the material, all of that considered equipment; you still can't make good quality parts. And I think that therein lies the problem: we’re still far from getting to a process where you could, for example, make a million parts.    A perfect example is our stand at Formnext. We're building out just over six and a half thousand individual 3D-printed parts, connected by aluminium components. The structure is 4 meters by 6 meters by 14 meters. That's a huge structure. And you suddenly ask yourself, why no one has done it before, and the problem is, because for 6000 components that are identical or suitable from a repeatability & reproducibility point of view, it's just very difficult to do. It would take a month of development to get to the point where you've got a stable process.    So really, when we're near the point where the processes are stable, where we've got repeatability and reproducibility, that's where we achieve industrial processes.    Another thing is that we need to stop thinking of 3D printing as a batch process. Think of it rather as a continuous process instead, with a full process line and end-to-end automation.    I think part of the problem is that a lot of people have been around 3D printing for too long, watching it grow up. However, we're now seeing a new revolution, whereby people are truly looking at it as an industrial technology, but in order for that to actually work, a mind-shift is required. And that's why our company is so fortunate, because not everyone in it is from 3D printing. So we bring a very different perspective to the process.  

Can you share how you’re constructing your stand at Formnext? 

  This year we have an 86 square meter stand, which is constructed almost like a lattice structure. Each node is a series of interconnected 3D-printed parts, and we build up the structure from these individual components that form cubes, and the cubes form the structure, which is 4 meters high. But the point is, it’s very lightweight. The entire structure weighs no more than 120 kilograms.    We believe it's the first time anyone has tried to do this. Without post-processing, it would be extremely difficult to achieve. Obviously, we're using our tolerance threaded joints, intricate internal geometries, and so on. And what is key here, is that without the technology that we've developed, we would not have been able to produce this. We'd have been able to print the parts, but would not have been able to finish them and get them to the right quality required to actually build something.   [caption id="attachment_11772" align="aligncenter" width="780"] Image credit: AMT[/caption]  

Are there any exciting trends or developments that you are excited about personally? 

  I’m excited that people are recognising post-processing as an issue and want to do something about it. It's great to see post-processing being taken seriously at last.    In AMFG’s AM industry landscape, it was interesting to see that there are 2 or 3 post-processing companies. For me, that was a great visual representation of the fact that, of all the 3D printing companies, there are only a few in post-processing.    But people are definitely talking more about it, and education is really imperative here. Because if you don't know about it, you don't know it's a problem. So we need to educate before we can sell, and also educate ourselves in terms of what our users require.    The other exciting trend is that we're now seeing industrial players coming into the market, and I don't mean printer manufacturers, I mean users of the technology. So companies are genuinely looking for 3D printing applications and are now seriously considering 3D printing, and that's a great trend.    Ultimately, we need to focus on real-life applications - they may not be as exciting as PR-focused, high-profile applications, but they show that the industry is maturing.    I'll give you an analogy: when was the last time someone came to you and said, ’Look at this injection moulded part, just look how great it is’. You don't care, no one cares, it just doesn't matter. That's what we need to get out of our heads and just get on with the new technology. And the time will come when no one will know the difference.   We've already started, and we show people by saying, ‘Look, this is an injection moulded part’, and they don't even blink. Then we show them a 3D-printed part that we have post-processed and they say, ‘Oh my God, that's amazing’. We need to get past that and be able to just accept it as another manufacturing technology.   

What do the next 12 months look like for AMT?

  The next 12 months will see very rapid growth, both in terms of our expansion and revenue.   We will also be launching our end-to-end DMS system late next year, which will include de-powdering, smoothing, colouring and inspection — fully automated. And that's really our focus as we enter 2020 - to link those elements together, so we can really offer an end-to-end post-processing system in the truest sense of the word.    To learn more about AMT, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: Additive Manufacturing Technologies CEO, Joseph Crabtree, on Why Post-Processing is Crucial for 3D Printing [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-additive-manufacturing-technologies-ceo-joseph-crabtree-on-why-post-processing-is-crucial-for-3d-printing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-11-14 15:35:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-11-14 15:35:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => Material science in additive manufacturing is rapidly evolving, with silicone 3D printing being a particularly exciting development for the industry. Silicone is a versatile elastomeric material, known for its biocompatibility, thermal conductivity and heat resistance.  
Swiss company, Spectroplast, aims to push the envelope when it comes to silicone 3D printing. Following years of research, conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Spectroplast launched its silicone 3D printing service bureau in September last year. 
In this week’s Expert Interview, we’re joined by Spectroplast’s Founder and CTO, Petar Stefanov, discussing the unique benefits of silicone 3D printing, the most promising applications for the technology and the realities of operating a 3D printing service bureau. 

Could you describe Spectroplast and the company’s mission? 

Spectroplast logoSpectroplast originated from several years of research of multiple PhDs at ETH Zurich, one of the world's leading technology universities. With the launch of Spectroplast, our goal was to translate this research into a commercial opportunity.   The core competence of our company lies in material science. We’ve developed material chemistry that enables 3D printing of pure silicone.   In addition to this, we’ve also achieved quite substantial development on the process, as well as on the hardware. So, we cover the entire value chain needed to bring silicone from raw material all the way to a finished 3D-printed part.  

What are the benefits of using 3D printing to produce silicone parts as opposed to traditional methods?

Conventionally, silicone parts are produced by injection moulding, a process which is tailored to a high throughput production and standardised designs. There are a lot of fixed costs attached to that process, due to the need to design and manufacture a mould. Also, the validation of the mould itself is quite costly and time-intensive.    With injection moulding, we are talking about 8 to 12 weeks from when you place an order until you can see your first parts. The cost can go well above $100,000 for the mould alone.   If you want to change your design after seeing your first part, then you'd have to reiterate the mould, further adding to the cost and time.    Spectroplast offers a complementary process to silicone injection moulding by using Additive Manufacturing (AM). Our process is tailored to the mass customisation of parts. This means that we can customise each individual part to produce the given specifications, while also saving material and energy.    With injection moulding, some projects have scrap rates around 40% to 50%. This is quite significant, as it means that only every second piece works. We reduced scrap rates to almost zero, as well as the energy requirements.    The ultimate benefit of AM is that with our process, shape complexity comes for free. Therefore, we can produce much more complex designs than is possible with injection moulding.    To summarise, injection moulding is lacking in two key areas: the first is low to mid-volume runs, which is around 50 to 100,000 pieces per year. That's the minimum required amount for injection moulding to be commercially viable.    Second is the shape complexity. Complex parts that are either too expensive or too complex in general to mould can be more cost-effective when produced with AM. [caption id="attachment_11439" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Silicone 3D printed part  [Image credit: Spectroplast][/caption]  

What are some of the possible applications with silicone 3D printing?

Silicone 3D printing has applications across many different industries. If you're in an office, most of what you see around you contains some sort of silicone part.   This is due to the material’s properties: silicone is an elastomer, a soft and stretchable material, and it's non-toxic. It's also biocompatible and resistant to heat, UV light and chemicals. It's gas permeable, insulating and inert which makes it suitable for a variety of applications.    Currently, Spectroplast is targeting higher-value healthcare applications like customised medical devices. These include devices like hearing aids, hearing protection, customised headphones, etc.   Other medical wearable devices, like masks, prosthetics, prosthetic liners — in particular shoe insoles — all the way up to customised medical implants, can benefit from 3D-printed silicone, due to its biocompatibility and softness. For example, tracheal stents and heart valves can be fully customised to the patient’s needs, thanks to AM.  

You mentioned that you're specifically focusing on healthcare applications at the moment. Could you explain the reason for that?

We believe that healthcare is a field where we can add the most value to our customers. To pinpoint one application, we're very excited about the added value of customised prostheses, specifically customised breast prostheses for breast cancer patients.   After a mastectomy, part of the breast gets removed and most patients need to opt for an external prosthesis, essentially a silicone object that's worn in a bra. Today, these come in a few standardised sizes and even fewer standardised shapes and usually don’t fit the anatomy of the patient perfectly.  The symmetry is lost, and this has a major effect on the well-being of the patient. What we enable is the complete customisation of the prostheses to fit an individual patient and retain the original symmetry.   

Can you highlight specific examples of how you've helped your customers?

Talking about breast prosthetics, we have just partnered with the University Hospital of Zurich, which recommends that patients try our service. That's our latest partnership that we're very proud of. It's important to be exposed to patients in need and get their feedback directly.   While I’ve mainly spoken about healthcare applications, we're also active in other industries. Typically, these are uncertified applications, which we can immediately access, including automotive and aerospace customers.   

What are some of the challenges associated with 3D printing silicone specifically, since it's very different from metal or polymer 3D printing?

The key challenge of printing silicone lies in the viscosity of the material. Silicone, in its natural state, is a highly viscous, almost gel-like substance, which is very difficult to process using conventional AM approaches.    People are using different extrusion-based processes to print silicone. Examples include Robocasting and drop on demand, processes that involves extrusion of the material. Due to the material's high viscosity, extrusion can be done right down to a specific resolution level, which cannot be further improved. Since the material is so viscous, almost like honey, extruding it through a tiny orifice has its limitations.   So essentially, the level of resolution, and therefore surface finish, as well as a range of accessible silicones, is limited by these conventional methods. What we’ve managed to do at Spectroplast is we adapted the material to a Stereolithography-compatible approach, or more specifically, a Digital Light Processing method, which yields a much greater resolution and therefore, improved surface finish.    We’ve managed to improve the existing resolution level by a factor of 20. So, from around the millimetre tolerance, which was existent on the market, we brought it down to 50 microns.    On the scalability side, existing methods of printing silicone aren’t industrially scalable in terms of speed and throughput. However, we’ve managed to increase the speed by at least 10 times compared to conventional 3D printing methods for silicone.    We believe this combination of exceptional surface finish, together with the high throughput process, makes this the first AM technology for silicone that is tailor-made for use on an industrial scale. [caption id="attachment_11442" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Silicone 3D-printed part_Spectroplast [Image credit: Spectroplast][/caption]  

What is it like to run a service bureau as a business? What are the day-to-day challenges?

The one word I would use to describe it is exciting. It never gets boring. This has to do with all the different client requests that we get daily. Spectroplast was incorporated in September last year. Since then, we have more than 150 B2B customers, and all of them have very different applications.   Every day we learn from our clients about new ways that our technology can be used, which we would never have thought of ourselves. This is invaluable because it helps us to develop the technology further in a direction that is needed on the market, rather than push something to the market which has already been developed.    With that comes its own challenges. As we are getting so many different applications from our customers daily, we need to constantly adapt to each new application that comes in as an order.   

How would you describe the current status of 3D printing? And how do you see it evolving in the next few years?

We are at the tipping point, where AM is finally starting to become a viable manufacturing process.    Finally, we have the technologies and workflows, as well as software out there, that can support the adoption of AM for serial production. However, don't confuse this with very high-volume serial production. I don't think we're there yet.    I believe there is a special place for AM as a complementary process to conventional methods, and it finds its own place in terms of production volumes and value.  

Are there specific trends that you're seeing?

Absolutely. For example, we noticed that the order volumes are increasing. We're moving from simple prototyping and tooling to end-part production.   From the demand side, we see that product life cycles are becoming shorter, and products are getting more and more diversified. This means that fewer pieces of every design are being manufactured, which is very good for AM because this is exactly where it can add value. So, diversifying product designs and lowering the series volume of products is something we’ve noticed in various industries.   

Spectroplast recently received 1.4 million CHF in seed funding. What does this investment mean for your company going forward?

As I mentioned, we're already serving more than 150 customers, and that customer base is growing daily. The investment will help us with upscaling our production capacity. We are investing in additional machinery and personnel, which will help us to support the larger and returning orders.    On the other hand, the investment also helps to further develop the technology and to launch a new generation of materials on the market.    All in all, we are pushing the quality level that our service bureau provides to the level comparable to injection moulding standards, which our clients naturally expect.   To learn more about Spectroplast, visit: [post_title] => Expert Interview: Petar Stefanov, Founder & CTO of Spectroplast AG, on the Benefits of Silicone 3D Printing [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-petar-stefanov-founder-cto-of-spectroplast-ag-on-the-benefits-of-silicone-3d-printing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-25 10:08:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-25 09:08:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => In an era of Industry 4.0, greater efficiency and product innovation are key priorities for manufacturers. 3D printing is one technology that is being leveraged to provide both. 
One way 3D printing can help is through the production of ergonomic tooling and manufacturing aids that can accelerate the assembly process and create a safer working environment for operators on the production floor. 
Eckhart is a US-based company that specialises in the design, engineering and manufacture of factory automation equipment. At the forefront of Industry 4.0, the company has adopted 3D printing, alongside robotics and other automated solutions, to do just that. 
In this week’s Expert Interview, we speak with Robert Heath, Eckhart’s AM Application Engineer, to discuss the benefits of 3D-printed tools, the need for education when it comes to AM, as well as the advantages of automation.  

Could you tell me a bit about Eckhart? 

Eckhart logoEckhart is an Industry 4.0 leader specialising in industrial automation. We create, among other things, lift assists, secure tools and autonomous guided vehicles.   Much of what we focus on is collaborative robots and 3D printing. We help companies automate repetitive tasks and enable operators to better do their jobs on the assembly line.   We have a wide range of customers, including automotive companies, as well as some of the heavy industrial and agricultural companies like John Deere and Caterpillar.   

What are some of the challenges your customers come to you with?

[caption id="attachment_11359" align="alignright" width="300"]Eckhart Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer, Robert Heath Robert Heath, Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer at Eckhart[/caption] It can be industry-specific. However, a lot of the challenges do have the underlying issue of either ergonomics or looking to improve the cycle time and quality of the part.   What I work on the most is developing ergonomic solutions for hand tools. That's really what we’re focused on with 3D printing in our company.    A lot of these hand tools were made out of aluminium and so they're still heavy and right at that ergonomic limit of what an operator should be lifting repetitively or reaching with.    We've been implementing 3D printing in those situations where we can take further weight out of the tool to make it lighter and a little bit more operator-friendly. We can print the geometry to make the tool more ergonomic, thus giving operators a better tool than what was previously available.  

What was the reason for bringing 3D printing in-house and what has the process of adopting the technology been like?

We purchased the printers in 2017. Before buying the 3D printers, we were outsourcing a significant amount of jobs to other companies to 3D print parts for us.    So it was a cost reduction move as well as a strategic business move to get into the AM space and to start promoting additive manufacturing with our customers more. By using 3D printing in-house, we have a better cost and quality control over the parts.   Also, as a company, we don’t produce anything that you can just look up in a catalogue and buy. Everything we make is completely custom. So it made sense to adopt 3D printing because we do a lot of one-offs.  

Could you elaborate on the solutions Eckhart is developing when it comes to automation?

Let’s take automotive as an example, as we work a lot with automotive companies. Their job rate is maybe 60 jobs per hour, so operators are getting a new vehicle every minute.   One of the things we’ve done with 3D printing is develop a lug nuts starter tool. This tool is used by the operator, who holds it in one hand and places all of the lug nuts into the sockets on this tool. The operator can then put it to the tyre and all of those lug nuts are started at once.    While it's not a full-on robotic solution, we did further automate the process because the operator no longer has to hold one lug nut at a time and twist them with their fingers to hand start them onto all the vehicles.   Operators are doing this repeatedly up to 60 times an hour for an eight-hour shift. If you multiply that by five days, that’s a lot of twisting with your fingers. We were able to alleviate the stress on the operator's body with this 3D-printed tool.    We also run the whole gamut of collaborative robots. For example, we had an application with a company where it was looking to increase the cycle time when pulling a metal injected part out of the mould.    One of the difficulties they were experiencing was that the part was incredibly hot because it was metal injection moulded. So there were safety factors to consider. We were able to develop a robotic solution that can pull out the part without an operator needing to handle the part.   Also, since the part is hot, it’s still a little bit pliable when it comes out of the mould. So we had to use a special grip to only squeeze the part with the right amount of force just enough to hold it but not enough to deform it.   So with robotics and automation, we were able to dial in those settings to our requirements. And one of the side benefits of that particular robot installation was that the quality of the part increased dramatically because the mould wasn't cooling as much as it was with a regular operator there.    The company has been able to increase their cycle time, their quality has gone up and now they've got an employee that can do more value-added work instead of just standing at a press pulling parts out of a machine all day. That’s all thanks to automation.  

How do you typically work with customers?

One of the things we push for is to have a workshop where a team of representatives from Eckhart meet with the customer and we visit their facility.    We like to meet a customer’s designers, as well as the manufacturing engineers, technicians or operators — the shop floor people that are going to be using this tool or these solutions. Then we sit down and go over what additive is.    Some of the questions we need to ask are what are the challenges the operators are facing? What is the customer looking to gain?   Working in these small teams, we are able to identify a lot of opportunities with each customer. After that, we work with the customer to develop a strategy to implement any number of those ideas.  [caption id="attachment_11360" align="aligncenter" width="713"]Eckhart_3D_Lab Image credit: Eckhart[/caption]

Can you share any examples of how you've helped a client achieve their objectives with 3D printing?

Whenever we design a tool for a customer and get the design approved, we build and test it internally with their product. Then we show the customer how it works and how the tool interacts with their product.   Going back to that lug nut starter tool that we produced, we consider that to be a huge success. The customer was incredibly ecstatic about how beneficial this tool was going to be for their use.   

When speaking with your customers about additive manufacturing, have you found that they are very knowledgeable about the technology? Or do you have to do a lot of educating as well?

We do have some customers who are very knowledgeable and have prior experience with 3D printers, whether in their current role or in a previous role.   Then there are many others who need much more educating. I would say that more often than not I’m doing some educating on 3D printing and what its capabilities are.    To that point, when I have to educate there is often also a bit of resistance and trepidation on the customer's side, as they’re not sure if it will work. In traditional manufacturing, we tend to stick with what works.  

So would you say that when it comes to AM, there is still a tendency to think in terms of traditional manufacturing as opposed to the needs of additive manufacturing?

Yes. Once I get a customer to work with additive, the next step then is to say, “This is what we're manufacturing here and here's how we can make the part better.”    If we take a part that was designed with traditional manufacturing methods, it is almost always going to be cheaper to manufacture that part with traditional methods.    But if we take that same part and redesign it so that it is made for additive manufacturing, then we're able to look at which way will be cheaper, and it winds up being better overall for the AM process.  

In your view, what more needs to be done to accelerate the adoption of 3D printing?

EckhartThere needs to be more education on the materials and their actual properties. I get a lot of questions like, "Can you print me a part out of UHMW (Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene)?”   My response is always, “No, I can't print UHMW. But I can make something similar so that.”    So my biggest challenge is probably the lack of knowledge of materials or the testing on some of the materials.   We have a partnership with Stratasys and work with them frequently. They're very good at knowing how the materials work and how they are processed through the printers, while we’re good at knowing the part function. So it's a good partnership for us both.  

How do you see additive manufacturing evolving over the next few years?

I see a wider range of materials being developed. We're much more able to refine the actual processing of the material through the machines, and we're getting better with the materials that we already have.    The industry is also looking at those other materials that are perhaps not as easy or “AM-friendly” as something like PLA which is a pretty common material.   I also think we’ll see an increase in machine capabilities and speed in the next few years.  

What’s next on the horizon for Eckhart?

We’re always trying to push the boundaries with AM. We’re thinking outside the box on what else we can do with the technology and we’re constantly trying to use it in applications that we never thought we would use it.   For example, we recently completely 3D printed a lift assist tool to pick up an aluminium cast housing for one of our customers, and this is starting to sprout a couple more opportunities for lift assists.    So we're excited about that and looking forward to solving other complex challenges with additive manufacturing.   To learn more about Eckhart, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: Eckhart’s Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer, Robert Heath, on 3D Printing, Automation and Industry 4.0 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-eckhart-additive-manufacturing-application-engineer-on-3d-printing-automation-and-industry-4-0 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-25 10:11:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-25 09:11:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => Oerlikon logoOerlikon, a global technology and engineering group, serves some of the most safety-critical industries, including aerospace and defence. Increasingly, additive manufacturing has become a key part of its offerings, with the company establishing a $55 million Innovation Hub & Advanced Component Production facility in the US earlier this year. 
In this week’s Expert Interview, we sit down with Matthew Donovan, Principal Engineer for Additive Manufacturing at Oerlikon, to discuss how it continues to develop an end-to-end AM production facility, exciting AM trends to watch out for and why standards are critical for the future of the industry. 

Could you tell me about Oerlikon?

Oerlikon is a global company and a manufacturing leader in both its Surface Solutions and Manmade Fibers segments. Part of the Surface Solutions segment, Oerlikon AM, provides additive manufacturing solutions, from metal powders to prototyping and series production.  

How did you first become involved in additive manufacturing?

[caption id="attachment_11324" align="alignright" width="298"]Matthew Donovan, Principal Engineer of AM at Oerlikon Matthew Donovan, Principal Engineer of AM at Oerlikon [/caption] My background is in aerospace. Before coming to Oerlikon, I spent the last 20 years working, primarily, on gas turbine engines, hot section components and combustion section components.    I have a background in fuel delivery systems, mainly for aerospace gas turbine engines, but also for industrial gas turbines and fuel cell reformers. I’ve also worked on various R&D efforts with NASA and other companies. So I’ve had experience working with high-strength, high-temperature materials for very demanding environments.   I began as a manufacturing engineer, learning the ins and outs of how to manufacture and build parts and spent time as a quality engineer doing field investigations for those same components.    I started working in advanced manufacturing in 2006. I began to encounter challenging geometries and components that we couldn't really make with conventional manufacturing.    At that point, I was working with Morris Technologies on metal 3D-printed components. We started developing components for fuel injectors using additive manufacturing.    Over the years, I developed a few components using additive manufacturing. I worked for United Technologies, assisting the entire enterprise in developing and implementing AM technologies, mainly with a focus towards flight certification hardware.    As we were working to implement these components, one of the major gaps I discovered was that there was a complete lack of standards on how to make parts and how one certifies them.   
Much of the cost associated with aerospace isn’t necessarily the components themselves, but the certification. We must provide complete traceability for every component that we make. Developing the standards for how we do that and implement that for additive was quite a challenge.
I started to work on AM standards with ASTM F42 around 2009. I've helped draft some standards and subsequently served on a few committees. I co-authored the design guide for metal powder bed fusion by laser, ISO ASTM 52911, with ISO/TC 261 and ASTM F42.    Through that work with United Technologies, working with many highly talented people and having access to a number of great resources, we were able to come up with various innovations and develop some really leading-edge products for AM metal powder bed.   

What does your role at Oerlikon entail?

I began at Oerlikon in 2017, and my role, now, is Principal Engineer for AM. My role has been focused heavily on the implementation and development of production-ready AM metal technologies.    We started as a start-up division of the Surface Solutions Group. We’ve built a new facility in Huntersville, North Carolina, which we moved into a little under a year ago.   It's a 120,000 square foot facility which currently operates 18 metal powder bed systems. On-site, we have HIP (Hot Isostatic Pressing) and vacuum furnace capabilities, as well as post-processing, powder handling and inspection capabilities.   
The goal has been to establish this facility as a true end-to-end AM production workflow, with control of every aspect of the supply chain, so that we can provide traceability for our customers. 
  My role in that has been, chiefly, in machine certification. I work closely with the machine OEMs on the installation and qualification of our machines and then getting them certified for their capability and cross-capability for components across different machines.    We’re then able to understand the machine capabilities, the tolerance and the precision of an individual machine to produce geometric tolerance of an AM component and the differences between our machines and then tune them so we can deliver the same product across multiple machines. [caption id="attachment_11169" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Oerlikon_Optimized_Bracket Bionically optimised bracket for aerospace application. Image credit: Oerlikon AM[/caption]  

Standardisation has been a really big talking point, especially for industries like aerospace. How have things developed over the time you’ve been involved in the industry, and what is the current status of AM standardisation?

There have been some very good developments.    We need standards, especially in aerospace, but also in other safety-critical areas like medical, nuclear and energy. The key thing about standards is that they allow everybody to speak the same language and understand what a product is capable of.    With the absence of standards, everybody was effectively building parts and performing their work in often very similar ways, but not in the same way. They weren't talking the same language. It's very common for people to refer to different terms to mean the same process, or refer to the same term and mean radically different processes.    Developing standards allows you to talk in the same language across the board and understand what you mean when you refer to, say, a qualification build, or feedstock, or machine qualification level.    In aerospace, if you don't have a standard that you can certify a part against or typically, multiple standards to identify the part that you're making, its mechanical properties, performance and tolerances and to be able to trace it back to the original lot it came from, all the way back to the chemical composition of the elements that went into it, then you can't put it on an aerospace platform.   We can do incredibly complex geometries and make parts with AM that just are not physically possible any other way. We can save a lot of weight, time, material and cost by making parts through AM.   The design and manufacturing freedom AM provides us is clear. But the drawback is that it's great if you can make the part, but if you can't prove that it's a good part, it doesn't do anybody any good.  
Standards are what get us across that line to be able to manufacture and sell parts and be able to use them in production for aerospace. 
So aerospace standards are one of the key pieces of the puzzle before you can make parts.    There have been various development organisations that have been working very hard in this area for a long time. I've been working as a volunteer on ASTM standards for about 10 years now, and I have seen the benefits of what we do.    As I mentioned, I contributed to the original titanium standard for powder bed fusion. That first one took me (and several other people), a little over two years to get that first one validated. Subsequently, we've been able to turn around additional ones in about half that time.    Things are really starting to accelerate now. ASTM recently launched its Center of Excellence based in Auburn, Alabama, in conjunction with Auburn University.    The intent behind that was to apply targeted research and development funding and effort through collaboration partners to achieve more standards quickly. There’s been much industry and government body collaboration to identify the gaps and standards that we perceive in the industry, which is what we need to move forward.    You may have heard about the ANSI roadmap. It's a very good document that some of us in the industry have contributed to, in order to identify what our key gaps are, that we need to fill to achieve true production for additive manufacturing.    On the latest version of that roadmap, I believe there were 91 gaps identified, largely in standards areas, and some of them are very high priority ones. The ASTM Center of Excellence is one vehicle that's being used to apply R&D to close those gaps in standards.    In another area, SAE International has its Aerospace Materials Specification (AMS). The first ones for additive powder bed fusion were AMS 7000, 7001, 7002 and 7003 for nickel alloy 625, which was recently released.    Those are excellent bodies of work that will yield a lot of results. Many of us are using these standards already to develop production parts.   [caption id="attachment_11167" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Oerlikon Aerospace_case-study Sentinel Satellite Antenna Bracket produced with AM. Image credit: Oerlikon AM[/caption]  

With your experience of adopting AM, what have been some of the challenges in integrating the technology internally and how have you navigated that process?

Oerlikon AM has aimed to provide AM solutions that meet the requirements of the most demanding industries, such as aerospace and medical among others.   Across our various facilities we have the right quality systems in place, such as AS9100 for aerospace and ISO 13485 for medical. But regarding integrating all the systems needed to get there, that has been a challenge, although there are some solutions out there that provide pieces of the puzzle.    I would say that there is no one solution that covers every single aspect of what we need, end-to-end. But there are a lot of good tools that cover portions of that whole end-to-end supply chain.   So one of our challenges is to identify the solutions that cover different aspects of our supply chain, bring onboard those that cover the aspects that we need and integrate them.   For example, some solutions handle financial and inventory very well, but they don't do very well for manufacturing workflows. Others handle manufacturing workflows and production planning well, but don't handle, say, build time estimation, material review issues, or geometric component issues, such as blueprints and 3D models.   So there are a lot of different aspects, and our challenge is integrating all those different pieces to have a seamless end-to-end solution. It's a pretty manual process presently, but we're working to make it a lot more automated as we go forward.   

Are you able to share any success stories of how you've used AM in production?

While I can't specifically refer to those customers without getting their authorisation, we do have several components that are actively in production. Some that I can think of, off the top of my head, are aerospace and defence-related components.    So one is a flight component that is part of a mission system on a military helicopter. We've been in production for that component for two years now and have successfully delivered over 200 units to date.    We also make another component that is used for a ground sensor, where you have an integrated system of 80 different individual components into one monolithic piece. That one has also been in production for nearly two years.    We do have a number of other production components we make ⁠— for oil and gas and subsea exploration areas, that are in active production for undersea robotics ⁠— for another of our customers that we are making parts for, that are actively used both in oil and gas, drilling and exploration, and undersea robotics.  

How do you see additive manufacturing evolving over the next five years, both in terms of the technology and the industry overall?

Over the next five years, I see technology evolving with more multi-laser systems, which will enable parts to be produced faster, thereby driving down the cost of components. This will further drive the implementation of AM parts. 
The cost of parts is a key factor, and laser time is your main driver for the cost of an AM component. So, if you can squeeze more lasers into a part and be able to certify the components, using those multi-laser systems, you'll be able to build the same part faster and therefore cheaper.    The other evolution is that we'll have better in-process monitoring systems. There are a few different ones currently available by different manufacturers, but my impression is that while many of them are good systems, they're not yet at the level of capability that users, such as I, would need to be able to implement them at a true production rate.    My hope is that we’ll soon have true in-process monitoring, so that we can monitor what is happening in the machine during the process and be able to identify issues with a component before it leaves the machine.   The ideal scenario would be to have intelligent software that can identify issues and potentially make corrections with engineering support on the fly. Of course, better still would be to have truly robust machines that don't have any issues and are just running 24/7.  

Are there any trends that you're excited about?

I'm excited about various developments, with in-process monitoring systems, like I mentioned, being one.   
There are also some new materials that are being developed and launched. We are developing a few different materials that enable certain of our customers to make some very revolutionary components. 
  The other thing I'm excited about, is that there is much more diversification in manufacturers across the world. Early on, most AM machines were being produced in a handful of countries in Europe. Now there are new manufacturers and various countries that are applying different and novel approaches to building machines.    They're driving down the cost of the machines, and they're learning, from their use across the industry, to make them more intuitive for the operators.    My experience for the first few years with these machines, was that they are very fussy and require a lot of attention and “babysitting”. And frankly, a lot of the machine design wasn't very manufacturing friendly.    I see a lot of user-friendliness being built into the machines now, as machine manufacturers get feedback from their users.    But also, the increased competition from different manufacturers across the planet is, I think, helping to drive innovation in the systems, drive the cost down and drive the usability up for the machine systems.   [caption id="attachment_11170" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Oerlikon_Additive manufactured inter-locking end fitting for load introduction into a hybrid driveshaft Additive manufactured inter-locking end fitting for load introduction into a hybrid driveshaft. Image credit: Oerlikon AM[/caption]

What's next for Oerlikon, especially for the facility that you're helping to oversee and run?

Our short-term goal for this facility is to get all the equipment we've purchased installed and certified. So we have 18 metal powder bed systems online and operational presently, and we’re doing production hardware on many of those systems.    Our next step for those, is to complete material properties for all our material systems across all our machines and the data sets for them. But that is very time consuming and expensive.    Fortunately, we have a lot of very talented people here with a lot of materials, metallurgy and engineering experience, and I'm very proud to be a member of that team.   The other goal is to stand up all the other equipment to achieve that true end-to-end manufacturing production facility.    We've recently brought our HIP furnace and vacuum furnace online, and we're working to get those certified.   We’ve also brought in some CNC equipment, and we have a substantial number of additional furnaces and CNC equipment for post-processing to bring in as well. So, the goal is to get all this equipment installed, certified and operationally integrated to create a complete, cohesive manufacturing system.   To learn more about Oerlikon, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: Oerlikon's Principal Engineer for AM, Matthew Donovan, on 3D Printing for Aerospace [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-oerlikon-matthew-donovan-principal-engineer-on-3d-printing-for-aerospace [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-25 06:57:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-25 05:57:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => Jigs, fixtures and other tooling aids form the backbone of any production floor. However, it’s not uncommon for these tools to take weeks to produce, causing bottlenecks in the production workflow. 
To overcome this, companies are increasingly adopting 3D printing to speed up tooling fabrication. UK automotive manufacturing firm, Dunlop Systems and Components, is one such company. 
Dunlop integrated Markforged’s composite 3D printing technology into its business at the end of 2018. Fast forward nine months, and the company is now 3D printing tooling parts and prototypes in just a few days.
In this week’s Expert Interview, Mark Statham, Production and Engineering Manager at Dunlop, joins AMFG to discuss the process of adopting 3D printing and how the technology is helping to streamline areas of the company’s production processes.

Could you tell me a bit about Dunlop Systems and Components? 

Dunlop Systems was born out of the original Dunlop company in the 1960s and started out producing all types of suspension systems. This began with the mini Metro and then, progressively over the decades, we introduced air suspension onto different vehicle manufacturers’ platforms, including Land Rover, GM, Isuzu and Renault trucks, as well as specialist vehicles.    More recently, we’ve entered smaller niche markets, for example, we went into the ambulance market (Renault, LDV) and the wheelchair access market, where you have vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs.    In 2014, we moved into a purpose-built facility and this created an opportunity to launch ourselves in new markets under the Dunlop Systems brand.   

What type of customers and industries does Dunlop serve?

We mainly serve the automotive industry. For example, we manufacture vehicle suspensions for all the high-end Land Rovers, Discoveries, etc. and we do Renault and Dennis Specialist Vehicles as well.   We also serve the train industry; Bombardier is one of our customers. One of the products we produce for this sector is valves.   We do have some customers who buy our products and use them for machinery moving so they can raise machinery in the air, on an air suspension, and move it around quite easily.    Our products are also used in the industrial sector for both vibration suppression and movement. One unusual application is the use of convoluted bellows for fairground rides — so we serve a wide range of sectors.   

What prompted the company’s decision to consider additive manufacturing?

Dunlop receives enquiries and interest from new customers to have our air suspension systems (ECAS) fitted to their vehicles. Customers are needing shorter lead times, from conception through to SOP, and as a result, there was a need to speed up all parts of the design and manufacturing process.    Budget constraints are quite tight because we are trying to support our customer programme without overspending. We were also trying to fund new development work to attract further new customers. So, when I was sent to look at 3D printing, it was with the thought that it would help us save money and perhaps help generate new business as well. That's where we first entered 3D printing.  

When it came to proposing the idea of additive, was it difficult to get buy-in at first, or was the whole company on board from the outset?

Engineers in our design engineering department had already had a look at 3D printing a few years prior.    We have our own test facility where we design and build suspensions and then put them on an endurance test. Obviously, these suspensions must last a million miles. They're put on high endurance rates at high frequency and high velocity and they're on there for about two weeks, which simulates the lifetime of the suspension unit.    When our engineers first looked at 3D printing, they found that they couldn't achieve that sort of lifespan with the materials that were available. But we hadn’t written off the technology.    Last year, my director approached me and asked if I would participate in an online seminar to see if, and how, we could use 3D printing. The seminar, run by Markforged, showed the technology and materials they had and, more importantly, how others have used it. That’s when I thought 3D printing could be of benefit to us as well.   But to truly make a business case for it, I had to examine what parts were due for repair, what needed an overhaul, or replacing and then put a spreadsheet together with what it would cost us.    Some parts are replaced yearly, others are replaced when they break. It became clear that having a 3D printer onboard wouldn't completely replace all the tooling because we have some high-use, high-temperature, high-impact tooling.    But it was going to provide us with the replacement option. Factoring in the costs of acquiring the printer and the monthly costs of running it, I calculated that we’d easily see the return on investment within two years.    I compiled a list of about 100 tooling parts, that I thought we could replace and that needed replacing, or that we couldn't afford to replace. Based on that, we were able to justify the expenditure.   About three weeks later we had our printer delivered and we had the payback within six months.  

What was the process of deploying the technology like in the early days? 

When the 3D printer arrived, we were up and running within about an hour. We began by going through the list of our most important criteria.    We didn't want it to run overnight at that point. We wanted to keep things simple and focus on the simple tools that were on the priority list.    For example, we have high-quality suspension items that go on high-end vehicles like Bentleys, Audis and Porsches. One of our main customers buys our modules and adds their own components to create a complete air strut.    Because these are high-quality vehicle components, we have nylon tooling to hold them in place during our process to protect the parts. These nylon tools wear out, get dirty and they're not very attractive, so the replacement nylon parts were the first items that we printed. We replaced white nylon with Markforged’s Black Onyx.   That was well received because we were getting parts straight away within hours. Normally, if we need to replace a part, we must first find the drawing, send it out for quotation and wait for the quotation from the toolmaker to come back, which can take days.    Just getting the paperwork to raise the order took about a week to two weeks. Then for them to make the part, depending on how complex it was, could take another week.   You're looking at a turnaround of a minimum of two weeks, whereas we were printing parts daily.  That’s when our colleagues on the shop floor really saw the benefits of 3D printing.   The very first printed parts were very simple parts. Then we started going through the parts and learned how light, but at the same time how strong, the 3D-printed parts were. That opened a wide range of tooling that we could replace.    It was very well received in the first week; the shop floor was getting parts in days and hours, rather than weeks. And because we're IATS standard, it takes longer for the quality department to inspect the part than it does for us to print it.   

You said that you started off simply. Has your use of 3D printing evolved over the nine months you've had the 3D printer?

Yes. Now we can make very complex parts and tooling and we’ve developed methods of fixing two 3D-printed parts together.    We have a lot of small niche customers who produce wheelchair access vehicles. We have developed partnerships with these companies and part of this is to support their relatively small budgets. Other smaller customers were receiving tooling we had utilised from obsolete tools; it didn't look attractive, but it still did the job.    Now, for those customers, we can 3D print very complex work holding parts that fit snugly to their parts and protect their parts better than before. That also means we can get the part to them more quickly, with less risk of damaging it, because it's now a proper engineered tooling.    We’re also experimenting with different joining techniques. For example, because we mould all our products in-house, our product needs to be expanded before it goes into the moulding process.   We have an expanding machine on the shop floor which cost us about £14,000 to develop in-house. We call it “the rocket” because it's about two metres long and it stands about two metres high. It points at an angle towards the operator, so the operator can load and unload the product quite easily from it. But the actual working area is only about half a metre long. But it's all the actuation of that machine that makes the product expand.    For the working area, we've now 3D printed a half-metre tube and it's printed in six different parts that we’ve joined together.    We’ve done the first trial of expanding a product in this half-metre tube instead of on the larger machine. But this prototype fixture is only £600, a fraction of the cost.    Because we're now a supplier to a new automotive manufacturer, we’re likely to need about six of these machines. If this works, we can save a lot of money.  

One of the things companies often tell us, is their need for AM expertise internally to be able to successfully adopt the technology. Was this an issue you faced?

We have five people in my team and our department runs and maintains the 3D printer. Everybody in our department quickly picked up on the technology and we're trying different things.    Other departments are slowly getting used to the technology. For example, we’ve printed some gauges for our quality department. The quality department needs to check that certain parts are within tolerance. Since they're not highly critical, we have 3D printed some gauges for them. So, our quality department has taken on board some of this 3D-printed tooling.    We’ve also produced some prototype parts for our design team. Prototype parts are normally very expensive because you must machine them from either solid steel or solid aluminium.    On a vehicle’s air suspension you normally have gaiters, which stop the stones hitting the suspension and rupturing the air bag. This gaiter is supported onto the struts using a plastic collar. Since it is a prototype, it couldn't be moulded because nobody would design a mould for a prototype. It could have been machined from solid, but the design is so complex that it would probably take a specialised CNC machine.    As a result, we've 3D printed some prototype collars and, because it's 3D printing, we can achieve the required tension because it needs to twist and move with a vehicle.  That's been quite successful.    However, when you're looking at potentially 50,000 vehicles a year, that’s 100,000 of these products, it's not quite in our realm of possibility yet, because we only have one printer. We’re not a 3D manufacturing company currently.    So now the design team is still looking at moulding these parts and getting a plastic moulder. 3D printing has been fine for development but it’s still a slow process.  

What’s Dunlop’s vision for the technology going forward? Do you see your use of 3D printing expanding to other applications?

Currently, we are focusing on tooling because we need to completely recreate a new line of tooling within the next 12 to 18 months. We are in the process of designing this with 3D printing.    We have all the current designs, which worked well for our current line. With 3D printing, you need to do a slight conversion to make the part stronger in certain areas and we can now add carbon fibre. So that’s our focus for now.   However, because we design suspension parts from the 1960s, we still have customers who buy them. So the train industry buys our old-designed levelling valves. These are an element in body which uses a basic lever system to move air from one part of the train to the other, so that it tilts around bends. It’s used by customers like Virgin Trains and Bombardier.    This part was designed in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The original casting, which is in aluminium, is wearing out, so we’re looking at trying to refurbish that casting, which is quite expensive. But then there's also the option of 3D printing the body for it to then utilise the system. That’s one possibility. We’ll certainly need more printers for that.     Something else we’re looking at is whether we can recycle some of our products because the moulds are getting so old.   

What does the next year hold for Dunlop?

It’s going to be a very busy year for us, as we've got a new electric vehicle platform launch coming up. We must also support our increasing business on ECAS systems for other OEMs’ achieved IATF 16949 accreditation. Also, we will focus on the important aftermarket, which has been a long-time business model for us.    Our company focus will be on OEM high volume production, smaller aftermarket production and the further development of our industrial range of Anti Vibration components.    Regarding 3D printing, we’re overworking our 3D printer — it hasn’t stopped running. So we’re also looking to purchase a new, larger printer. That means we’ll have two printers running, which will give us more throughput.   To learn more about Dunlop Systems, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: Dunlop Systems and Components Mark Statham on Adopting 3D Printing for Tooling [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-dunlop-systems-and-components-adopting-3d-printing-for-tooling [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-11 09:50:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-11 08:50:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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The need for specialised skills and expertise is within additive manufacturing is crucial for the technology’s adoption. However, mastering the principles of additive is no mean feat, as it involves a steep learning curve and considerable time investment. One company looking to alleviate this problem is The Barnes Group Advisors, a US-based additive manufacturing consultancy firm. 
Founded in 2017 in Pittsburgh, The Barnes Group Advisors (TBGA) is focused on helping companies strategise and solve problems associated with the industrialisation of additive manufacturing. For this, the company not only provides advisory services, but also offers a training programme. 
In this week’s Expert Interview, we’re joined by John Barnes, the company’s founder and Managing Director, to learn why workforce development is key for the growth of the industry and what is needed to get the most of additive manufacturing.  

Could you tell me a bit about The Barnes Group Advisors and the services you provide?

[caption id="attachment_10726" align="alignright" width="300"]John Barnes, Founder of The Barnes Group Advisors John Barnes, Founder of The Barnes Group Advisors[/caption] We started the company two years ago because we saw the change and growth in additive manufacturing, and we saw the technology becoming more and more industrialised.    At TBGA, we all have an engineering background, and so we've been active in the qualification and certification of different industries’ approach to additive manufacturing. In most cases, we've facilitated the adoption of the technology. For example, when I was with Arconic, we qualified the first titanium series production parts for the Airbus A350.    We're currently a team of 13 people, many of whom have held executive-level positions, including myself — I was previously Vice President at Arconic. Our Leader of ADDvisor® Services is Laura Ely, who was the former Head of Technology for GKN Aerospace.    With this expertise, we’re able to translate technical requirements into a strategic approach. We fill the niche between explaining additive manufacturing to a CEO or a Vice President of Engineering etc. so that they're working on things that are relevant to their strategy.    Based on what a client does, we look at where they fit in the supply chain and then we try to provide advice on how they can either participate in additive manufacturing or use additive manufacturing.    We’ve also developed a training programme. This was partly based on requests we had to talk more about additive. At the same time, we had one client who asked if we could put together a training programme. They’d decided to launch a large AM business, hiring a lot of engineers.   But the engineers didn’t know how to design for the process, and without that knowledge, the company would never meet its financial goals. So we created the training programme.    We generally take a requirements-based approach. First, we have a discussion with our client about what the requirements for their products are.     Very often these are mature products, and the people who originally designed them aren't around anymore. So we’re not there to sell additive manufacturing, we're there to help you make a better or more affordable part. And additive is a solution. But you need to start with a requirements-based approach, which makes the rest is a little bit easier.   [caption id="attachment_10745" align="aligncenter" width="840"]The Barnes Group Advisors Image credit: TBGA[/caption]

How did you become involved in additive manufacturing?

I first worked for what is now Honeywell Aircraft Engines, which had signed up to a project with Sandia National Labs and with nine other companies.   A few scientists from the lab were taking an entrepreneurial leave of absence to form a company around a technology that is now known as a directed energy deposition technology, and used powder as a feedstock. That company today is called Optomec. So it was successful and it still exists today.   Being part of the project was a fantastic opportunity, and that’s how I got my start.    I then made a move over to Lockheed Martin and ran what we call Manufacturing Exploration & Development for Skunk Works™. At that point, we were very active in every form of additive manufacturing.   For defence and aerospace, additive has the potential to answer so many questions. So we were actively exploring polymer systems, sheet lamination systems, directed energy systems, powder bed systems, and that went down a path exploring metal powders in depth.    Then I was fortunate enough to take an assignment with the national science agency in Australia, CSIRO. I was a director of their high-performance metals programme. At that point, additive came calling once again, as they wanted — as many national labs want — to have a presence in additive manufacturing.    In Australia, additive is a brilliant technology because it does solve a lot of manufacturing issues. The country doesn’t have a massive manufacturing output and additive is a way to approach smaller, efficient manufacturing quantities.    We set up Lab 22; it’s an innovation facility with different types of additive technology. With this lab, we set up a path for companies to come in and access the machines and try to develop their product.    We did considerable research on that. The small to medium enterprise landscape in Australia is large, and they simply don't have the money like a larger firm to just take a bet on a machine and spend a million dollars on it. So we were giving industry access to this new technology.   When I came back to the US in 2015, I went to work for a company called RTI International Metals, which later was bought by Alcoa, and then turned into Arconic. The CEO had recognised that titanium production wasn't going to grow it at the rate that the shareholders wanted to see.   So she started to invest in downstream manufacturing capabilities like forming, precision machining, and also an additive manufacturing facility in Texas. My skillset, which encompassed titanium powders and additive manufacturing, was pretty valuable here.    So I took over the R&D side for the advanced manufacturing segment. As I mentioned, we ultimately won the project from Airbus, and then we had to qualify parts for the  Airbus A350.   
It's a hard business making aeroplane parts. And it's also very difficult to transition from a facility, which has historically been in prototyping work, into a manufacturing environment. It’s one thing when you're making one part, one shape, one time. When you're manufacturing, you're making one part, one shape but 1,000 times, so there's a lot more paperwork, there's a lot more getting qualified for special processes.

You’ve touched on the potential of AM specifically for aerospace and defence. How do you see the current state of additive manufacturing within those industries and what are the key challenges?

Additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology, and both the blessing and the curse of disruptive technologies is that they are not for the meek. You've got to make a commitment, otherwise you won't get the value out of it.    There's a workforce development component to this. If you don't know how to design for the process, you're never going to make your business case. Design for additive is counterintuitive for most engineers who are classically trained to remove metal from a block. So you have to turn things around.    It's very difficult to take a risk-averse industry, like aerospace, defence or medical, and try to get them to adopt something disruptive.    However, the good news is that they're doing it. The medical, aerospace and defence industries have all been early adopters of additive. We're continuing to see that progress.   
If I bring it down another level, that workforce element is really critical right now. There are not enough engineers, managers, executives who truly understand the technology well enough to work and develop a strategy to get what they need to get out of it. 
  This is not a new phenomenon. It's also true with traditional technologies. For example, when you have to retool, you have to make a significant commitment to retool. And that impacts the company from bottom to top. Additive isn't any different.  

Why is knowing how to design for additive manufacturing so important?

If you don't know how to design for additive, you’re not going to get the cost performance benefit from additive.    People generally only tend to adopt a new technology when there’s a cost reduction or benefit involved. So a new technology has to do everything the existing technology did, but it must do it better, faster and cheaper. If the business case doesn’t pass that, there is no point in doing the project.    We make the analogy that weight is money. And in the world of additive, weight equals time and time always equals money. So the more material you have, the longer it's going to take to print and, therefore, the more it's going to cost.    This is a difficult concept.
You can't control the price of the machine and you can't control the price of the materials. But what you can control is your design. Your design determines how long your machines will be running, as well as all the post-processing that goes on afterwards. And if you don't do that right, you’re never going to achieve cost objectives. 
  In our training, as well as talking about additive, we also go through the cost drivers in additive manufacturing because engineers need to be aware of how costs can build up with an additive part.     

What can be or is being done to address this skills gap within AM?

The good news is that there are more resources every year. There are even online resources now.    For example, my company, through Purdue University, has put together an online certificate for people interested in AM. There is both an engineer/manager track as well as an executive track. You don't have to know anything, you don't have to have an engineering degree to surpass the course. And it’s available online.    MIT has also done an online course and I think we see AM similarly, it creates choice for the student. With Purdue, we designed the course with an eye towards people who are working professionals and don't have copious amounts of time.    So there is high-quality online content, which helps to get people from no background in additive to, let's say, an intermediate level.   The nature of learning today is changing. Accessing high-quality information and education in very remote areas is now possible through the internet. What I like about it is that the access to the online now doesn't biased towards a certain socio-economic background or gender.    One of the things I really like about additive is that it has brought a lot of young people into manufacturing because they don't consider additive manufacturing to be manufacturing. It's just cool.    We try to nurture that because the more brains you have on a situation, the better it's going to be.  [caption id="attachment_10724" align="aligncenter" width="700"]TBGA's Activate AM workshop TBGA's Activate AM workshop, a programme developed to help companies integrate AM [Image credit: TBGA][/caption]


The industry is steadily shifting towards end-part manufacturing. What are your thoughts on that? What more do we need to do to get to that point?

I think we're close. We're seeing fewer headlines like “this group made the first-ever 3D-printed, left-handed screwdriver handle” and a little bit more of “this company adopted additive manufacturing for this car or this train”.    This shift represents a lot of hard work that isn't so much fun to talk about when you get into specifications, work instructions and especially supply chain initiatives that have to go along with it.    Also, a lot of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers and even relatively small machining houses are getting involved now. They’re coming to us asking,  “Is it now time for us to be involved? Where are we at? What should we do?”   We have a standard process that we call the “Four Lenses”: machines, materials, the digital space, which would include your product and all the data, and finally people.    We couple that with the TBGA AM maturity model. We try to balance product requirements and skills needed to use AM. We have a five-level matrix, where you look at the product requirements, and then you need to be able to match that with skills and capabilities as you move up that path.    At level zero, that's the prototyping world. You don't have to have a lot of work instructions, specifications or huge skills in additive manufacturing to meet those product requirements.    Then you go into tooling and shop aids, and there you have to know a little bit more. But because you're not delivering a part to a customer, it's a bit easier.    And then you get into part replacement and part consolidation. At the top, you can only make this part with additive. As you move up that scale, your capability, understanding and training have to increase with additive. Otherwise, it becomes a very risky proposition.    We see most people become very proficient at level zero and level one. They're now moving into this substitution where they are trying to swap out an additive part for the existing one. And that's tough because the parts are designed for different processes. If it's not designed for additive, it’s very difficult to make a business case for it.    Moving off of that requires additional risk because now you're disrupting your supply chain in your manufacturing process. And that's where we see a lot of people are right now. They're trying to figure out when they can make that move from a level two to a level three part, where the business side of it gets easier.   

Are there any developments in additive that you're excited about?

Generally, what we see is a lot of science is now catching up to this world. We now have a better understanding of what processes work, and the machines are getting much faster. So that’s all very positive.   
As a materials engineer, myself, I see the huge potential for materials in this space, both in polymers and metals. The potential is great because now you're not beholden to have huge amounts of material to manufacture something. I think the people who’ll benefit most from this are design and materials engineers — I think this is their time to shine. 
  Additive manufacturing is really improving in all aspects and it looks like more solutions are being developed to fill in some of the gaps. It's all part of the industrialisation path. Everything's improving with additive, and that to me is exciting.    People are moving into the post-processing side, coming up with modifications to existing equipment that they've used for other industries.    The software side is also coming in very strongly with new design tools and MES/workflow software systems.    Another exciting thing is the second generation of photopolymerisation technologies. We deal with a fair amount of startups and everybody's got a new idea, a new twist, a new way of thinking about the process.  

You briefly mentioned MES or workflow software systems. What is your view on the importance of MES and workflow software and how it can contribute to the industrialisation of AM? 

Anything that can help us manage the AM process, the risk and also improve the working inventory helps on the business side of things.    Aerospace and medical have very good quality and safety records. They're not willing to put that at risk for a new technology, and I think that's where the systems come into play.   With MES systems, I also see huge opportunities in being able to better protect intellectual property, as well as the ability to monetise different processes.    I think now with some of the new tools that are out there, there are better ways to track where 3D printing files go and make sure that they're the right ones. Common quality assurance issues become better with such management software tools.   To learn more about The Barnes Group Advisors, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: John Barnes, Founder of The Barnes Group Advisors, on the Future of Additive Manufacturing [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-john-barnes-founder-of-the-barnes-group-advisors-on-the-future-of-additive-manufacturing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-20 13:20:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-20 12:20:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => Adopting metal 3D printing can be challenging due to the need to develop applications, qualify materials and processes. To overcome these challenges, German company, Aconity3D, provides flexible laboratory metal 3D printing systems that enable its customers to experiment with process parameters and research new applications for the technology. 
In this week’s Expert Interview, Yves Hagedorn, Managing Director at Aconity3D, discusses the benefits of hardware systems with open architecture and why design software is one of the key challenges in metal 3D printing. 

Could you tell me about Aconity3D?

[caption id="attachment_10527" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Co Founders in front of a system left to right_Hendrik_Blom Yves_Hagedorn Andreas Goerres Co-founders of Aconity3D, left to right: Hendrik Blom, Yves Hagedorn, Andreas Goerres [Image credit Aconity3D] [/caption]   At Aconity3D, we offer everything that’s needed for metal additive manufacturing.    We provide special machine components and different modules, which can be combined to create equipment designed for specialised applications. That’s because we believe that there is no one system that can suit all possible applications in the whole market.    Our customer journey starts with consulting. For example, a customer might approach us to see if it’s possible to 3D print magnesium. In this instance, we’d do some research in our second business unit, which is material distribution, and find out for our customer where to get the specific material in question.    At our third business unit, we’d do some testing to ensure that the material is feasible for being processed with additive manufacturing. And if that all works, and a customer is satisfied, we’d act as a job shop and manufacture that specific application for the customer.    In the long run, the customer might decide to buy our equipment which has been designed for that specific application.    Our approach enables our customers to conduct efficient research in terms of extending the scope of the applicable materials.    If customers have certain materials for special applications which are not yet qualified, they can do a lot of research towards qualification with our equipment. They can use various parameters, they are completely free from the software side and can also perform changes on the hardware, depending on the parameters they need.    Ultimately, we want to be a one-stop-shop for customers. However, selling equipment is our main business.  

What was the motivation behind founding the company?

Well, if you want to extend the scope of additive manufacturing, either in terms of applicable materials or by increasing productivity or dimensional accuracy, you need full access to the hardware and to all possible parameters in the process.    We saw that there was no system on the market that will allow you to do this. And that was when we came up with the idea to provide customers with the possibility of finetuning their process. That's when Aconity3D was born.    We soon realised that we have a real asset and that we can actually fulfil a real customer need to have access to both the hardware and software.   

Are there specific industries that would benefit the most from the technology and services that Aconity3D provides?

There is no specific industry, since the industrial applications for additive are as manifold as the possibilities.    Let’s take the medical industry, where there’s a huge field of applications. For example, you can have titanium implants or even magnesium, which is bioabsorbable. There are also applications in the medical sensor industry.    The same is true of aerospace. The aerospace industry has an interest in extending the scope of applicable alloys for plating, for instance, or high-temperature alloys.    Automotive is also another interesting example because the industry is very cost-conscious. This means that automotive companies only want to pay for what they get.    Our value proposition is our high flexibility, which allows us to leave out everything that isn’t needed for that specific application. This allows us to compete with traditional manufacturing technologies.  

When it comes to metal 3D printing, which applications are best suited for the technology, and how can companies begin to identify the right types of applications?

It's good to consider additive manufacturing if you have components of small sizes and complex structures. Another reason to use additive may be to combine new materials where it was previously impossible to do so — take copper and chromium as an example.   The main hurdle here is that for almost all applications, producing a part is more expensive with additive manufacturing when compared to milling or other traditional manufacturing technologies.    One exception is dental restorations: for these, additive manufacturing is cheaper than milling. That’s why it was one of the first industrial applications for powder-based laser melting. Another exception is glasses frames, which is also a great application for additive.   But for all the others, there’s often a conflict between the business case and product life cycle costs. That's the main hurdle because a lot of customers simply have no idea about their product life cycle costs.    To put it differently, you’re now able to have a functional integration. So for instance, you can integrate cooling channels into a housing, but it's really difficult to put a price tag on that. So the main challenge is to do the part screening and find a valid business case for your additive application and production.  

What are the key challenges of metal 3D printing, and how have you addressed them? 

In my opinion, one of the key challenges lies in part design and the according software solutions for data preparation. When it comes to additive manufacturing, standardisation is still a challenge and I believe this is in part due to the fact that the software is not really standardised. For instance, take the many different data formats for each individual system provider. Also, in terms of part design there are limited to no guidelines as a consequence of the sheer flexibility of additive production. This is also the reason, why dental restoration frameworks were the first true industrial application: A completely automated part design and data preparation framework – a precondition for series production of single lot size parts.   For the first time since the 70s, we’re now in a situation where we can build more complex parts than we can actually design or simulate.    Thus, design and data preparation are still a bottleneck in this industry while the emphasis is put on higher productivity hardware systems, with intelligent software solutions being excluded from this equation. Preparing parts so that they are suitable for additive manufacturing is a key skill and also needs quite a lot of time.    I’ve seen examples where part design and data preparation took more than two weeks, while printing the part took only two days. This is simply inefficient to design a part for that amount of time. And that's where the problem comes in, in my opinion.  

Could you share any of your customer success stories?

Yes, definitely. We’ve had customers who are now producing magnesium parts for medical applications. We have others who’ve won FDA approval for their titanium implants.    In the automotive industry, we had a specific request for a high productivity system. So we provided a four-laser system with full overlap on a 400-millimetre diameter plate. I think we're the only ones in the market who were able to do so, and it has a significant impact on productivity.    Further customers exploit the possibility of high-temperature preheating for expanding the scope of applicable materials towards highly alloyed tool steels, Titanium Aluminides and certain nickel-based superalloys.  

How do you see the AM industry evolving over the next few years?

The industry has definitely matured in the 12 years I’ve been involved in additive. When I first started, there was a lot of hype. Now, the hype has abated somewhat.     The evolution of the technology has helped to unlock many applications for additive manufacturing, but all these applications still require a high level of expertise.    Today, you can buy certain desktop 3D printers for less than 1000 euros, which makes many people believe that you can buy industrial tooling machines, like those expensive powder-based laser melting systems, press play and you’ll immediately have your business case.    Obviously, that’s not the case with industrial additive manufacturing. There is a major challenge in training and developing expertise. And I think that's where the whole industry will need to continue to evolve.    Having more expertise within the industry and, most of all, having more standardised processes and reliable products will be key for industrial adoption of additive manufacturing.   

Are there any developments in the AM industry that you're excited about?

Yes, definitely. We have a strong focus on not only in-process monitoring, which means using different sensors to obtain as much information as possible out of your process, but also on using that information to do in-process control.   I think that's the Holy Grail for AM because with in-process control you’re able to almost immediately react on deficiencies within your process.    This will make the systems a lot smarter.   

Could you talk a bit more about in-process monitoring and control, and what Aconity3D is doing in that space?

[caption id="attachment_10529" align="aligncenter" width="700"]in-process monitoring in 3D printing In-process monitoring [Image credit: Aconity3D] [/caption]   Our company is a spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, where powder bed laser melting originated.    With that background, we were able to implement different optical sensors to go with the processing laser. And that allows you to draw a lot of information immediately from the interaction zone, melt pool and laser.    This, however, leads to other challenges associated with Big Data. What do you do with that huge amount of recorded data? How do you make sure you skip the data you don't actually need? And how do you distinguish between useful and useless data?    I think that's where the industry is currently at. And that's what we’re also doing. We use a high-speed camera to look inside the process and learn from it, and we also have different sensors enabling a closed-loop in process control.   So if you have that system in place, you can detect if your melt pool is too hot or too large, and you can regulate that through laser power, thus reacting to that signal from the process.    That's really fascinating to me. And I think there's still a lot of potential here.   

Aconity3D has recently announced a partnership with Aerosint. What does this partnership mean for your company going forward?

Ever since I've been in the industry, people have been interested in multi-material metal parts. And it was always the problem of what should come first, the application or the technical development.    For some time, nothing really happened in that direction. And then we met with Aerosint, a Belgian company that has developed a powder deposition device capable of laying down two different materials in the X and Y dimensions on a powder bed. This is basically what has been lacking in multi-material additive manufacturing.    Now we come into the equation with the ability to react to the altered powder pattern or material pattern on our build plate by changing the required process parameters for each individual material.    This means that both partners, Aconity3D and Aerosint, have a strong foundation to make that multi-material AM dream come true.  

What new applications could be opened up with the possibility of multi-material metal 3D printing?

One industry that could really benefit is the jewellery industry.    Creating graded materials, from copper to chromium, may be another opportunity. Those could be used for tooling within the moulding or forging industries. For example, with multi-material 3D printing, you could use copper to create cooling structures and chromium or steel to create the outer surface of the part.    If you have gradients, you may also be able to grade your mechanical properties. This could be useful in the medical field for the reduction of stress shielding. This effect occurs when metal implants are too dense, causing a bone to lose its strength. Stress shielding could also be reduced by changing the mechanical properties of the implant with the help of multi-material 3D printing.    However, before new applications are developed, I think there needs to be a technological push to show the capabilities similar to the current capabilities of additive manufacturing.   

What does the future hold for Aconity3D?

We’ll continue to expand the scope of applicable materials which, similarly to multi-materials, will allow us to offer new applications for our industrial partners. We want to dive deep into specialised series applications.    We understand that with niche applications, it can be really difficult to qualify new materials, especially when it’s only for one customer. However, our bread and butter is to ensure that our customers are satisfied and can exploit the applications that they have in mind.    We ultimately want to be the enabler for innovation for our customers.   To learn more about Aconity3D, visit:    [post_title] => Expert Interview: Aconity3D Managing Director Yves Hagedorn on Helping Companies Innovate with Additive Manufacturing [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-aconity3d-managing-director-yves-hagedorn-on-helping-companies-innovate-with-additive-manufacturing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-14 08:47:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-14 07:47:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )
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    [post_content] => Photocentric is a UK-based manufacturer of 3D printers and materials. The company, founded in 2002, is known for its unique and innovative approach to 3D printing, which it calls Daylight Polymer Printing.
In contrast to similar resin-based technologies like Stereolithography (SLA) or Digital Light Processing (DLP), Photocentric’s Daylight Polymer Printing technology does not use a UV laser or projector to produce 3D-printed parts. 
Instead, its technology uses light from LCD screens to create 3D-printed parts by curing liquid photopolymer resin layer by layer. These Daylight resins, also manufactured by Photocentric, solidify when exposed to light from its printers’ LCD screens. 
Notably, Photocentric’s 3D printers use LCD screens from mobiles, televisions and tablets, making them more affordable than SLA/DLP technologies, but offering the same quality. 
To learn more about Photocentric’s unique technology and examples of it in use, we speak with Paul Holt, Photocentric’s Managing Director. 

Could you tell me about Photocentric and your mission as a company?

[caption id="attachment_10135" align="alignright" width="250"]Paul Holt, Photocentrics Managing Director Paul Holt, Photocentrics Managing Director[/caption] Photocentric was originally founded to manufacture a patented package of photopolymers. Since then, our company has grown to enter a variety of markets, and we apply our photopolymer innovations to a diverse range of industries — including 3D printing.   Innovating photopolymer technology lies at the very core of our business. In 2005, we invented the concept of using LCD screens for 3D printing. In 2014, we developed our first LCD prototype. We’ve just released our seventh LCD printer, with plans for more in the pipeline.    The users of our technology include jewellery designers looking to speed up production or make unique geometrical pieces with 3D printing, dental technicians who need a high-capacity, accurate printer for patient-specific models and manufacturers, engineers and inventors who want to turn their design concepts into tangible prototypes or end-use functional parts.    Ultimately, our mission is to change global manufacturing – not just 3D printing. We’re doing this by making 3D printing affordable, large-scale and functional, and by enabling custom mass manufacture globally.  

How does your Daylight Polymer Printing technology work, and what sets it apart from other resin-based machines available on the market?

Daylight Polymer Printing uses our in-house formulated Daylight liquid photopolymer resin. The resin is cured layer by layer when exposed to our high-resolution, LCD screen-based 3D printers.     A part is created once every layer of resin has been hardened by the light emitted from the LCD screen.    One of the key differentiators of our technology is the quality of our machines. Every stage of our products goes through a thorough quality control procedure to ensure that our customers get the best experience and product available.    Furthermore, our approach is designed to reduce the cost of 3D printing and enable the wider application of the technology. Everyday screens, like phone or TV screens, have become the core of our 3D printers. These LCD screens are reliable and low-cost digital imaging devices.    That, coupled with our photopolymer resin, means we can offer an affordable 3D printing package. Many 3D printing companies do the engineering and then outsource the chemistry – we do everything in-house.   We also offer the largest build volume LCD screen-based printer on the market, with our Liquid Crystal Magna machine, so we’re able to achieve a high level of accuracy on a large scale.  

Which industries could benefit the most from your technology?

We’re able to provide 3D printing solutions to industries like dentistry and jewellery, where small and accurate applications are typical, as well as provide solutions for industries where large scale components and prototypes are required.    In particular, we feel that there is huge potential in the dentistry field for Photocentric. After visiting the IDS 2019 show this year, we saw a huge demand for LCD printing in this sector.    That’s why a huge chunk of our research and development is dedicated to producing dental-specific products, such as Liquid Crystal Dental – our optimised dental printer for chairside or lab due for release later this year.   On the other hand, our technology is also suitable for large component applications within the automotive and entertainment industries. The scope is huge, especially considering the versatility of our LCD printer developments. [caption id="attachment_10147" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Photocentric lab Image credit: Photocentric[/caption]  

Could you share one or two successful applications of how your technology has been used?

One unique customer is Quimbaya Orfebreria, an Argentinian goldsmith that produces craft special pieces for its customers.   As demand began to outweigh supply and they faced design limitations, Quimbaya decided to push traditional methods aside and introduce 3D printing into their workflow. They chose to use our high-resolution LC Precision 1.5 desktop printer.    By using 3D printing, they were able to reduce their manufacturing time by 80%. Their production also increased by 400% and they are now able to produce more intricate and complex designs for their clients.    Closer to home in the UK, another example is the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, a specialist orthopaedic hospital with a long tradition of innovation in the treatment of their patients.    With the use of models printed on the LC Pro, the predecessor of LC Magna, a surgeon was able to help plan a complex femoral osteotomy in a juvenile patient who had a hip deformity. The necessary cuts were planned in advance, along with pre-shaping the implant needed for successful correction. These 3D prints ultimately saved the NHS over £1000 and saved an hour of in-theatre time.  

What are some of the challenges that need to be overcome to accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing?

The greatest challenge is the lack of material properties.    When we first started in 3D printing, we found that three key issues were preventing the wider adoption of 3D printing: 1) the extremely high cost, 2) the lack of manufacturing scalability and 3) the lack of functional properties.   LCD screens have certainly changed the first problem, with thousands of lower-cost mobile screens offering extremely high-resolution printing. Large-format LCD screens have started to answer the problem of scale, however, the issue around material properties is yet to be properly addressed.    We’re currently working with BASF to develop the widest range of resins offering durable properties than can be used functionally in industry.  

How do you see additive manufacturing technologies and the industry evolving?

For us, LCD screens are truly disruptive and will change the game for SLA printing.    Through LCD screens, we can enable the custom mass manufacture of parts, either through single large screens that can produce large parts in a fraction of the time of technologies using lasers or projectors, or a series of smaller, higher-resolution screens that produce lots of smaller parts.     I also see all machines becoming automatic, removing the need for manual intervention.  I expect that functional 3D-printed plastic parts will be used in production lines within 2 years, as the benefits of the absence of tooling, custom designs and freedom of geometry are utilised industrially.    The other change I see transforming the manufacture of ceramic and metal parts is the creation of the green body via 3D printing with subsequent sintering to deliver solid and viable ceramics and metals. This process is both less energy-intensive and lower cost, enabling wider custom manufacture of these materials.  

Photocentric recently announced its new Liquid Crystal Magna 3D printer. Could you take us through some of the specs and the benefits of this machine?

[caption id="attachment_10137" align="aligncenter" width="640"]LC Magna Machine Photocentric's LC Magna 3D Printer [Image credit: Photocentric][/caption]    The vision behind our LC Magna machine is to enable custom mass manufacture and large component prototyping at a cost-effective price. LC Magna can create hundreds of custom parts at significantly low costs.   LC Magna has a large build volume and offers highly accurate printing, which makes it ideal for custom mass manufacture. Its build volume is 510mm x 280mm x 350mm — which makes it the largest LCD screen-based 3D printer currently available.    LC Magna also has a 23.4” 4K Ultra HD screen, coupled with a custom-built backlight. These two elements work together to ensure extremely high print accuracy and detail. The brightness of the backlight enables the printer to expose 100-micron layers from 3-8 seconds.    The machine is mainly targeted at dental technicians, product designers, engineers and manufacturers, who’ll be able to increase their throughput, speed up assembly productions and reduce lead times.   For example, a glasses manufacturer can now mass-produce 36 optical frames within 12 hours that’s less than 20 minutes for each set. A dental technician who needs a high volume of patient-specific models can now print 46 flat arches in just over 1 hour – these cost less than £1.06 per arch when used with our in-house Daylight dental model resin.   

What do the next 12 months hold for Photocentric?

We believe that the 3D printing industry opens up lots of opportunities — it impacts every aspect of manufacturing. Given the wide variety of unexplored possibilities in this area, we’re heavily involved in a range of exciting projects.    For example, we’re working on a range of new 3D printers to produce plastics, ceramics and metals.    We’re also expanding our team, particularly in the R&D department, to dig deeper into 3D printing metal and ceramics. This will have a dramatic impact on our approach to manufacturing materials.   To learn more about Photocentric, visit:   [post_title] => Expert Interview: Exploring Photocentric’s Daylight Polymer Printing Technology with Managing Director Paul Holt [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => expert-interview-photocentric-paul-holt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-06 09:24:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-06 08:24:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )