Additive Manufacturing – 2018 Highlights


Aya Bentur  

Additively Manufactured Vitamix Nozzles on Platform Carbon

Vibrant, bigger, faster, those are the words that best describe the additive manufacturing ecosystem in 2018. It was a year of new – developments, technologies, and materials, a year of more – applications, use cases, and investment rounds. Formnext was a grand finale for a vibrant and exciting year. So much has happened that is worth mentioning when summing up the year… Where to begin? Here are our reflections on the past year.

A Community

The AM ecosystem has shown this year the power of working together as a creative and innovative community. There have been numerous partnerships and collaborations this year, within the ecosystem as well as with adjacent fields. One recent example is ADAPT (the Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies) – an additive manufacturing consortium launched by MIT together with various  companies within the AM industry such as Autodesk, EOS, Formlabs, BigRep, Protolabs and Mimaki as well as companies adopting AM in their production such as Bosch, Volkswagen and General Motors. AM consultants, an important part of the community, underline the importance of understanding various disciplines involved in AM production. As we highlighted in our AMneeds series, whether it’s material development with chemicals companies, or developing and incorporating software solutions for all stages from simulation to the supply chain, an understanding of the ecosystem as a whole is a must. A well thought out end to end solution requires a wide view and consultants specializing in AM are one way to provide this perspective based on in-depth research, experience, and previous use cases. Another way to gain a wider understanding of the ecosystem is collaboration. To that end, SAP is facilitating collaboration between peers and experts in its collaboration rooms where companies can collaborate with service providers and specialists, for example, exchange knowledge and needs on a specific use case in a secure surrounding.

Going Up – Going Down

One of the most commonly known setbacks concerning the adoption of AM for industrial purposes is the cost of machines along with the speed of manufacturing. This year, as the costs of machines and materials are going down, the number of parts produced is going up – BMW additively manufactured its one-millionth part this year (below). But cost should refer to more than just the manufacturing cost per part – it seems that 2018 brought an understanding that cost benefits must also include the cost reduction in the supply chain, manufacturing on demand, keeping virtual inventory instead of overproduction and excessive storage. “It’s no longer an exploration of emerging technology. Now it’s simply about applying 3D printing in places where it saves manufacturers money and enables them to move faster,” said Greg Mark, CEO of Markforged.

3D printed window guide rail BMW i8 Roadster - assembly

Invisible Parts

DSM - Car part - air pipe - 3D printed using Arnitel ID2060 HT

Rachel Park pointed out that when OEMs are asked about “invisible applications” of additive manufacturing: “most [OEMs], if not all agreed that compared with what they can talk about, there was >80% production applications, many serial production, not visible”.  Identifying the right part for AM production is crucial, not all parts can bring benefit when additively manufactured, more importantly a company doesn’t have to redesign entire products for AM, it should “open up” every product, looking at all the parts that form a product as well as all the parts involved in its manufacturing process. Many of the parts that are chosen to be additively manufactured might not be in the spotlight, such as jigs, fixtures or internal parts – there is definitely much more than meets the eye.  “Today millions of “invisible” parts are printed: sacrificial tools that never see the light of day. Hundreds of thousands of dental models are produced yearly. There are countless wax casting patterns for jewelry, engine parts, and other metal parts in many industries. 3D printed clips, jigs, and fixtures are used in factories around the world.” Said Vyomesh Joshi, President & CEO of 3D Systems, when asked to comment on the passing year (above 3D printed car air pipe –DSM, and below AMFG‘s example of a part catalog).

AMFG’s part catalog - Image via AMFG

New New New

On the technology side, there has been an abundance of new additive printing methods, ranging from metal to polymers, from powder to liquid, all geared toward industrial production. Just to mention a few, HP’s Metal Jet 3D printing technology, Velo3D’s DMLS technology, Optomec’s hybrid system, and a new method called Joule Printing by Digital Alloys (below 3D printed roller finger follower from HP’s Metal Jet system in stainless steel – Photo by Dayton Horvath).

A 3D printed roller finger follower from HP’s Metal Jet system in 316L stainless steel - Photo by Dayton Horvath

When it comes to applications, invisible applications notwithstanding, those applications that are public validate the potential of additive manufacturing in industrial production. Adidas and Carbon‘s FutureCraft is one of those known examples, Michelin’s additively manufactured sipes is another one. 2018 also brought numerous new transportation applications such as the 3D printed brake parts for Ford’s Shelby GT500, BMW’s i8 Roadster 3D printed metal bracket (below), as well as components of NASA’s rocket engines. Some more applications are the 3D printed razor handles by Gillette and Formlabs, the vitamix nozzle also by Carbon, and the list goes on.

BMW Metal 3D Printed Bracket BMW i8

Round 1, 2, and 3

Another testament to the AM ecosystem activity this year can be seen in funding rounds for new and not so new 3D printing startup companies. Desktop Metal reached a total of $277 million in venture funding, Formlabs was valued at $1 billion after raising another $30 million in their latest funding round led by Tyche Partners, Shapeways also raised $30 million in their Series E funding this year, Boeing HorizonX invested in 3D printing startup Morf3D, Arevo received $12.5 million in a Series B funding round led by Asahi Glass – and, again, this is a very partial list.

From Student to Manufacturer

The understanding of the system involved in AM extends to the design field as well, this year many design projects used 3D printing as a bridge towards manufacturing. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is in its base scalable, therefore a young graduate’s design project, if done properly, can be easily scalable for industrial or semi-industrial manufacturing. An example of a project addressing manufacturing concerns answered by AM is Knowme by Naomi Hertz a recent masters graduate at Bezalel, who created a digital platform for shoe manufacturing using AM. Also this year, during Milan design week ECAL exhibited a manufacturing platform (below), showcasing design for additive manufacturing, taking into account much more than the design of an object but an understanding of the entire supply chain.

ECAL Digital Market 3D Printing Milan Design Week

It’s truly been an amazing year, can’t wait to see what 2019 brings! Stay tuned for our first post of the new year, with LEO Lane predictions on additive manufacturing in 2019.

The year is almost over and there is so much to write about. If we missed something crucial, let us know in the comments below or email us. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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