FormNext 2018 – AM Coming of Age and Where to From Here?


Lee-Bath Nelson  

Additive Manufacturing Formnext 2018 Large Size Demo Part B Shining 3D

Everyone expected Formnext to be bigger and more popular and it was: 632 exhibitors and 26,919 visitors from 32 countries, to the point that the organizers already announced that next year it will be moving to a new location. I was fortunate enough to meet with many visitors and exhibitors and across the board, they all thought the level of professionalism and industrial approach at Formnext has also taken a big leap forward. For me, personally, this was my first time attending (and exhibiting) so I had no frame of reference but the absolute level of industrial applications, technologies and perhaps most importantly workflows and software tools was impressive. Overall what impressed me the most were the clear signs of the entire ecosystem maturing and I will try to point those out as part of my review of the highlights of Formnext.

(Smart) Software = Automation

We all want the ecosystem to mature so everyone, especially customers, can benefit from an industrial grade automated digital manufacturing solution. To do that in a digital environment, first and foremost (after excellent 3D printers of course) software is needed. The software automates the process, secures everything end-to-end, manages the workflow and IP protection, and controls the details (wherein lies the devil). Several industry insiders and journalists have mentioned that attention has shifted more towards software and several analysts I’ve spoken with concur that more attention needs to be given to software. This is a clear sign of the ecosystem maturing. While doing experiments or one-off projects, manual flows are acceptable – in production, they are much less acceptable if at all. Workflow and MES software companies such as AMFG and Link3D had well-placed booths with lots of activity. In addition, several large machine manufacturers had major software announcements and even dedicated significant booth real estate to software. Prime examples were our friends at GE, which came out with their preparation and workflow software, and EOS which showcased their EOSConnect and EOSPrint software suites. Whether from a software company or a multidisciplinary machine manufacturer, platforms such as these must integrate with others (we feel the same way about LEO Lane) and the result is a seamless end-to-end solution culminating in a consistent, secured, correct product, each and every time. To that end, we are happy to already partner with quite a few and look forward to more in the future.

Industrial Heavy-Weights

Additively Manufactured window guide rail for BMW i8 Roadster HP

Several industrial heavyweights such as HP, Trumpf, and injection molding experts Arburg have previously been present at formnext with large booths (above a window guide rail for BMW i8 Roadster additively manufactured by HP). This year Arburg introduced a large format FreeFormer 3D printer. Arburg’s proprietary technology allows for the use of the same raw materials as injection molding – these materials have a larger target audience than just AM and are likely priced more affordably because of it. The GE booth highlighted the new Arcam Spectra H machine with a larger build area and a wider variety of materials thanks to its wider range of temperatures. In another sign of ecosystem industrial growth, other industrial suppliers had large booths. One impressive large stand was from toolmaker DMG Mori. They highlighted their Lasertec SLM (metal) technology 3D printer and also announced an investment in Intech, an India based metal printer manufacturer. It’s great to see these industrial heavyweights alongside long-standing ecosystem companies such as EOS, Stratasys (see below Stratasys TPU 92A elastomer used in auto air intake hose at Formnext 2018), and Materialise.

Stratasys - Auto Air Intake Hose 3D printed FDM TPU 92A Thermoplastic Polyurethane Formnext 2018

Stratasys TPU 92A Elastomer

Metal Metal Metal and DLP

Strut Mounting with reinforcement elements LMD

The pervasiveness of Metal AM machines was very evident in many many booths. GEEOS, Trumpf, HP, DesktopMetalDMG Mori, and quite a few others displayed metal machines using various technologies and more importantly, applications using them such as the additively manufactured strut mounting with reinforcement elements by Trumpf (above), the hydraulic manifold by MOOG and Heraeus using Scalmalloy material (below), the burner fronts by EOS (second below), e-motor housing by RSC Engineering and M&H CNC Technik (detail below) and the large size part B by Shining 3D (up top). Stratasys announced their future metal 3D printer using new proprietary LPM (Layer Powder Metallurgy) technology which uses standard alloys, starting with aluminum. Aluminum is an interesting choice for first material (more on materials below) since it is used by many in the transportation industry (trains and automotive especially). It seems the idea behind LPM is to combine a lost wax mold and 3D printing in one 3D printing process, layer by layer. The boundaries of the item are jetted in a binder/wax material for each layer and the powder is compacted initially per layer and then the completed bed undergoes cold isostatic pressing for further compaction. Support material (powder) is claimed to then be easily removed (whether it’s reusable or not isn’t clear to me) and the boundary wax is also removed (I assume with some external heat) and finally the part is sintered in high temperature. I like innovations that make me think: why hasn’t anyone thought to do this before? I suspect this one (encapsulating compacted powder in 3D printed boundaries until it is sintered in an oven) might be of that ilk.

Hydraulic Manifold Heraeus with MOOG LBM Material Scalmalloy

Additively Manufactured Burner Fronts EOS Siemens at Formnext 2018

Detail from E-Motor Housing RSC Engineering GMBH M&H CNC Technik GMBH

The other technology that stood out at Formnext are the faster DLP machines. Carbon has gained its justifiable fame by creating the CLIP technology which is many times faster than SLA. Carbon purportedly has many customers, the public one is Adidas’ FutureCraft sneakers. It seems that the DLP technology is narrowing the gap with increased speed of DLP technologies in various sizes and several materials. Formnext included stands from Sisma, XYZPrinting, EnvisionTec and others all displaying DLP solutions that are claimed to be notably faster than SLA.

Material Materials

3D printed airless tires made from BASF thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) Image via BASF

Several large material companies were very evident at Formnext including Heraeus and BASF (above airless tires made from BASF TPU – image via BASF). Heraeus showcased their copper material which they told me works with existing powder-based systems. Copper is a very useful material because of its price point and conductive properties. Printer manufacturers also showcased proprietary materials for their machines. In the plastic arena polypropylene is especially desirable since many injection molded items are done in this material and its use makes their move to AM that much simpler. I saw displays with this material at Arburg (below) and also at Ultimaker (second below) but I’m sure there were others I didn’t see.

Arburg Additively Manufactured from PP Material

Ultimaker PP Material

So What’s Next?

In her interesting thought-out opinion piece, preceding her in-depth Formnext review, Rachel Park wrote “As ever – the reality of AM for production is a conundrum of positive progress and frustrating reservation. However, I believe the evolution is happening out there, right now.” I couldn’t agree more. There is clearly a lot going on, much of it under wraps. Over time, as in everything, applications are revealed and other stealth processes are added. Upwards and onwards(!) – well, in a non-linear fashion :-) One thing is for sure: I did not leave myself enough time to go through the entire show. With 26 scheduled meetings over roughly 2.5 days, it was a whirlwind trying to jam some walk around time as well. Next year I’ll be there for the entire show!

What were your impressions from this year’s show and events? Tell us about it 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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