Another year in Detroit is over for RAPID + TCT, but this time with a difference – this is the first show since the pandemic that international visitors were able to attend! As a result, yours truly was able to be there, along with many others feeling a need to be back on North American soil again.
I’ll admit, as a scared little Australian I wasn’t sure about the Detroit location but waking up on Monday to a beautiful day and views over the Detroit River I started to think differently. Through the week various dinners also saw me enjoying some excellent Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Greek cuisine, but it was the coffee shop, Coffee Down Under, serving coffee to rival some of Melbourne’s best, that proved how truly multi-cultural Detroit is. But enough of the tourist’s guide…let’s get to the 3D printing!
Many of us kicked off a day early on Monday with the Metrix hosted AM Meetup, powered by American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). We packed VentureX with industry professionals, fed them all hearty appetizers with an open bar, and then Adam Penna and I snuck away for our regular AM News LIVE show – just like a normal show except this time IN PERSON! Joining us was Debbie Holton, President of Metrix, to discuss empowering advanced manufacturing and the upcoming Metrix/ASME event, AM Industry Summit held in Long Beach California, June 20-22.
Next we were able to launch not one, but TWO new segments adding value to AM News LIVE. First with Dayton Horvath, Director of Emerging Technologies for AMT who will bring market analysis and insights, and then next with Tyler LeBrun, Additive Manufacturing Lead at Sandia Labs, who does such a great job of decoding many of the academic papers in the additive manufacturing world. Before we could re-join the over 120 attendees outside the Detroit VentureX building in-person broadcast room for AM News LIVE, Alexander Janzen, Director of Business Development at Elementum 3D joined us to discuss their latest news of printing the material Rhenium.
So as the for the actual show and conference…what were the trends? What were the big themes? There were a few that came out quite strongly for me. Let me explain….
Siemens CEO Barbara Humpton opened the event with her talk on the Glocalization of supply chains, that is the need to focus on localized production due to the huge global supply chain pressures we are facing around the world. The recent announcement of the AM Forward program by President Biden reinforces the need to look domestically to secure supply chains. Additive manufacturing is the obvious technology to fill that capability gap due to the reduction of processing steps. The program was discussed widely at the event, I must admit, with some skepticism, but there was a general agreement that endorsement for AM at such a high level is ultimately a good thing for the industry.
By far and away some of the best innovations happening in AM right now is in the materials space. As a materials’ nerd, I love to see it. Unlocking new materials for AM really supercharges 3d printing, as we all feel we’ve been working with substandard materials for much too long, both in the polymers and metals arena. A really eye-catching material was Desktop Metal’s FreeFoam, a resin processes via DLP that expands 2-7 times its initial print size. Formlabs also released two new polyurethane resins designed to be tougher and more impact resistant than other PUs, and best suited for connector components and jigs and fixtures. The biggest show-off in the polymers space though was Stratasys, who launched not one, not two, but SIXTEEN new materials to be used across their FDM, P3, and SAF systems.
For metals there were plenty of talks in the conference focused on the importance of materials innovation, namely Brian Baughman of Honeywell Aerospace on Industrializing Metal Additive. In the news we had Morf3D and 6K announce a partnership to qualify 6K’s metal powders for additive manufacturing, and Elemntum3D announce a work program to develop parameters for Rhenium (the rarest metal!) However for me, it was a chance conversation with the folks from NanoAl at the SLM Solutions drinks which I then followed up at their booth the following day, on their new and improved aluminium alloys designed for 3D printing. Aluminium truly is an alloy that can be improved upon a lot, and this is something that NanoAl is setting about to address.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Or DEI as we call it! This started with the announcement that Women in 3D Printing and SME have formed a strategic partnership where SME will be supporting the TIPE conference, the NextGen mentoring program, and co-authoring the Diversity of AM report. The DEI focus was followed through with a number of talks and panels on the subject of DEI. First up, the Women in 3D Printing panel ‘What Does the Future of AM Look Like’, and then a whole track of the TCT conference dedicated to people and culture, including two panels: ‘Why a 3D Printing Manufacturer should invest in DEI today’, and ‘Creating a DE&I Framework in the Additive Manufacturing Industry’. On a personal note, I am inspired and encouraged by the particular focus that the AM industry is putting on DEI. There’s no doubt that accessing bigger and more diverse talent pools makes us stronger and more competitive, but it also makes a more welcoming industry to work in too.
It wouldn’t be a trade show with a few new machines being launched, right? Höganäs AB’s
Digital Metal debuted their latest machine, the DMP/PRO, a binder jetting system with a focus on very high accuracy and productivity. Photocentric launched the LC Magna v2, providing big increases in print speeds, and Stratasys released their F123 composite ready printers. Perhaps the most interesting was Lumafield, who are, let’s say ‘additive adjacent’ as a CT scanning provider. Lumafield soft launched their Neptune CT scanning system and everyone had fun putting up items for scanning to ‘look within’ as the Lumafield folks like to say. Just a bet, but I think there may be a few nervous providers of 3d printed products out there now that Lumafield is making CT scanning much more accessible!
The one that got EVERYONE’S tongues wagging was the aerospike engine designed by Hyperganic Engineering and printed in copper on an AMCM machine. Truly, it was a work of art, the algorithmically designed beauty was a delight in organic shapes and structures. It was also a really great way of showing off the capability of Hyperganic Engineering software and the AMCM machines. I have so many questions, but for now am just speechless by such an extraordinary feat of design and engineering.
On the polymers side, there was the Nexarator by Nexa3D. Equal parts impressive and terrifying, it is a 3D printed superhero helmet by Nexa3D that nicely showed off the capabilities of the Nexa3D XiP desktop resin printer.
At the other end of the scale was perhaps the least impressive print geometry-wise, but very impressive applications-wise (that’s what we like to see!), and that was the SPEE3D battery terminals. Off the back of the successes with the defense sector, SPEE3D’s stand was kitted out as some sort of army barracks which certainly set them apart.
Unlike previous events and showcases (virtual or otherwise) my sense of the industry is that we are forging ahead with innovation after a long period of uncertainty and stagnation. A big amount of capital flowed into the industry last year and this is now being put to use. In addition, The Great Resignation has happened (or is still happening!) and I saw a lot of industry faces wearing Different company logos and standing in different booths this year. The AM industry feels revitalized and alive, and it’s great to be back on track.