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  • Writer's pictureKate

Found on the Expo Floor - RAPID +TCT Edition

I had the opportunity to spend four days in Detroit exploring the latest and greatest tech in Additive Manufacturing. Shout-Out to the Jolly Pumpkin for some amazing pizza, Women In 3D Printing for the amazing company, and to SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) for the epic 90th birthday party they threw for themselves. However, the highlight is always walking the trade show. Here were some of the booths that caught my eye.

Some time ago, I helped design a miniscule folding balloon for a medical application. It took me 30 minutes to fold an origami model, it took me 3 days to model it in SolidWorks. Sheet metal CAD programs have a really rough time when you get over a dozen folds, so Foldstar's tessellation system is a lifesaver for complex structures generated from a single sheet of material.

Inkbit produces a major hardware system for full production printing with some very nice features. It has real-time scanning of the part geometry after each layer for extreme accuracy, a range of useful polymer materials (including the amazing 180% stretch elastomer used in the little heart shown) and build materials that literally melt away. Extremely thin walls with no post-processing or "up or down" side surface defects due to support materials. This heart was hollow, with the internal anatomy fully rendered. Definitely the most precise system I've seen so far for producing elastomeric parts.

I talked a lot about tooling and support materials for manufacturing during my session, so it was a delight to see all of the jigs, fixtures and tooling at the Fortify booth. They've taken 3D printed molds a step further and can now produce molds for high temp and high wear applications. Check out their ESD materials for electrical assembly applications.

I've done quite a bit of micro welding for medical assembly. Development of the weld parameters was always a pain. A "good" weld could look virtually identical to a weak one. The only way to determine the effectiveness of the weld was through destructive testing. Take that challenge, and spread it across an entire part being manufactured via a series of continuous welds (i.e. metal additive manufacturing) and you see why these weld cameras and their stunning optics are so valuable. They provide extreme detail in a wide range of light wavelengths, allowing you to identify the boundaries of your melt pool, and temperature across your entire part, in real time. A smart system is in the works, allowing for real-time data analysis of 100% of your parts.

Stratasys had an amazing range of part types, materials and processes on display. The colors and shapes they were able to produce on textile material were stunning, and the opportunity to pick up these samples and experience the textures first hand was worth the whole trip.

One key point that was discussed in multiple sessions was how the average part costs for metal 3D printing, even for medical titanium systems, is dropping rapidly. Looking at the EOS booth, I found some some evidence for why that is. Not only are total build volumes getting larger, parts are getting stacked higher and closer thanks to the growing sophistication of build plate modeling software. Instead of shifting out a dozen parts out of a bucket of powder, build volumes are filling up with close to 90% part, resulting in "bricks" of parts like this.

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