The Additive Manufacturers User Group (AMUG) conference has always been a bit different from other conferences or shows, as it emphasizes hands-on learning. This year’s conference is the largest yet, with 600+ registrants. In addition, 60 exhibitors tonight gave attendees a chance to get up close to the 3D printing / additive manufacturing technologies they offer.
Highlights from today’s conference include:
Todd Grimm, president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, Inc., gave the keynote today. In his take on the industry, 3DP /AM is going through more of an evolution, rather than the revolution various media tout. Even though this might be a less “sexy” take on the industry, 3DP / AM has a bright future.
The question is, how fast and how much change will happen?
In the last few months, there have been an amazing number of introductions of hardware, software, and materials. But, despite the media hype on them, most of news has really been evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
A key trend, though, involves major vendors adding jets or nozzles to speed the build time of their systems. Often, these jets/nozzles take on the support material.
Another trend is the emphasis of many vendors on SLA systems or new versions of stereolithography.
One way to read all the new product introductions is to view them as additional options for your additive projects.
Hybrid systems, those can combine subtractive and additive functions, are gaining interest. Expect to see more of these systems in the next few years.
Another way vendors are speeding up the whole 3DP process is by automating many of the front end and the back end processes.
One of the more exciting developments is from Optomec, with its Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) technology. LENS uses a high-power laser (500W to 4kW) to fuse powdered metals into fully dense 3-dimensional structures. The nozzle is spraying the powdered metals and the laser is fusing them just before deposit onto flat, or non-flat surfaces. The LENS 3D printer uses the geometric information contained in a CAD solid model to automatically drive the LENS process as it builds up a component layer by layer. Additional software and closed-loop process controls ensure the geometric and mechanical integrity of the completed part. And this technology can be transported for use with other systems.
If you are interested in printers in the sub $5000 category, consider those purchases more for exploring and learning the technology. That market will undergo considerable change as companies fail, get bought out, or simply disappear.
Two software companies have ported their offerings to the AMF format, SpaceClaim and Cimatron. The AMF File format enables you to take full advantage of all the great features available in 3D printers.
The prosumer market should grow in the next few years as more engineers turn to a reasonable tool that gives them the capability to model, test, and try at their desk before going to a service provider for more finished versions.
Which leads into the next trend–the growth of service providers, especially for final prototypes or end use parts.
Even though the media does not cover this application, the largest application for 3DP / AM is that of making fixtures and jigs to support manufacturing.
And another important note—there will be a huge demand for AM professional over the next few years.