Additive Manufacturing and Industrial Production NextGen
Discovering the Future of Additive Manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing (3D printing in higher quantities) was the focus of Formnext. The trade show also presented solutions for complete production lines: 3D printing (faster, ever more precise, even better materials), cleaning (removal of granules/support structures/casting resin), surface treatment grinding, polishing) with automated removal and feeding systems.
Individual Applications Have Long Been Established
The individual user applications, the desktop solutions for the development office, and the maker-lab scene with its lively lifestyle, are entirely pushed into the background at Formnext 2019. Current applications are regarded as established and only appear on the edges.
Metal Printing on the Rise
The focus of the fair was metal printing. Here is where the most significant advances in speed and precision that are currently taking place.
Metal Printing Increasingly Profitable
In additive manufacturing metal printing, the profitability threshold is reached earlier and earlier, as the established processes are comparatively expensive.
Metal Liquid Pressure
Xerox intends to enter the market in January with its innovative "Metal Liquid Printing" process. This development can be very promising, as Xerox is a major player with high innovation potential.
Focus on Post-Processing
Post-processing is becoming increasingly important to establish metal printing as a process that goes beyond the production of individual prototypes to small series production.
Cleaning (removal of granulate/support structures/casting resin) and surface treatment (grinding, polishing) are combined into production lines, partly with automatic feed and removal systems.
Comeback of Stereolithography
At the trade show, the processing of plastic was on the sidelines. They have established themselves. The progress in the field is no longer so significant. Stereolithography is making a comeback. As the oldest process, it was long considered to be inferior to other processes (PDM, laser sintering, HP Multijet-Print). In the meantime, the quality of stereolithography has improved, and the costs have fallen sharply.
Soft plastics with high rebound elasticity are already used today in additive manufacturing for sports shoes. Geometries and material properties may be realized in the sole area, using new technologies that could not be realized in the past using conventional manufacturing.
An Industry is Establishing Itself
Former start-ups, if they survived and have settled, have become medium-sized to larger companies. Product design, stand design, and sales staff all look professional. Furthermore, there are many niche applications (build-up welding, concrete 3D printing) and special materials (titanium, nickel, ceramics, material combinations), which find their applications, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Major material manufacturers have recognized the importance of the market, and some were represented at the trade fair for the first time.
In the foreseeable future, additive manufacturing (AM) will not replace the established manufacturing processes. Still, in the medium to long term, it will develop into an equal and in some cases, superior process technology by increasing speed, reliability, and quality.
For now, additive manufacturing is still a niche application, whose niches will become larger and more significant shortly.
The decision in favor of additive manufacturing over established production processes is always made when it can play off its particular advantages. Each application has to be weighed individually. Our task as a design company is to keep an eye on these developments for our customers.