3D Printers

Euromold Goes Large

Anyone that has ever been to Euromold knows that the Frankfurt Exhibition Centre is a vast expanse of large halls and long, long, LONG corridors. The scale of the place is monstrous. Euromold fills three of the 11 halls (about as far away from the main entrance as you can get) with an array of manufacturing technology, machinery, ancillaries and services. During my time there this year Hall 11 was THE place to be as it housed all of the latest and greatest industrial 3D printers / additive manufacturing machines. It is hard to convey the scale in words – but it is equalled only by the buzz and enthusiasm that filled the hall.

I’m not even going to bother saying I’ll try to keep this brief — impossible — so just grab a coffee or something to see you through if you do want to read on. That said I won’t go into detail here on all of the new 3DP tech that was unveiled there and mentioned here, but specific news articles will follow. More interviews for the Executive Series will also be coming soon — I got some fantastic insight during these interviews and I fully intend to share.

Anyway, back to Euromold 2012. Even as I travelled by taxi from Frankfurt airport to the exhibition centre on the show’s opening day, I got an inkling of what was coming. Paul Webber of Tritech 3D (also of Newsnight fame) put the news out on Twitter of Objet’s Euromold launch — the Objet1000. The ‘1000’ label is a reference to the size of the build chamber of this new Connex platform in the X axis, it is 1000 mm (Y = 800 mm, Z = 500 mm). This is 10x the volume of the existing Connex500. I headed straight there, and knew exactly where to go, despite there being no show guide from the organisers (not impressed with that), as I was guided by the “Objet1000” jingle that was ringing out across the hall. It is a big beast. It looks and works exactly as you would expect an Objet 3D printer to — smart, professional and pretty fast. Full details soon. It was great to meet and interview David Reis, CEO of Objet, facilitated by the inimitable Claire Russell Jones (and bump). The whole Objet team, as ever, were eager and gracious and the stand was permanently besieged.

Diagonally opposite the large Objet stand was another sizable stand with another monster machine that caught my eye. This was the new S-Print, launched at Euromold by ExOne. Talking to Said Omar, Sales Director, he explained the increased build size of this platform (up to 1800 x 1000 x 700 mm or 70 x 39 x 27 in.) for sand materials, with several binder options – furan, phenol or silicate. It works at high speeds; as a visual example, the impeller mould you see in the image below, with dimensions of 1364 x 700 x 626 mm was printed in 16 hours. With a relatively fast brush or blast finish to boot. I was mightily impressed.

I had to wait until 1pm on that first day to see what was under wraps at the Concept Laser stand. They couldn’t hide the fact that it was another colossal machine, even under the branded colour covers.

The covers finally came off after a lengthy introduction in German, and it was BIG. It somewhat belied the actual build chamber, 630 x 400 x 500 mm, with a maximum part length of 740 mm. (Took me a while to work that out, but you orient a large part diagonally in the chamber – duh!). The machine is as big as it is because the X line 1000R has a very nice feature whereby it encompasses two chambers, on a turntable, that allow access to one while the other is still building. Nifty, I thought!

By far the largest and most eye-catching part that I saw at Euromold this year was on the Voxeljet stand. The machine that printed it, the VX4000, was not there, being as it is, the largest 3D printer in the world at around 6m long, with a 4m X axis for ‘continuous’ 3D printing, and possibly the most expensive at €1.6 million. This machine was launched before the show but it really is not until you see a part off it, printed in one go, that the scale hits home. The image probably does not do it justice either, but for me it was one of those jaw-dropping, ‘did I really just gasp out loud?’ moments. The part is a Mount Rushmore tribute and features, from left to right Beethoven, Marilyn Monroe, Einstein and a young Elvis. Cool stuff.

Voxeljet’s other smaller, but equally impressive 3D printers which we previewed before were on the stand, printing and getting plenty of attention.

Talking to product managers and development teams, I discovered that there are two striking things that these large platforms have in common (apart from size), namely that they have all been developed as a result of customer demand and all of the companies reported having at least one on order. (Voxeljet: 1 / Objet: 2 / Concept Laser: 5). That’s pretty telling — and it points to a sector with strong industrial growth and increasing demand.

I heard about lots of different applications too, most of which I can’t talk about. Hopefully soon though, I will keep pushing.

So what else did Euromold throw up?

Well Asiga has introduced a new skin-colour material for hearing aid applications, it’s currently going through FDA approval. Blueprinter had many new, different and highly complex parts displayed on their stand that illustrate how well that platform is coming along and it was nice to catch up with the guys again. EOS has released a couple of new materials, is confident that the Precious M 80 will be released middle of next year (there were lots of lovely gold pieces on their stand) and has revealed a fantastic application for LS that highlights everything good about additive tech (watch this space). Realizer / SLM had some gorgeous and wholly original jewellery applications that caught my attention, it was a delight to meet the people there by way of Chris Sutcliffe who I bumped into. Renishaw was there en masse and sponsored many extra features around the show. I heard a couple of interesting things about R&D but have to remain tight-lipped or die. Sounds good though. 3D Systems unveiled two new machine names (it is actually one machine platform but each set of for different materials) within its ProJet range: the ProJet 3500 HDMax (plastic) and the CPXMax (wax). What is really nifty about these machines is the user interface with a touchscreen and the ability to access them remotely using a mobile app and device (only via iTunes to begin with but they’re working on that). 3DS also launched VisiJet X Plastic – an ABS like material for the ProJet process.

Talking to Cathy Lewis, I did ask about the FormLabs issue, and after defending the company’s right to protect their IP, which is a given, she said that they are striving for “a fast and positive resolution to this.”

Materialise was present in force at Euromold too highlighting two of its eight business divisions — industrial services and software. It was an absolute delight to finally meet up with Vanessa Palsenberg in person and we spent quite a bit of time nattering. I feel like I have known her for years. Genuinely lovely lady. She also facilitated one of the best interviews I have ever conducted, it was with Fried Vancraen, CEO of Materialise. I could seriously talk to that man all day — incredibly knowledgeable, fascinating and awe-inspiring.

Talking of awe-inspiring, another person in the same class as Fried for me is Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. Once again a pleasure to speak with Ping — in her pink 3D printed shoes — ahead of her unveiling a very interesting development from Geomagic in partnership with SpaceClaim. I had been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to get an early demo of Geomagic Spark from Rachael Dalton-Taggart, the lovely Director of Corporate Comms. Always good to do these things less formally I find, and was able to ask lots of questions. Spark is essentially a game-changing 3D scan-in-CAD software application for creating 3D content. Or as I put it, it gets rid of the messy middle bit! Rachael laughed but concurred, which basically means users can complete reverse engineering and subsequent modification of 3D models all in one programme, ahead of conversion to STL. Really impressive stuff.

Apart from leading Geomagic so successfully, Ping has also spent time in the last couple of years writing a book about her life, which is due for release January 1st. I was privileged to receive an inscribed copy at the show and when insomnia got the better of me on Tuesday night I dived in and continued at the airport and on the plane the following evening. It is a must-read. On a packed plane I was blubbing away, the lady next to me asked me if I was okay and when I said it was the book, she took a note of it “Bend, not Break.” Seriously can’t recommend it highly enough. Courage, dignity, grace and determination are always open to us, regardless of the hand we are dealt in life, and this woman has all of them in abundance despite the terrifying hand she was dealt. I haven’t quite finished yet but I find myself simultaneously challenged and uplifted by this book.

I caught up with the ladies in orange of course — Julie Reece and Deirdre McCormack. Mcor has formally launched the IRIS colour 3D printing platform and will be shipping by the end of the year following its introduction a few months back. Some further R&D has greatly improved the results that this FULL colour system is bringing forth and this was evidenced by the demo parts on show and the constant stream of visitors to the stand. I got a much better understanding of how the ‘gazillion’ colours can be achieved via a 2-sided 2D inkjet process prior to loading on the IRIS. And the big news from Mcor, which somewhat blind-sided me, is that the company has struck a deal with Staples Printing Systems Division to launch a new 3D printing service called “Staples Easy 3D,” online via the Staples Office Centre. The online platform for Staples Easy 3D will initially be made available in the Netherlands and Belgium in Q1 2013 and will be rolled out quickly to other countries. This is HUGE and will open up 3D printing possibilities to a vast range of people.

Great to speak with RJ at the Makerbot stand again, who is heading over to London after Frankfurt for The Gadget Show Live, poor guy, the jet lag has left him wondering whether it is Easter or Christmas. But chatting to him with Bertier Luyt (French distributor of Makerbot products via Le FabShop) and Kerry Stevenson of Fabbaloo he soon got into his stride and we got a real glimpse into the “Made in Brooklyn” ethos behind Makerbot and the company structure that is much more of an extended family than it is corporate — even with 170+ employees.

I scheduled a meet up with Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways — insightful and to the point as ever. It was a real pleasure to spend some time with Kerry (aka Fabbaloo) a softly spoken, extremely knowledgeable man in this space for whom I have immense respect. Caught up briefly with the old crowd at TCT/Personalize – always a joy, as well as all the usual suspects and friends — Andy Allshorn (At 3D Squared), Graham Tromans, Richard Hague (Nottingham Uni), Phil Reeves (Econolyst), Stephen Holmes (of Develop 3D, we exchanged insults – always makes me LOL and a very good writer) and Mark Tyrtania (LaserLines). I glimpsed but ran out of time to catch up properly with Messers Gary Miller (IPF), Terry Wohlers and Neil Hopkinson (Sheffield Uni).

Essentially – Euromold was informative, insightful and I had a blast in Frankfurt

Like I said, lots of more in-depth news to follow.