IMTS 2022 day two: 3D printing’s automation trend gains new impetus  

On day two of the 2022 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), it became clear that ‘digitization’ and ‘automation,’ which have long been 3D printing buzzwords, are increasingly being reflected in reality across the industry.

Towards the start of IMTS’ second day, Canon Sales Engineer Grant Zahorsky led a session in which he outlined how automation could help manufacturers overcome staff shortages. Arguably, this set the tone of the event, with firms across the showfloor issuing significant updates on products with the potential to minimize human invention, while optimizing the cost, lead time and geometry of parts. 

To help manufacturers keep track of what this shift could mean for them, 3D Printing Industry’s Paul Hanaphy has spent the day covering events live in Chicago, and put together a summary of the latest from IMTS below.  

The Entrance to McCormick Place, Chicago. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
The entrance to McCormick Place, Chicago during IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Varying advances in automation 
At IMTS, a plethora of technologies have been displayed that are designed to help advance the automation of 3D printing, but these have also taken on vastly-different forms. At a Siemens session, for instance, Additive Manufacturing Business Manager Tim Bell said “there’s no better technology” to advance digitization in the world of manufacturing, than 3D printing. 

However, for Siemens, this means digitizing factory design, as well as using the technology at sister firm Siemens Mobility to digitize over 900 individual train spare parts, that can now be printed on-demand. To continue “accelerating the industrialization” of 3D printing, Bell said the company has invested in ‘CATCH’ innovation spaces, which have opened in Germany, China, Singapore and the US.

Ben Schrauwen, GM of 3D Systems-owned software developer Oqton, meanwhile, told 3D Printing Industry how its machine learning (ML)-driven technology is facilitating greater automation in part design and manufacturing. Using a range of different ML models, the firm’s technology automatically generates a machine and CAD programming setup, in a way that optimizes build results. 

According to Schrauwen, one of the key benefits of adopting Oqton’s offering is that it allows for the printing of metal parts on any machine with “16 degree-overhangs, without any changes.” Already, he says the technology is gaining traction in the medical and dental industries, with demand in the oil and gas, energy, automotive, defense and aerospace sectors expected to follow soon.

“At the core of Oqton, is an MES with an IoT platform that’s totally connected, so we know what’s happening in production environments,” explained Schrauwen. “The first industry we went after was dental. Now we’re starting to go into the energy sector. Because we have so much data in the system, generating automated certification reports becomes easy, and oil and gas is a great example of this.”

A demo part designed to indicate the complex support-free overhangs made possible by Oqton's software. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
A demo part designed to indicate the complex support-free overhangs made possible by Oqton’s software. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Velo3D and Optomec’s aerospace exploits
Velo3D often comes to trade shows with impressive aerospace prints, and at IMTS 2022 it hasn’t disappointed. At the firm’s booth, it’s exhibiting a titanium propellant tank it has managed to produce using its Sapphire 3D printer for Launcher, without needing to incorporate any internal supports whatsoever. 

“Traditionally, you’re going to need support structures and you’re going to have to remove them,” explained Velo3D Technical Business Development Manager Matt Karesh. “Then you’re going to have a really rough surface from the remnants. The process of removal itself is also going to be expensive and complex, and you’ll have performance problems.”

Ahead of IMTS, Velo3D announced it had qualified M300 Tool Steel for the Sapphire, and it also debuted parts made from the alloy at its booth. Featuring a high level of strength and hardness, the metal is said to have attracted extensive interest from various automotive manufacturers considering printing it into diecast inserts, as well as others leaning towards using it for tooling or injection molding. 

The 3D printed Launcher propellant tank at Velo3D's booth. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
The 3D printed Launcher propellant tank at Velo3D’s booth. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Elsewhere, in another aerospace-focused launch, Optomec rolled out the first system it has developed alongside its Huffman subsidiary, the LENS CS250 3D printer. The fully-automated manufacturing cell can be operated individually or chained together with others, to produce standalone parts or conduct repairs on builds like worn-down turbine blades. 

While generally designed for maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO), Optomec Regional Sales Manager Karen Manley explained that it also has significant potential within material qualification. Given that the system’s four material feeders can be fed independently, she said “you can develop alloys and print them instead of mixing the powder,” and even create wear coatings.

Optomec's LENS CS250 3D printer at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
Optomec’s LENS CS250 3D printer at IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Pushing high-throughput polymer AM 

On the photopolymer front, two advances really stood out, the first of which was the launch of P3 Deflect 120 for Stratasys subsidiary Origin’s One 3D printer. A result of a new partnership between Origin’s parent firm and Evonik, the material is designed specifically for blow molding applications, in a process that requires parts to have a heat deflection of up to 120oC. 

The material’s reliability has now been validated for this on the Origin One, with Evonik saying its tests suggest the polymer yields 10% stronger parts than those produced via a competing DLP printer, and Stratasys expects it to further broaden the appeal of a system with already-strong open-material credentials. 

In machine advances, the Inkbit Vista 3D printer was also on display, just a few short months after the first of the systems was shipped to Saint Gobain. At the show, Inkbit CEO Davide Marini explained how “the industry thinks that material jetting is for prototyping,” but the precision, volume and scalability of his company’s new machine effectively disprove this. 

The machine enables the creation of multimaterial parts with meltable wax supports, and its build plate can be filled with a density of up to 42%, a figure Marini described as a “world record.” Thanks to its linear technology, he also suggested the system is flexible enough to one day be turned into a hybrid with ancillaries like robotic arms, although he adds this remains a “long-term” ambition. 

“We are breaking away and demonstrating that inkjet is actually the best technology for production,” concluded Marini. “Right now, the biggest traction that we are experiencing is in the field of robotics. We have shipped the machine to a robotics company that’s making components for warehouses, where you need to store merchandise and shipping.”

A build volume worth of Inkbit Vista-3D printed parts. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
A build volume of Inkbit Vista-3D printed parts. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

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Featured image shows the entrance to McCormick Place, Chicago during IMTS 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.