From the halls of Formnext 2023, we round up the latest innovations, technological advancements and trends from the world of 3D printing that are enabling lighter, more efficient and, sometimes, previously impossible component designs.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is continuing to revolutionise the way industries are designing and manufacturing their products. AM technologies have taken great strides in recent years, driven by a higher level of maturity, increasing integration into production lines, automation advances and new production technologies and materials. The latest innovations and applications from the sector were on display in November at Formnext 2023, Europe’s largest 3D printing trade show. Naturally, the International Design Engineer team were on the ground in Frankfurt to bring you the latest product launches, trends and insights from the sector.
HIGH TEMP MATERIALS AND PROJECTOR-BASED POLYMER PRINTING
3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems unveiled several new product innovations at Formnext, including a ground-breaking high-temperature material and new projector-based polymer 3D printing platform for faster production of large, end-use parts.
Starting with the new Accura AMX High Temp 300C material for Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, 3D Systems has delivered an unfilled material with what it claims is an ‘unmatched’ heat deflection temperature (HDT) of 300°C – nearly double the HDT of currently available unfilled material. The material’s new chemistry does not require a thermal post-cure, enabling a more streamlined workflow and reduced time to part-in-hand for manufacturers. These properties make the Accura AMX High Temp 300C ideal for high-temperature component testing and general use parts for applications such as HVAC, consumer appliances, motor enclosures and stators.
3D Systems also debuted its new metal C-103 metal material capable of delivering parts with exceptional mechanical properties for challenging environments. C-103 is a Nobium-alloy classified as a refractory material that is resistant to decomposition by heat, pressure or chemicals and retains its strength and form at high-temperatures and in the face of high stresses. The material also has excellent resistance to high-frequency vibrations, making it an ideal choice for rocket, hypersonic and jet propulsion applications within spacecraft, satellites and launch vehicles in the space, aerospace and defence sectors.
The company also unveiled the latest configuration of its DMP Flex 350 Triple, a compact, three-laser system featuring 3D Systems’ best-in-class vacuum chamber design and an extension on the signature Removable Print Module (RPM) concept. The printer offers a larger build capacity with the same footprint, adding a third laser and larger build area to deliver higher productivity and large, seamless parts, as Marty Johnson, Vice President Product and Technical Fellow at 3D Systems, explained while showing us round the company’s Formnext booth: “This puts us in a place where we can really go after some of those high-value applications,” he said. “The vacuum chamber with low oxygen content lets us do a couple of things. Firstly, from an economics perspective, it extends the life of your powders, so when you’re running expensive powders like titanium, pure copper or tungsten, for example, the chamber allows them to run to their full lives, helping to reduce any waste and improve powder utilisation. Secondly, as you get higher density you get less cracking, and therefore quality is improved, allowing customers to really get into some of the more highly specialised materials, like tungsten, that few people can do well. For instance, with pure copper, this vacuum chamber allows you to achieve 100% conductivity, which is a really big deal in terms of efficiency.”
Another significant product launch on the 3D Systems booth was the previewing of its forthcoming affordable, turnkey closed-loop Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) system, the SLS 300. Designed to operate in a smaller footprint environment outside of a manufacturing floor, such as offices, material research labs and workshops, the system makes SLS 3D printing available to a broader range of customers looking to accelerate their product development and in-house volume production with increased flexibility, lower risk, and reduced manufacturing and development costs.
“This is probably one of the most accessible SLS solutions for people looking to get into additive as it is an easy-to-install ecosystem that can be operational in under an hour,” said Johnson. “The system is compatible with a wide material portfolio and can address lots of applications, while the automation aspect of the software can make you a turnkey expert very quickly.”
Alongside the SLS 300, the company has also introduced its brand new SLS 300 Powder Recycling Station (PRS) – a fully automated unit that works in tandem with the SLS 300 to recycle unused material currently in the system and mix it with fresh material. This allows the user to fully use all the material to maximise their investment while lowering production costs and reducing demand for human intervention.
ENSURING BUILD QUALITY WITH AI
Meanwhile, 3D printing software provider Oqton has introduced the latest addition to its Manufacturing OS (MOS) and 3DXpert software – Oqton Build Quality – designed to evaluate build performance across workflows to prevent, detect and correct anomalies and defects. The AI-powered solution for metal powder bed printers is designed to ensure the production of high-quality parts and process repeatability for accelerated time-to-market.
Currently in its Beta phase, Oqton Build Quality encompasses the company’s 3DXpert Build Simulation, MOS Build Monitoring and 3DXpert Build Inspection solutions to monitor the entire additive manufacturing process and mitigate anomalies resulting from errors during the build setup, printing, or with materials. Tomasso Tamarozzi, Product Director of Additive Manufacturing Monitoring at Oqton, talked us through the technical details of the new solution, “The solution uses only the hardware of the 3D printer and built-in cameras to take images of the build in real-time, while AI models run alongside the images in tandem with brand new aggregation algorithms. Then, users can export the results from the cloud and perform analyses, comparison and simulation on the detected anomalies layer by layer. Users can select single anomalies, visualise them, increase their size, filter them by volume, and understand their severity.”
Detecting and correcting anomalies early in the manufacturing process helps to ensure to success of each build, enabling manufacturers to develop repeatable processes for prototyping and production that result in high-quality parts while reducing costs.
“We have a complete solution that is agnostic with respect to 3D printers – all it requires is cameras to provide the images, so there isn’t the need for extra hardware to be added to the printers, meaning it is a cheaper solution that a lot of our competitors,” added Tamarozzi. “This makes it a very attractive option for industries like aerospace, where one-off parts are very expensive, or healthcare where repeatability and quality is essential.”
Oqton Build Quality is currently undergoing Beta testing with selected manufacturing partners and is operational on numerous production sites, with the final release of the software planned for March.
EMPOWERING FACTORY FLOORS WITH AM
Another key announcement during the show was the launch of Markforged’s newest printer, the FX10, designed to supercharge productivity and profitability on the factory floor. Sitting between the company’s stalwart X7 and large-format FX20 printers, the FX10 features built-in automation for quality assurance and print routines that are designed to deliver strong and accurate prints every time.
Daniel Leong, Markforged’s Senior Product Marketing Manager, talked us through the new machine’s capabilities: “The X7 is a great machine but needed an upgrade, and we took a lot of the things we learned while developing the FX20 and brought them down to a smaller form factor, to create the FX10. We’ve baked automation into this machine, with lots of sensors that can diagnose what is happening during the build process, and it’s built to be highly modular. From it’s core, the FX10 is built for people working on factory floors who want a machine that can produce high-quality, accurate parts, and who want to rely on the same facilities in different locations. In terms of verticals, the FX10 is suited to a whole range of factory floors, including heavy manufacturing, oil and gas, automotive, tooling and fixtures, consumer electronics and so on.”
Designed to ensure easy adoption on the manufacturing floor, the printer’s modular systems can be expanded and upgraded with additional capabilities. For example, it’s possible to incorporate a printhead integrated vision module to capture detailed part images and data to ensure part quality and optimise printer performance. The Carbon Fibre Reinforcement (CFR) print system delivers high print quality in a heated print chamber allowing for print speeds that are nearly twice as fast – and print sizes that are up to twice as large – as the company’s previous industrial series printers.
Leong went on to outline the downstream benefits the FX10 can provide for factory floors: “Factory floors have the problem that they need to be dynamic, but generally things that function at a high level often are not dynamic to produce. For instance, if you need a precision CNC machined part, that could take weeks or months to produce and cost thousands of dollars, which means you really need to get it right first time. With the FX10, all of our polymers are inherently strong and you’re able to print a lot of these parts right away in a fraction of the time, while also removing the need for a huge inventory of parts thanks to Markforged’s Digital Inventory.”
In addition to the FX10, Markforged also made another notable announcement during the show: the launch of its new ultra-high performance material specifically designed for 3D printing aluminium-strength aerospace components on the FX20 3D printer. Vega is a carbon fibre-filled PEKK filament that is designed to not only offer exceptional strength but also weight reduction, cost efficiency and lead time benefits for customers.
“Vega marries a function the aerospace sector needs with the form that it expects,” Leong explained. “The material has excellent surface quality that exceeds most high-temperature plastics used for 3D printing, while also offering a smooth black matte finish. Vega has a lot of in-demand properties, such as FST resistance, minimal warpage, and fewer defects. Most 3D printing right now in aerospace is limited to non-critical, non-structural parts, like a doorknob. With Vega, aerospace manufacturers can start to start to take 3D printing with CFR to structural applications, like a seat bracket, and hopefully in the future to critical-structural parts like a flat bracket.”