24 Jan 2019
Design for Manufacturing Concept Finally Set for Commercial Viability
Although its coming has been predicted several times, many exhibitors at the recent TCT Show – one of the UK's leading additive manufacturing events – seemed convinced that Design for Manufacturing technology was now fit for purpose.
The rise of Design for Manufacturing technology – the practice of designing product components in such a way that their ease of manufacture is optimised – has had several false dawns in recent years. If industry insiders at the recent TCT Show – one of the UK's leading 3D printing / additive manufacturing events – are to be believed, however, the technique is finally about to become a commercial proposition.
Among those most evangelical as to its potential was Todd Grimm, Founder and President of T. A. Grimm & Associates, a Kentucky-based industry consultancy. Addressing delegates during his own keynote presentation, he said: "The hype-cycle is over. Finally, all of the stakeholders are now pulling in the right direction."
Citing a number of case studies where 3D machine manufacturers had successfully worked in tandem with engineers, he said: "Recently, 3D Systems and GF Machining announced the launch of a scalable DMP Factory 500 machine. Essentially, it's a customisable five-module solution designed to transform metal manufacturing and can deliver high-quality seamless metal parts of up to 500mm x 500mm x 500mm in size at a surprisingly low per-unit cost."
Grimm's enthusiasm was far from unique, with plenty of equally bullish views to be found throughout the expo hall. Most noticeably – and perhaps a little predictably – many exhibitors were only too keen to talk up the way in which their latest printers were solving real engineering problems.
Typical of such advocates was Spencer Robertson, Technical Sales Manager of Buckinghamshire-based RP Support. Clearly bullish with regard to his firm's new printer, the NEO800 stereo-lithography system, he said: "It's been designed and built by our engineers here in the UK. The print area is 30% larger than its competitors and it can perform across all resins."
Essentially, the NEO800 has been designed for large component production, with minimum intervention, while an IT high-power 2-watt laser enables it to process advanced composite materials. Looking to showcase the machine's capabilities, the RPS stand featured a display of several large intricate components.
RPS also resells printers, including the Markforged range of carbon-fibre and metal 3D-printing machines, all of which were on display on a seperately badged stand. A relatively new entrant to the market, Massachusetts-based Markforged launched in 2013 with the aim of creating an end-to-end 3D-printing system capable of rivalling traditional manufacturing operations.
Emphasising the company's focus on accuracy and repeatability, Jon Reilly, Vice-president of its product division, said: "We wanted to create a production system that was reliable, guarantees particular outcomes, was repeatable and would work when you needed it to. This required considerable quality assurance, testing and validation, while ensuring that every single part was delivered just how it was meant to have been."
Another relatively recent entrant to the market is BASF, the German chemicals giant. Seemingly seeing the move as an opportunity to sell more high-performance materials, the company subsequently acquired Hamburg's Advanc3D Materials and Lyon-based Setup Performance SAS.
Now keen to demonstrate the role augmented reality (AR) can play in the 3D-printing design process, Andreas Wurst, BASF's Head of Dynamic Structure Analysis, said: "Such technology can help by instantly sharing information, allowing more advanced structures to be produced and helping solve design engineering problems."
Trumpf, a fellow German company, meanwhile, was in Birmingham to showcase its latest printer, the TruPrint 3000. On a mission to demonstrate its apparently broad appeal, Sales Representative Sarah Keck said: "The 3000 is pitched at any industry where producing complex metal components is a priority. As it has such a large build area – 300mm x 400mm – we're hoping the system is going to create a lot of new opportunities for us."
Another company with its targets set on delivering 3D printing on a truly grand scale was Berlin's BigRep, manufacturer of the One v3, currently the machine with the largest overall capacity on the market – up to one cubic metre of finished product. Demonstrating the high-tech acceptance of the system's capabilities, Sales Director Ingolf Nachtigall had on show a selection of the precision automotive and aerospace parts produced by the unit.
Expanding upon its credentials, he said: "The One has been made for industrial professionals by industrial professionals. Its accuracy, speed and easy access to the large-format print bed saw us as recent recipients of a German Design Award."
Yet another recent arrival in the 3D-printing space was California's Hewlett-Packard. Despite its comparative tardiness, it was keen to demonstrate the credentials of its newly launched HP Multi-Jet Fusion range of colour printers. At the event, promotion of the range fell to Devon-based XYZ Machine Tools, HP's newly appointed UK distributor.
Introducing the latest innovation from the information-technology giant, Mark Higson, a Technical Support Engineer with XYZ, said: "As you might expect from a company of HP's standing, it has developed a 3D printer that's 10 times faster than its current market equivalent. That's going to represent exceptional savings. We're also estimating delivery of 4,500 cubic centimetres per hour, while employing 80% recyclable / reusable materials."
Finally, to a stalwart of the scene – Boston-headquartered GE, one of the world's largest conglomerates. The company has been active in the additive technology field since the very early days, principally with a focus on the manufacture of parts for its aero-engines. This early exposure ultimately led the company to establish its own dedicated 3D-printing division – Sheffield-based GE Additive.
Explaining the thinking behind the move, Shaun Wooton, the subsidiary's Head of Media Relations, said: "It made good business sense to position ourselves at the heart of this developing technology. From our point of view, there's no going back – additive will prove to be a greater and greater contributor to the overall manufacturing processes. That's why we have decided we just have to supply such innovative machines."
The TCT Show 2018 took place from 25-27 September at Birmingham's NEC.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham