Additive Manufacturing Invades IMTS

There is no doubt that additive manufacturing has moved beyond the incredible benefits it adds to prototyping and tooling, and into production. However, significant challenges remain before it can earn the mass production moniker.

I was one of the 125,350+ attendees walking the 1,424,232 sq. ft. of exhibit space at the International Manufacturing Trade Show (IMTS) in Chicago last month, trying to see all the new technologies on display from the 2,563 companies there. It was an impossible task.

IMTS occupied all five levels of McCormick Place’s four buildings. Even just focusing on CAD-CAM software, digitalization and additive manufacturing (AM) sent us running back and forth among the buildings. I didn’t see everything I would have liked, but I did come back with some important takeaways.

From Prototype to Production

“I think it’s fantastic that here, at the largest manufacturing show in America, we’re talking about 3D and additive,” said Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3D printing business, as he introduced the company’s Metal Jet technology at IMTS. “What we plan to do is take metal 3D printing from a specialized production technology today, to mass production.”

There is no doubt that additive manufacturing has moved beyond the incredible benefits it adds to prototyping and tooling, and into production. However, significant challenges remain before it can earn the mass production moniker.

“GE and HP validated the market,” said 3D Systems’ Vyomesh “VJ” Joshi, speaking of the tech giants’ entry into industrial-scale additive manufacturing during a press conference at IMTS. Joshi, who spent 32 years at HP, said the key to advancing AM in industry is building platforms.

The word “platform” was used by multiple vendors to describe how they are approaching the top challenges of industrial AM, namely scalability, quality, repeatability, speed and cost.

Platforms combine some or all of the AM process—file preparation, 3D printing, materials management, parts management and post-processing—into one system, often in components that can be added for scalability.

For example, 3D Systems’ Figure 4 is marketed in a Standalone configuration, a Modular configuration with an automated material feed system and separate post-processing units, or the Production line consisting of a control cell, print engine cells and post-processing cells—plus the software to manage it all.

Safety and Automation

While Figure 4 uses UV-curable materials, material handling is even more important when it comes to fine metal powders or off-gassing from sintering that operators should not be exposed to—not to mention fire hazards. Many AM equipment vendors are containing their processes to avoid exposure issues.

For example, at IMTS AddUp showed off its Flex Care System, a controlled atmosphere solution to protect operators and buildings from risks involved in the industrial use of metal additive manufacturing machines. The containers can incorporate machines, sifters, inerted vacuum cleaner, a trolley for loading/unloading and powder storage for new and recycled materials. The containers can also be connected for scalability.

Velo3D launched its Sapphire hardware, Flow print-preparation software and Intelligent Fusion technology at IMTS after four years of development. Pam Waterman covered Velo3D for DE (, including its material handling, writing that after the print module is loaded from a transfer cart into the machine: “The module is then locked in place and unsealed, to start printing automatically. After printing, the module is sealed again, undocked and moved out to the ready-to-unpack stage.”

Sensors, Data and Simulation

Velo3D and other vendors also realize the importance of software and real-time data collection to AM quality and repeatability. For example, Additive Industries’ MetalFAB1 system is integrated with its Additive World Platform, allowing customers to store, share and analyze relevant data. EOS launched its EOS M 300 Series at IMTS, touting its scalability, productivity and flexibility. Its EOSTATE monitoring suite captures production- and quality-relevant data in real time, and its upcoming EOSCONNECT software will enable that data to be used by third-party enterprise systems. Formalloy’s X-series laser metal deposition system uses scanning technology to monitor build quality and accuracy in real-time, and then autocorrect errors.

What the ramping up of industrial 3D printing toward mass production scale means to design engineers, is that design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) is quickly becoming a must-have skill. Soon, the production data showing which optimizations were most successful and why will be readily available—allowing you to simulate specific product designs on specific machines to enable first-time-right prints. “Allowing you” is the key phrase there. If you don’t know DfAM, you won’t be able to take advantage of the data, software or hardware—and your company won’t fully realize the benefits of industrial AM.

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About the Author

Jamie Gooch's avatar
Jamie Gooch

Jamie Gooch is the former editorial director of Digital Engineering.

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