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Adding Innovation at RAPID 2016's Exhibitor Floor
With over 250 exhibitors, the RAPID 2016 Exhibitor floor was more than a little overwhelming for a first-time attendee like myself. But suffice to say, I was able to brave the latest and greatest in 3D printing and additive manufacturing, and what follows is much of what I saw and experienced in the Orange County Convention Center last week in Orlando, Florida.

The presentation of Hewlett-Packard’s first foray into the world of 3D printing was certainly the gem of the RAPID floor. Indeed, the giant, glowing, blue and white HP sign acted like a beacon, visible from all over the floor. The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution portfolio was originally announced some time ago, but this was its first public debut. And like any debutante, it was constantly surrounded by suitors-- media, potential buyers, and just gawking onlookers.

The printers will be available at the end of this year and the beginning of next, although pre-orders are currently being taken. HP claims the finished product will print 10x faster at the voxel level, thanks to detailing and fusing agents, and also that it will be able to produce conductive parts, much like the Voxel8 which was also featured at RAPID.

In addition to these behemoths on the floor, Shapeways announced that they had the first installation of an HP machine at their factory in the Netherlands. And sporting equipment Nike announced plans to use the machines to bring their 3D-printed designs to production in the future.

Those of us who attended both Siemens PLM Connections and RAPID 2016 in Orlando last week were privy to a bit of extra information beforehand courtesy of Siemens PLM President Chuck Grindstaff-- that Siemens PLM would allow the HP Jet Fusion to print with multiple materials and colors. Siemen’s additive manufacturing software allows the HP printers to be precise down to the voxel.

Said Grindstaff: “HP’s new 3D printing technology driven by Siemens’ additive manufacturing software will provide engineers a new level of design freedom, customization and speed. Companies will be able develop products that perform better with less weight and more strength. They will be able to print assembly components as one part with varying characteristics, saving time and money while reducing the chance of manufacturing errors. These new capabilities will change how parts are made but more importantly how products are envisioned.”

Proto Labs found themselves as something of a center of attention after HP’s big announcement. The official announcement came during the conference, on May 19th, but I got the lowdown on it a couple days earlier.

“We’re beta testing for HP,” said Jessica Metzger, Proto Labs’ Sales Manager. The company was chosen as one of several companies chosen for HP’s Early Customer Engagement Program due to their extensive knowledge of industrial-grade 3D printing.

“And we just moved into an even bigger building,” Metzger continued. This move reportedly played a role in HP’s choice. With all that space, Proto Labs looks to provide HP with valuable customer feedback for prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, but also with overmolding, the process that takes two different molds and different materials and prints them together.

Like HP, Stratasys seemed to be everywhere at RAPID. Their ultimate announcement? The first product of their GrabCAD acquisition with the GrabCAD Print program. Based on GrabCAD’s program, the goal is to make 3D printing faster and easier for students, designers, and engineers by translating native CAD files directly from Statasys machines. Integration for SOLIDWORKS, PTC Creo and Siemens PLM software are next on the docket.

This all comes in wake of their announced four new improvements their Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)-based 3D printers, which included the following:
Easier to Manufacture Complex Hollow Composite Parts with New Sacrificial Tooling Solution
-The new sacrificial tooling solution is available for the Fortus 450mc and 900mc 3D Printers.
-ULTEM 9085 Aerospace: First ULTEM Material with Full Aerospace Traceability
-Tough PC-ABS Material Now Available on More Stratasys 3D Printers

Stratasys also included a Makerbot machine in their presentation on the exhibitor floor as well, making good on their 2013 acquisition of the Brooklyn-based company.

3D Systems also had a gigantic presence at the conference. The company wanted to make sure they used the opportunity of RAPID to demonstrate what their users do with their systems-- in particular, the good that they do. One big focus for both their floor demonstrations and one of their panel presentations, for instance, talked about medical services, like Virtual Surgical Planning. One particular, heart-wrenching case study included Grace Kabelenga, an eight-year-old girl from Zambia, who suffers from severe encephalocele. 3D Systems helped physicians from all the world over correct Kabelenga's facial deformities caused by the disease.

Not to be overshadowed by industry giants like HP and Stratasys, Aleph Objects, the makers of the Lulzbot were all too eager to show off their latest creation. “The Taz6 represents an evolution in the Lulzbot,” said Kara Sawinska, Marketing Associate for Aleph Objects. With autobed leveling, an enclosed power supply and increased diameter, this Taz allows for larger 3D prints than this open-source machine has allowed for before.

“We’re so excited to be debuting the Taz6 at RAPID and able to show the industry a free software, libre innovation and open source product that can be hardware used for a variety of purposes.”

Sawinska was also behind one of the coolest things that I learned at RAPID: they make their own 3D printers, wait for it, using 3D printers. That they already 3D printed.

Also eager to show off was Mcor, who came all the way from Co. Louth, Ireland, with their ARKe. This desktop-sized machine was fresh off of its win for Best in Innovation at CES. I was able to speak with Niall Magee, Applications Manager for Mcor. “This design is completely new. It uses roll paper instead of sheets which speeds up the process and reduces costs. It also includes an adaptive build area, which helps stage the process and increases the accuracy of the builds.”

Additionally, the ARKe is now WiFi and USB-capable-- there is now a computer in the system. And a final big highlight? “There’s now an LED strip in the machine, which changes color. So you can see from a distance if, say, there is an error, or if you run out of material,” said Magee.

The ARKe has not yet started shipping, but it is available to reserve for 300 EUR.

Now, I had mentioned earlier that the HP Jet Fusion will be able to produce conductive materials directly in its prints. But the real pioneer of that process would, of course, be the Voxel8. The brainchild of Harvard Professor Jennifer Lewis, the Voxel8 is an electronics 3D printer that uses silver micro particles with a conductivity of 5.00 x 10-7 Ω-m., making it 5000 more conductive than other, similar materials.

So I couldn’t have been more excited to actually see the Voxel8 in action at RAPID. I was able to speak with Ariel Kule, Mechanical Engineer. “Our goal with the Voxel8 is to make is able to work with as many CAD programs as possible,” said Kule. The Voxel8 is already compatible with SOLIDWORKS and Autodesk products. Even here at RAPID, companies are taking interoperability to heart and making it a priority.

Live demonstrations of Optomec's hybrid CNC system were another highlight of the exhibitor floor. The system combines Optomec LENS technology for 3D printed metals with subtractive milling technology in a single machine tool. The company also recently announced a partnership with Delcam, who was there with Autodesk.

After the 2014 acquisition of Delcam by Autodesk (an event which some called, “the biggest in the history of CAM,”) the team was at RAPID 2016 to show off the Ember 3D printer-- which leverages the additive manufacturing capabilities of Autodesk's software with the subtractive manufacturing capabilities of Delcam.

Continuing on the subtractive side of things, SLM Solutions continued the theme of innovation by presenting the SLM500HL, their largest machine. But it isn't the size that makes it innovative."Instead of wasting time in the build chamber," said Marketing Specialist Kristal Kilgore, "you can pull it out for full and complete powder removal." Additional, the gigantic SLM500HLis the only machine on the market that uses four quad fiber lasers.

And finally, Fabrisonic taught me how to literally fool chemistry. By using ultrasonic metal welding, Fabrisonic's tech is able to avoid common problems that metal additive manufacturers have when they combine metals via melting. "We literally trick the chemistry out of having poor integrity," said Dr. Adam Hehr, one of their Research Engineers. And that's pretty innovative.

All and all Aleph Objects' Lulzbot, Voxel8, Fabrisonic, and Mcor Technologies were my favorites.

Sam Uliano is originally from Spokane, Washington, but currently lives in Florida. She graduated with honors in 2012 from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in English. Her fiction has been published in the magazine Silvertongue, and several other publications. With what little time she doesn’t spend writing, she brews mead.

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Published 2016-05-23 00:00:00