During RAPID + TCT, I had the opportunity to catch up with Fabrisonic to talk sound wave-based metal 3D printing; Direct Dimensions to chat about 3D scanning; and Chemson and Titan Robotics to hear more about vinyl 3D printing materials and expanding applications. Many events are over as soon as closing time hits, but for some of the biggest shows in the 3D printing calendar year, the conversations continue even weeks thereafter. It’s hard to believe it’s already been three weeks since RAPID + TCT show ended, but somewhat less tough to believe that there’s still more to say about what happened this year in Pittsburgh. The show for 2017 was bigger (and better?) than ever before, with thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors.
Fabrisonic brings sound into the world of manufacturing, harnessing sound waves for its Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) process, which received another patent early this year. President and CEO Mark Norfolk took the time to tell me more about the process and its applications, noting that UAM is a low-temperature solid-state process that welds together thin strips of metal ultrasonically.
“All our machines start life as CNCs,” Norfolk explained of their unique hardware. “They never operate above 250°F; the low temperature allows for material properties. We can combine dissimilar metals in the same part. If it’s metal, we can weld it.”
The abundant examples of cleverly put together parts at the Fabrisonic booth indeed displayed a wide array of metals and geometries. Because the process is low temperature, it allows for the incorporation of functional additions such as sensors and RFID technology. The biggest use here, Norfolk noted, is in health monitoring, where sensors can measure strain and collect real time data. About 30% of Fabrisonic’s business, he said, is in heat exchangers, as UAM technology makes their manufacture a smoother process. Another application for the tech lies in metal matrix composites bringing together metal and ceramic materials. This process, Norfolk said with a grin, is “stupid expensive, but incredibly high performance.”
Because like so many additive manufacturing companies today Fabrisonic calls Ohio its home, with headquarters in Columbus, I will be looking forward to visiting with the Fabrisonic team sometime in the near future to get a better look. Their technology doesn’t just have big applications; their machines are huge. No wonder they didn’t have live demonstrations in Pittsburgh — so I’ll be trekking over to them in order to get a first-hand look at just what UAM has to offer.
Direct Dimensions, Inc. (DDI), based in Baltimore, provides “rapid solutions to 3D problems,” with a strong focus on 3D scanning. Michael Raphael, the company’s President and Chief Engineer, told me that DDI has more than 20 years of scanning experience and is focused entirely on scanning and modeling. Rather than focus on specific verticals, the team at DDI sees applications in:
- Industrial (aerospace, ships), manufacturing, engineering
- Facilities — scanning buildings for architectural models
- Art, sculpture, and heritage — working with artists, sculptors, the Smithsonian
- Hollywood — film props and people are often scanned
- Medical — scanning people for customized products
In addition to service offerings, DDI is a reseller, working with more than a dozen manufacturers of hardware and software, all focused on scanning. Raphael noted that they “look fore a wide range of solutions, with a high degree of utility.” About three years ago, when Artec 3D announced its more professionally-geared line, the team at DDI became more excited; the upcoming release of the Leo, first announced this year at CES, is going to be, Raphael said, huge.
“It’s untethered, has onboard power, onboard data, onboard controls, much higher resolution, the frame rate is significantly higher — the current has about 15 frames per second, but Leo is up to 80 frames per second. That much faster means that much more data more quickly,” Raphael enthused. “It has a high degree of utility, we think it’ll be a huge seller. It will help in all of the worlds mentioned. Think below decks on a ship, out in a field without power, on a man lift for architecture; this will be great to do without a cord or a laptop.”
Raphael noted that Artec has been great to work with. Applications for Artec’s technology are broad, including some out-of-this-world uses. As the company also works on 3D modeling, Raphael also pointed to the 3D printed bridge being displayed throughout RAPID, a replica made of Pittsburgh’s iconic Roberto Clemente bridge — which was modeled by the DDI team. DDI was also part of last year’s RAPID, where a replica of the Orion Module was featured, in addition to other projects both historical and artistic that we have seen in the past.
Chemson Pacific and Titan Robotics
Chemson Pacific trekked to Pittsburgh all the way from Australia, because 3D Vinyl is a global phenomenon. Or at least it will be, once word (and the product) gets out there more. Operating primarily in Australia, it’s taken two years to get the material to this stage, working with partners, Chemson President Tony Butt told me. While 3D Vinyl is not yet commercializing — that’s about one year out yet, Butt noted — the company is still checking on physical properties and doing the background work first on this material that first hit our radar last year.
“The idea was to prove PVC could be printed,” Butt explained. “Its heat sensitive physical properties are advantages; PVC fits in the middle of PLA and ABS. Neither of those polymers has all those material properties, which tells us there’s a place for it, especially in industrial applications. PVC is the missing link.”
Among PVC’s beneficial characteristics are its sustainability, low cost, and lessening of the fossil fuel load. PVC is one of the most commonly used materials in production today, and bringing it over to 3D printing is a pretty big deal — and so a pretty big contingent of the team behind and working with 3D Vinyl told me more about it, including Dennis Planner, 3D Vinyl Technical Manager, and Greg Harrison, Consultant, both from Chemson, along with Clay Guillory, Founder and CEO of Titan Robotics, as we moved over to that booth to see what the company’s Atlas 3D printer had made using the material.
A large pillar stand at the Titan booth took only 3.5 hours to print in 3D Vinyl using a new pellet extruding system. Using other methods of creation, that pillar would have been a three-day print, Guillory noted, as they are refining technologies on both sides and IDing use cases.
“Bringing this to the industrial world, it needs to be fast or there’s no point,” Guillory explained of the refinements in progress. “PVC is already allowed in so many places, using it is a no-brainer for us. There are use cases everywhere, you can use it everywhere. We print nine pounds per hour on the Titan machine.”
In addition to being environmentally friendly, my squad of 3D Vinyl guides noted other benefits to using the material, along with Guillory’s note about near-universal acceptance already. Introducing a familiar material in a new format enhances user comfort, as they understand what PVC is. Harrison noted that they are increasing fire retardancy, and that PVC has a sustainability no other polymer can claim. It’s also, he said, totally nontoxic and nonhazardous, with previous toxins removed. It’s even potable water use approved; Guillory added to that note, saying that the pellet extruder can make watertight parts — safe to drink right out of. Planner pointed as well to the potential to plasticize the material; this one is a rigid vinyl, but future formulations will explore additional characteristics. About 40 million tons of PVC are used every year, the team told me, that “PVC is a world to itself,” but it’s still “unique for PVC to be here” at a 3D printing show. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for what’s next with this promising, developing material. For its part, Titan was also showcasing its Cronus 3D printer, which benefits from Autodesk technology and had a definite presence at RAPID.
Shows like RAPID are critical for getting the community around 3D printing together, as face time enhances understanding and the potential for forward momentum. Several large collaborations were announced during the event, and more contacts and leads generated during the week. The opportunity to talk with these important teams face to face is an important part of understanding the dynamics of the industry, and underlies much of our philosophy here at 3DPrint.com, where we strive to bring an in-depth view of informed news in 3D printing — direct from the source. Stay tuned for more interviews coming soon!
Share your thoughts in the RAPID forum at 3DPB.com.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]