Oct 5, 2015 | By Christopher Barnatt

On 30 September and 1st October 2015, the TCT Show was held in Birmingham, UK. Now in its 20th year, TCT is one of the world's premiere additive manufacturing events, and once again demonstrated the incredible depth and breadth of 3D printing innovation and application. You can get a feel of the show in my video below.

While TCT began life purely focused on industrial technology, in recent years it has also readily embraced personal and prosumer 3D printing. Many established manufacturers in this growing marketplace were exhibiting at TCT, including Makerbot, Ultimaker, Sharebot and Flashforge.

Other companies showing material extrusion (FMD) desktop hardware included BCN3D Technologies with their dual-print-head Sigma 3D printers, FELIXprinters with their FELIX Pro 1, Ira 3D with their new Poetry model, and Airwolf 3D's new Axiom 3D printer, which was on display on the Hawk 3D Proto stand. I and others were also very impressed with the Pharaoh 3D printers from Mass Portal, which really do seem to produce 'high definition prints with no visible layers'. Mass Portal have also clearly mastered the art of finishing 3D prints made from ColorFabb's BronzeFill or CopperFill to stunning effect.

The two-head BCN3D Sigma 3D printer

Over on a stand shared by Shenzhen Weistek and Create It REAL were the new IdeaWerk Speed 3D printers. These incorporate Create It REAL's real-time 3D printing processor, and other unique electronics, which serve to accelerate print speed by five or more times compared to most other desktop printers. The hardware is clearly stressed to its limit -- with some notable shake during operation -- but there is also no doubt that the IdeaWerk Speed 3D printers actually deliver on their high-speed printing claim. One of those wrist bangle 3D prints that are so often output for test purposes was actually fabricated before my eyes in under seven minutes.

The very fast IdeaWek Speed 3D printer

Overlooking the IdeaWek Speed printers was the 3Dom stand, which featured some new, recycled filaments from Fila-CYCLE. These included a 100 per cent recycled PLA filament that has been reclaimed from yoghurt pots. Fila-CYCLE also make white and black HIPS (high impact polystyrene) filaments reclaimed from refrigerators and the automotive sector respectively. As they told me, many enquiries are coming from schools, who are keen to print with recycled materials.

Potentially also facilitating material reuse were the personal filament extruders exhibited by Omni Dynamics and Ewe Industries. Both of these turn plastic pellets into 3D printer filament, and may potentially also make fresh filament from ground up old 3D prints or other waste plastics. Today, plastic pellets are far cheaper than spooled filament, which could lead to a pretty large market for personal filament extruders in the years ahead. Personal extruders also allow enthusiasts to experiment with creating their own specialist filaments by mixing colours or material composites.

In addition to personal filament extruders, there was much evidence at TCT of the expansion of the desktop 3D printing ecosystem. Most notably, many new vendors were on hand with solutions to solve the 'first layer not sticking problem'. Candidates included Thought 3D with their sticks of Magigoo custom 3D printing adhesive, 3D-EEZ with a build plate coating film, and BuildTak with a durable plastic sheet to provide an optimal 3D printing surface. Exactly which solution will prove optimal only time will tell. But it is certainly good to see such an enthusiasm to solve a well-known desktop 3D printing headache.

Magigoo 3D printing adhesive

The BuildTak print bed surface

Also very evident at TCT was the expansion of the market for desktop vat photopolymerization hardware. To this end, new 3D printers that selectively cure a liquid resin were on display not just from FormLabs (who were showcasing their Form 2), but also Autodesk (with its Ember model), and Printthatshit (who were displaying their ResinCat 3D PTS).

Also capturing great interest was a new resin-based 3D printer from Photocentric. This will launch in a few weeks time for just $799. I asked why the printer could be made so cheaply, and was told that Photocentric are already established in the photocurable resin marketplace, where they can leverage their expertise. Their 3D printer also uses a natural light resin (rather than one cured with UV), so allowing the use of a standard DLP projector.

The Photocentric $799 DLP 3D Printer

My overall impression of desktop, consumer and prosumer 3D printing at TCT was one of a marketplace that is starting to professionalize and mature. At the other end of the spectrum, those exhibitors in the industrial additive manufacturing sector at TCT seemed more focused on product consolidation and getting more clients to make use of their current offering and expertise. Clearly it is now possible to use industrial 3D printers to make molds, other tooling and some final parts out of materials including plastics and metals. The real challenge for the sector is subsequently to convince many more companies that 3D printing is now a manufacturing technology as well as a means of rapid prototyping.

Where innovation was most in evidence in the industrial sector was from new or relatively new entrants. I was, for example, particularly impressed with Prodways. Here their MOVINGlight technology was on display, which is a form of photopolymerization 3D printing that solidifies a resin by physically moving a DLP projector across a large build platform to achieve very rapid additive manufacturing with hundreds of millions of pixels per layer. Build materials include a wide range of resins, with the sample prints on the Prodways stand demonstrating the high quality of MOVINGlight output.

A Prodways MOVINGlight printout

Also keen to showcase their own 3D printing process were HP with the multi jet fusion (MJF) technology that they introduced to the world about a year ago. Certainly the full-colour 'laboratory printouts' on the HP stand were very impressive. But, aside from some small display cabinets, signage, stools and video screens, the HP stand was an empty space. It would have been great to see an actual MJF 3D printer at TCT, but sadly many of us are still waiting to experience MJF in the flesh.

An HP MJF printout

A final stand I really enjoyed visiting -- twice! -- was Sciaky. Here the involved technology is a direct metal process called electron beam additive manufacturing (EBAM). This takes two solid wire feedstocks and uses an electron beam to fuse them into metal parts. The resultant printouts have clearly stepped layers, but may be post-processed by CNC machining to achieve a smooth surface. Build materials for EBAM include titanium alloys and tantalum, the latter of which had been used to produce a very heavy metal goblet. Other parts featured on the Sciaky stand were far larger and far, far heavier, with EBAM clearly having a wide range of industrial applications.

A metal part created using the Sciaky EBAM process. All images credit: Christopher Barnatt

In addition to the manufacturers and suppliers of hardware and build materials, many service providers had stands at TCT. All were also showcasing a wide range of printouts, some of which were quite extraordinary. In my next 3Ders article and ExplainingTheFuture video, I'll therefore be presenting my Top 10 3D Prints of TCT 2015.


* Christopher Barnatt is the author of 3D Printing: Second Edition. You can watch more of his 3D printing videos on his ExplainingTheFuture YouTube channel.

 

 

 

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